In today’s retail landscape, truckstop and travel plaza operators are not only competing with each other, but also with other highly competent retailers, making innovation even more important. During NATSO Connect, operators came together in The Great Ideas! Session to learn more about what is working for their peers, get inspiration from both inside and outside of the industry and think through how they can adapt ideas to work for them.
"Not all ideas are fully formed and ready to implement,” said Don Quinn, chairman of NATSO and the moderator for the session. “We can borrow other people’s suggestions and experiences and combine them with our thoughts and ideas to fit our needs.”
The Great Ideas! Session kicked off with a panel discussion with three operators sharing their source of great ideas.
Wanda Sheffield, vice president of operations for Miller’s, which is based in Norfolk, Virginia, transitioned to the truckstop industry after working in c-stores. “I talked to the employees, but I didn’t get enough information so I wanted to talk to the truckers,” she said, adding that she formed a group of drivers to meet with quarterly.
"Miller’s has implemented several ideas that drivers shared, including adding a restaurant that serves breakfast all day, desks with phone lines and computers and a big-screen TV. “They call me if they see something they want on the road, and I listen to them,” Sheffield said.
Damon Borden, operations manager for Broadway Flying J, said he turns to his younger employees for new ideas. “I’m looking to keep current with Millennials,” he said. “Younger people have different ways of looking at things, so you can ask them how they would approach it.”
Successful ideas to come out of those conversations have included a Friday night beer and pizza special as well as a Green Monster energy drink and breakfast burrito special. “Our No. 1 selling item in our store was a Green Monster, so put that together as a limited time special. That drove traffic.”
Mary Eriksen, human resources and safety manager for Sapp Bros. Inc., said she has adapted ideas from outside of the truckstop and travel plaza industry to help find employees. Sapp has found great success using Facebook and employee referrals.
Sapp Bros. set up Facebook pages for each of its locations, so employees and customers could interact on a local level. There is also a Facebook tie in within Sapp’s application system, so employees can have credit for referring a friend. “If employees go to our application site and to a specific job, they can share that link with someone or in their own feed,” Eriksen said.
Employees who refer new hires get a referral bonus that is paid in three installments, upon hiring, at the 30-day mark and the 90-day mark. Employee referrals make up about 40 percent of Sapp Bros.’ new hires and those hires have a 20 percent lower turnover rate than non-employee referrals.
After the panel, operators were able to discuss additional great ideas at their table and then move into smaller groups to dig deeper into topics ranging from food service to fuel.
Great Ideas Workshop Ideas-To-Go Kit
The more than 50 ideas to help truckstops thrive shared in Nashville in the NATSO Connect Great Ideas Workshop Ideas-To-Go Kit can be downloaded by filling out the form here.
Photo: Damon Borden, operations manager for Broadway Flying J, shared some of his great ideas during NATSO Connect 2018.
Photo credit: Brittany Palmer/NATSO
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