Visual Study Tour: Valuable Business Insights from Abroad

Attending the International Study Tour in person is the best way to gather valuable business insights abroad, but as a distant second best, Darren Schulte, NATSO’s vice president of membership, is providing readers with a virtual tour of his trip through pictures he gathered last fall.


For years field trips have provided hands-on experiences to make learning come to life, but the in-depth opportunities aren’t just limited to kids in school. NATSO members are gaining valuable business insights by traveling abroad to visit some of the most innovative international retail and petroleum locations while also learning about food service and retailing techniques they can apply to their operations back in the United States.

In September, NATSO members traveled to Norway, France and the United Kingdom to get a unique look into best practices in the advanced European market, as well as a glimpse of the international best practices of the future. The program combined presentations, exhibitions, video interviews and hosted store visits. During the tour, members learned that international retailers are struggling with many of the same operational issues as North American operators. Human resources issues and inventory management are key concerns for European operators.

Attending the study tour in person is the best way to gather valuable business insights abroad, but as a distant second best, Darren Schulte, NATSO’s vice president of membership, is providing readers with a virtual tour of his trip through pictures he gathered last fall.

Fresh Food
Fresh food was a focus in all three countries members visited. The fresh food programs augment and support the retailers’ grab-and-go offerings there. “For the most part the programs that have been embraced are those that ‘craft’ the food. Presentation is a significant portion of what they are selling. It is a lot like Starbucks and Panera Bread where the product arrives in a box and then is thawed and ‘crafted’ to appear fresh,” Schulte said. 

Because operators in Norway, France and the United Kingdom focus on fresh, crafted food that supplements their grab-and-go offerings, European retailers have seen food service sales increase— north of 30 percent. “If this type of food service program was embraced by our members, based on what I have observed, I am certain they would easily see a lift in sales of 30 percent or more,” Schulte said.

Open and Inviting Spaces
C-store operators and highway fuel retailers in Norway focused very much on SKU rationalization. “We saw this with the French operators as well, where less is more,” Schulte said. “We also saw a focus on an open, inviting shopping experience, whereas UK retailers had much larger SKU counts driven in the food categories with robust offerings of prepared and ‘craft’ fresh offerings.”

Consistent Marketing
Signage programs clearly identified the message and were consistent up to the point where consumers paid for their merchandise. “It was apparent that the European retailers understood the importance of messaging from the street, to the entrance to the transaction counter,” Schulte said.

Digital Signage
European retailers have embraced digital signage as part of their marketing and merchandising programs to a much greater degree than their American counterparts operating in the same  format, Schulte explained. “Both static and fluid digital signage programs augmented and supported their traditional signage programs. In Norway the programs were incredibly impressive and effective and very standard and easy to understand as a consumer, even if you did not speak Norwegian,” he said.

Embrace New Ideas
Several international locations are experimenting with new ideas, such as paid restrooms and bulk windshield wash distribution where the customer filled his washing fluid at the pump and was charged accordingly. There was only a small amount of discussion regarding alternative fuels, both in Norway and at the Future of Convenience conference and exhibition members attended, Schulte said.

Work Closely with Vendors 
Schulte also found that Europeans work more closely with their vendor partners for win/win solutions than do operators in the U.S. Jason Finch, co-founder Port80 Wholesale Technology Ltd., was one of several business owners who talked with NATSO members. He said, “One of the things we’re really trying to push in the industry as a whole is the sharing of data right through the supply chain, so that from the retail end right through the suppliers/wholesalers up to the manufacturers, everyone has access to clear and consistent sales data from the coal face, the retail store.”  

More Visual Study Tour
We couldn't fit all of the great photos Schulte collected in Stop Watch, so we've extended the story on NATSO's blog. See more international study tour photos here.


Register to Attend the 2013 Tour
For the third year, NATSO is partnering with Insight to offer NATSO members a phenomenal learning trip to Europe. This year’s International Study Tour, Sept. 22–27, begins in Amsterdam with hosted retail study tours and ends in London with the ‘Future of Convenience’ conference and exhibition. Register and learn more about NATSO's International Study Tour.


Photo Credit: Darren Schulte/NATSO



This article originally ran in Stop Watch magazineStop Watch provides in-depth content to assist NATSO members in improving their travel plaza business operations.

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