Take exit 8 off I-95 in emporia, Va., and you’ll find NATSO member Simmons Travel Center. In business since 1941, the location offers a haircut at their hair salon, a slice of pizza from Hunt Brothers Pizza and perhaps most importantly, a friendly smile to greet every customer. When you leave, you’ll want to come back or at least that is the goal at this family-owned location. “Our motto is bring them back happy,” shared General Manager Tony Moore.
The location also has the largest Huddle House in the nation, a CAT Scale, eight diesel pumps, ten gas pumps, a drivers’ lounge and showers. They are currently working on moving a state road that runs through the property. Once the road is moved, they will be able to add 50 more parking spaces. Located eight miles from South Carolina border, they see a lot of traffic from interstate.
The location is independently owned and has been in the same family for 75 years. Today Charlie Parker, III, the great grandson of one of the original owners, is running Parker Oil, which also owns another truckstop in Bracey, Va. Simmons Travel Center has 20 employees, which includes 16 full-time and four part-time, who are also part owners. “All of the employees are part owners because we have an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP),” Moore said. “This employee perk does seem to increase our employee retention. We have a lot of long-term employees,” Moore added.
Moore joined the location six year ago. Since he came on board, they’ve been redoing everything. “We took out the old restaurant and put in the new Huddle House,” Moore said. They also increased the number of gas pumps from four to ten. Another important improvement was the addition of the Store Chek scanning system to keep better inventory. In addition to moving the state road to add more parking, their next major project is to put in new diesel pumps with diesel exhaust fluid.
Even with long-term employees, the biggest the issue they face is human resources, which a number of NATSO members can relate to. “There is a different employee issue every day. It is important to tackle those issues because if your employees are happy, your customers are happy,” Moore said.
Under Moore’s leadership they also put a focus on properly training employees. “This is a big cost cutting tip that is often overlooked. Our employees are faced with a lot of decisions and if we train them well, they are prepared. Training opportunities present themselves every day.” When Moore first came to the location, he helped develop an employee training manual. Everyone they hire works with the same person for the training using the manual.
How do they bring back happy customers? With good customer service! Moore said they strive to make customers feel welcome. They learn as many names as they can because “drivers like you to recognize them and know their name.” He continued, “We also make our employees are happy, because happy employees are friendly employees.” It must be working because after 72 years in business, they are still thriving.
Daily And Weekly Retail Tips
With a background setting up stores for Kmart, Moore knows his retail. He shared a few of Simmons Travel Center’s daily and weekly retail routines that boost retail sales.
- Every week run a sales report on a particular category. This allows you to identify theft and improve sales in a particular category.
- Similarly, every day run a report on your five best- and five worst-selling items. You will be surprised how much it fluctuates. Make adjustments based on the results.
- Motivate staff by setting specific goals for them. At Simmons Travel Center, they create a specific goal for each month. For example, at their location they recently set a goal of trying to increase pizza sales by 10 percent. The goals keep employees focused and busy. When goals are achieved, reward employees by taking them out for lunch or bringing in food.
Photo Credit: Amy Toner/NATSO
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