As leaders, owners, managers and front-line staff within the truckstop and travel plaza industry, we are all in our businesses for many hours every day. With 24-hour-operations, there is always something to be done. Those of us with multiple locations travel and check out each site regularly. Even still, the fact is that we can’t be everywhere all of the time, plus we are limited to our own perspectives. That means we don’t always know or fully appreciate what goes on at the business.
I recently stayed at a hotel in Harrisonville, Missouri, while visiting Sapp Bros.’ newest location that is under construction. During breakfast, I struck up a conversation with the person next to me. It turns out that he was a Sapp Bros. customer, and he was happy to tell me about his experiences.
He frequently stops at the Council Bluffs location. One day he pulled in at 3:30 in the morning. The full-service restaurant was closed, which disappointed him. I explained that there isn’t enough business to justify keeping the restaurant open 24 hours a day, which he understood. But he went on to tell me that not only there were no hot dogs on the roller grill or breakfast sandwiches prepared, but also that the cashier was busy and couldn’t take action right at that time. In that quick conversation, I had new insight into the business from two perspectives—the customer’s and the cashier’s.
Several years ago, I put in an electronic point-of-sale system at the service center in Council Bluffs. I did it late at night thinking I’d have the least impact on the daily operations. I showed up at 10:00 p.m. There was only one mechanic and one service worker. By 11:30 at night, the mechanic was booked. I talked with the cashier and learned this was the norm.
Based on that experience, I decided to put another person on the shift. Sales increased exponentially, and we were making sales records.
Both of these experiences have reminded me that until we experience situations for ourselves, we don’t fully understand the many layers that exist within our operations. Our businesses can change so much throughout the day and night, and it is important for us to try and look at our operations with fresh eyes.
Think about how much the appearance of our businesses can change throughout the day. What does your location look like at night? The cost of LED lights is coming down and, in some places, there are incentives to install new lights on the canopy and inside the store. That means we have opportunities to literally outshine our competition.
Lighting is just one of the elements that influence our customers. That is why we have to look at our locations on both the inside and outside on a regular basis. We either have to go out ourselves, have someone we trust take a look or hire a third-party resource to handle it for us.
However we do it, we can’t be afraid to break the routine. Getting feedback is crucial to improving our operations. At the end of the day, the customer’s view point is the most important one. They are the people who pay our paycheck and we need to make sure we’re talking to them on a regular basis.
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