The winter holidays bring additional sales opportunities for truckstops and travel plazas. Not only do locations see an increase in the number of four-wheeler passengers stopping in as they travel to be with friends and family, professional drivers are often on the look out for gifts for loved ones while they’re out on the road. And while Thanksgiving and Christmas are still a couple months away, now is the time to create sales strategies that will increase sales and profits.
“You have to be prepared and understand how the holiday traffic works,” said Darren Schulte, NATSO’s vice president of membership.
Chuck White, vice president of marketing and development for DAS Companies, Inc., Palmyra, Penn., said, “When devising a holiday season promotional plan, it’s important to consider your customer segments, their key demographics, and what needs they have on this seasonal travel occasion. With these considerations in mind, seasonal promotions will result in higher quantity, more profitable sales.”
The Customer Mix: The Traveling Public
Demographics frequently change during the holidays. Professional drivers are still a primary audience, but more customers are added into the mix.
“Road warrior business travelers, both blue and white collar, are a significant secondary audience. And, with major fourth quarter holidays, leisure-traveling families offer major short-term, seasonal traffic,” White said.
White added that key demographics—such as whether customers are male or female, their income level and their hobbies—can factor into what they buy.
For example, travelers taking to the road might need to charge mobile devices, navigate bad weather, travel comfortably, overcome boredom and also find a gift, White said. They may also be more apt to purchase a 12-volt powered blanket or heater, a roadside emergency kit or flashlights.
Operators can also tap into the traveler who may have left his sunglasses or cell phone charger at home. With more families traveling during the holidays, it is likely drivers might have spouses and kids fighting over the number of charging outlets in the car. “There are socket multipliers that allow one socket to have three connections,” Schulte said.
“You’ll have more females in your store during holiday time. Someone is more likely to be looking around,” Schulte said, adding that the holidays are a key time to cross promote items. “Now is the time to tell them you have soda on sale in the travel store even though they’re sitting down in the restaurant,” Schulte said.
Schulte said the number of children in a location over the holidays increases as well.
Once locations better understand their customer mix, they can share the information with their vendors for more targeted suggestions.
Don Paddock, chief executive officer and president of KSG Distributing, Inc., said, “We try to learn as much as we can about their current product offerings and any local customers or unique niches that they might be able to take advantage of. Based on that we will make suggestions of new products that they might not have tried, new ways to merchandise items they have and offer merchandising display, POS signage and merchandising recommendations that might help them generate some additional sales and profits.”
KSG provides customers with a dashboard analysis of the key performance indicators on the products they sell so customers can measure the productivity of the items. “This will compare their sales trends to benchmark data that we have on the categories to ensure they are taking advantage of the trends,” Paddock said.
Spencer Falvo, vice president of sales and business development for Hi-way Distributing, said that they also work to understand a client mix and can show and recommend products that will produce the most sales and profits. He added that by planning ahead and creating a promotional planner that includes target audiences and key holidays, retailers ensure they don’t miss a window of opportunity.
The Customer Mix: Professional Drivers
Professional drivers are often shopping for gifts for friends and family. Scott Hein, store manager at Iowa 80 in Walcott, Iowa, said he sticks with high-quality gifts year round and rotates them out throughout the year. Hein buys and merchandises gifts for the location's retail space, which is around 5,000 square feet, and he said sales pick up in November and December.
During the holidays, Iowa 80 provides complimentary gift bags for customers. “That goes over well, especially with the drivers who don’t have the time or the area to do the gift wrapping,” Hein said.
“Larger types of gift items that may not sell during the beginning of the year pick up as you approach the holidays. You may not be able to sell a $99 remote control truck in February, but later in the year the truck driver will buy it for a gift,” Schulte said.
To spark shoppers’ interest, locations should try to include a few items that wow customers when they enter the store.
“Customers walking into the stores and seeing new items are apt to purchase them knowing they have not seen that item anywhere else,” Paddock said, adding that high-tech toys often attract attention.
Holiday Food Sales
Gift sales aren’t the only things that increase over the holidays. Certain food items go up as well. “Around the holidays, sales of 7UP and gingerale go up because people are doing punches,” Schulte said. “If you’re going to have a display of soda and it is themed for the event, make sure you have that display ready to go before the holiday arrives. Don’t get deliveries of the stuff you’re trying to promote on the day the event has started.”
Locations can also boost sales within their restaurants by offering catering specials or baked goods for the holidays.
Make It Attractive
Not only do locations need to have the right items in stock, they also need to present them properly. Promotional focal point displays should be easy to shop, easy to identify and have the proper signage.
“Most of the time, you only have a few minutes or even seconds to grab a customer’s attention—so we want to make sure we provide all the tools our customers need,” Paddock said.
Hein said he focuses on the displays and is constantly trying to improve their quality. “Our goal isn’t just to be the best truckstop. We want to be the best retailer,” he said, adding that he frequently taps into vendors’ expertise. “There is no reason to reinvent the wheel.”
Paddock said some of the best ways to showcase gift items can also be the simplest. “Many times, building small multi-stacks of items on an end cap with attractive POS signage shows the consumer that you have some unique gift items in a small amount of space,” he said.
Falvo recommends operators keep their merchandise clean and organized and also create themes so they can merchandise like items together. “As gift items get shopped daily, they are always in need of being rearranged to keep an attractive and inviting presentation to your customers,” he said. “Signage is also a winner. This is something that I see so many locations missing. Having a sale sign with a price is certainly attention drawing but also creates an atmosphere that there is an opportunity for the customer to get a deal.”
Paddock said clear communication on signs is key. “Make sure you have great POS signage that clearly communicates the value and offering,” he said.
KSG provides corrugated displays and promotional materials. “We provide special color-coded retail stickers with special offerings printed on them to attract customers to the product and alert them to the promotional offerings and special pricing,” Paddock said.
“We also provided suggested schematic and planograms to help organize and maintain attractive displays for the products throughout the month and year,” he said.
Effective merchandising moves customers along the path that will eventually move them to the register. Pump toppers, window posters, counter and aisle shippers and end caps all play a part, White said. “Think of effective communication as breadcrumbs along a path that converts a ‘where’s the bathroom’ browser into an impulse buyer,” he explained.
Operators should also keep their displays full. “No one ever wants to feel like they are buying the last or next to last item of anything. Full displays with sales signs win every time,” Falvo said.
Paddock said, “Showing some activity of sales movement—a few pieces visibly missing from sales—is good, but keeping your promotional offering or display neat and sharp looking will attract customers too.”
When The Dust Settles
Once the holidays are over, operators may be left with merchandise that didn’t sell. Falvo suggests they mark the merchandise down and create another sale in a bargain area. “Unfortunately, too many locations leave seasonal merchandise on the shelf way too long after the window of opportunity for that sales period is over,” he said. “This gives the appearance of the store having old and outdated merchandise and creates ‘dead’ sales space within your location, which is costing your location profitability every day you leave the designated area in that condition.”
Schulte recommends holiday and Christmas-themed merchandise have a scheduled mark down that begins three weeks prior to Christmas. “This cadence should follow through into the New Year with a goal to have all this merchandise sold by the second week of January,” he said.
Theft Spikes During the Holidays
Unfortunately, the holidays also bring extra theft. In 2012, the retail industry lost $8.9 billion over the holiday season as a result of shoplifting, dishonest employees, and vendor or distribution losses, the Centre for Retail Research reported.
“The Christmas season is an especially attractive time for criminals,” said Professor Joshua Bamfield, director of the Centre for Retail Research. “Thieves take advantage of busy stores to steal high-value, high-demand goods. As a result, retailers face a big threat from professional and semi-professional thieves, many of whom steal goods with the intention of re-selling them.”
The most commonly stolen items include DVD gift sets, toys, electronic devices and candy.
To help combat theft, retailers use surveillance cameras, but sometimes the best defense is simply interacting with customers. “A greeted customer is a noticed customer,” said Darren Schulte, NATSO’s vice president of membership. Read more shrink management tips for truckstops.
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