iPad Point-Of-Sale Innovations

Many of the locations that I visit are in the beginning stages of  replacing or upgrading point-of-sale (POS) systems.

Interestingly enough, many retailers large and small are experimenting with a tool that many of us see on a more and more frequent basis being utilized by schools, sales persons and those sitting next to us on the airplane. This tool is the tablet.

The benefit of a tablet at retail is that it allows the customer and salesperson to bring it right to the product under consideration, initially providing information that the consumer can use to ‘double-check’ the item and possibly complete the transaction without having to spend time at a sales desk or in a check-out line.

It makes for a more interactive and convenient sales experience, and convenience is one of our industries’ trademarks.

People are comfortable using tablets, even if they haven’t before, and they think they’re fun to use. That gets people eager to work with them and eager to get out on the floor and sell.

The long struggle with sales deflated by merchandise displayed within glass cases resulting in a poor customer experience may be solved with a cashier roaming the sales floor with an iPad. The cashier could be performing merchandising duties while also selling electronics and the like with the added ability to show the features and benefits of the products displayed within the case. With a tablet, the product comes alive; it speaks to the consumer’s visual purchasing mechanism.

So, if you are considering a new POS or an upgrade to your current system, it may be time to research the capability of a tablet and what it can bring to the profitability circle.



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Calculating the Return on Investment in Technology Projects

When I am out in the field visiting members, they frequently ask me about technology. Operators are often wondering if they should upgrade their pumps or their point-of-sale system, invest in a mobile app, update their web site or purchase digital devices, such as a menu board.

As with any major purchase, business owners also want to know what the return on their investment will be, but that isn’t always easy with technology investments.

To start, it is helpful for operators to gather information about the benefits of the technology they are considering, such as increased speed of service for their customers or their employees, which can result in decreased costs and an improved experience.

From there, operators can begin putting a pencil to paper. Let’s say you find new point-of-sale technology that can save employees time counting a till, and it saves you one hour and you’re paying that employee $15 an hour and you have three employees on shift. Now you have a number associated with your return. You may also find that an updated POS system provides a streamlined reporting process, allows you to take care of it faster, or create a loyalty program that will establish a correlation of growth. Those are all quantifiable benefits.

When looking at the ROI on a digital menu board, operators can add up all of the costs for the menu board, installation and ongoing costs, then tally up the projected sales increases. I’ve had members tell me they are seeing increased sales ranging from 5 percent to 15 percent once they install a digital menu board. Now, thatcould be a correlation rather than acausation, but it still gives you a number to start with. You can take those figures and calculate how much of increased sales result in profit, which will tell you how long it takes to see a return.

However, other technologies can be more ambiguous, which can make it a challenge for people who want to invest in them. But just because you can’t always quantify the true gain of an investment, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.

In those cases, operators can ask themselves five questions:

■ Is the proposed project critical to the business?

■ What are the risk factors?

■ Who will be impacted by it, either positively or negatively?

■ What will employees and customers have to re-learn with the new technology?

■ Is an ROI necessary for approval and support of the proposed project?

There is no single right way to conduct a ROI on technology. The best advice is to focus on the strategic objectives along with the goals and benefits of the proposed project.



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Embrace and Fully Utilize New Technology

AS a nation, we’ve always embraced the latest technology. While touring Mt. Vernon, the home of President George Washington, during NATSO’s Day on Capitol Hill in May, we were told, “President Washington was always most interested in what new farming techniques were being implemented whenever he returned to Mt. Vernon.”

Historians cite U.S. war production as a key advantage that led to victory in World War II. Author James Bessen’s book, “Learn by Doing—The Real Connection between Innovations, Wages and Wealth” [a recommend read] reminds us that if Hitler’s estimate of American ship production had been right, Germany would likely have won the Battle of the Atlantic, Britain might have fallen, and the outcome of World War II would have been different. Glaringly, much of the output of war production was only realized through the substantial acquisition of technology-specific skills.

It seems as though new technology is presenting itself faster than ever, and so much of that technology holds great promise and amazing opportunities. However, technology can also bring challenges. John Maynard Keynes described a “phase of maladjustment” as businesses and their employees work to catch up to technological changes.

For those of us in the fueling industry, we may watch nervously as a good portion of what Americans do each day moves online—shopping, working, socializing—and cuts down on the number of miles they drive. There is also talk of autonomous trucks where technology will drive the vehicle, and the concept of vehicle platooning whereby smart vehicles utilize special lanes on freeways and create a train-like system is gaining traction.

If those changes take place, they will certainly affect the fuel portion of our businesses. We will likely need to tap into our entrepreneurial thinking as we alter our businesses to meet the emerging needs of our customers.

While some technology, such as self-driving cars, may not gain traction until well in the future, there are several new technologies we can adopt today. Technology will most likely affect how we staff our locations, not only in how we fill our front-facing positions but also in who we hire to deploy the latest systems.

We will need managers who understand what today’s technology is capable of and how we can use it to remain competitive while providing increased customer value. We will also need employees who can think strategically and find the greater value technology provides, such as freeing up our team players to take on other roles. A kiosk may replace the counter worker who took a sandwich order, but now that employee might head outside to deliver orders right to the cab of a truck.

We’re told that the typical user of information technology today uses 5 to 10 percent of the capability made available by today’s hardware and software, not surprising given most of us use less than 10 percent of our brain cognitive functions according to Doug Elliott Founder, D. Elliott & Associates.

Technology doesn’t work on its own. It’s simply another tool for our toolkit. We are the ones who need to embrace and fully utilize new technology. That won’t happen overnight, but when it does, we can expect productivity and, ultimately, customer service to soar. Thinking creatively, I’m certain we can use technology to enhance our customer interaction.

 



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Top Apps for Truck Drivers

The apps drivers turn to for information can make their life easier out on the road, but the growing number of apps also means that there are more and more external sources influencing where drivers stop. Here are a handful of apps that are directing drivers’ routes, fueling locations and additional stops.

AN ALL-IN-ONE APP

Overdrive’s Trucker Tools app (http://ift.tt/1WzO58l) offers 19 different tools within one app, including a truckstop locator that highlights all of the amenities a truckstop offers, a truck wash locator, a scale locator, routing capabilities, weather and fuel prices that are based on actual transactions rather than driver input. The app also allows drivers to look for medical examiners, which the app pulls from the FMCSA’s medical examiner database. More than 320,000 drivers use the app, and truckstop operators can visit truckstopguide.com to see how their location is listed and update their information.

GPS APPS

GPS apps are useful for passenger and professional drivers alike. For Class 8 drivers, the right apps can help them calculate routes based on vehicle dimensions and load contents, which can help drivers avoid fines, wasted time and out-of-route miles, but it is important for drivers to find applications that are designed specifically for the heavy-duty trucking sector. SmartTruckRoute (http://www.smarttruckroute.com) and CoPilot (http://ift.tt/KyVbcT) are designed for truckers. The viaMichelin app (www.viamichelin.com) helps passenger drivers find their way.

OVERNIGHT PARKING APPS

Several apps can help drivers find a place to rest. Road Breakers (http://roadbreakers.com) consolidates information on the locations of truckstops, rest areas and truck-friendly businesses. The TravelCenters of America/Petro Stopping Centers app TruckSmart (http://www.ta-petro.com/trucksmart) features a plan-to-park function that shares space availability with drivers. The MyDAT Trucker Services app (www.dat.com/products/trucker-apps) serves as an amenities directory and displays near by truckstops, rest stops, truck-friendly hotels, Walmarts, CAT Scale locations and weigh stations. The Trucker Path app (http://ift.tt/1HsGfHT) has about 100,000 active users and helps drivers find truckstops and weigh stations. Thermo King (http://www.na.thermoking.com) recently released its app that guides drivers to overnight, paid parking in 2,250 stalls at Thermo King dealers, whether or not the driver is a Thermo King user.

FUEL PRICE APPS

Gas Buddy (http://www.gasbuddy.com) is a free app that helps users find cheaper fuel prices in their area. The FleetAdvance Mobile app from fuel-card provider Comdata (www.comdata.com) lets its customers search by their current location to find the lowest prices along their routes. The MyDAT Trucker Services (http://ift.tt/1N35jt8) provides diesel prices, which are updated two to three times a day, and can direct users to nearby loads.

SCALE APPS

With the Weigh My Truck app (http://ift.tt/1JvWZ3f) from CAT Scale Co., drivers can visit a scale, weigh and receive their information via the app without ever having to open their door or roll down their window. They can also use the Scale Locator app (http://catscale.com/cat-scale-locator/cat-scale-locator-apps) to find the nearest scale.

TRUCK AND TIRE SERVICE APPS

Drivers needing tire service can use the Bridgestone Everywhere Network mobile app (http://www.notifyben.com) that connects drivers with dealers or truckstops.

Those needing roadside service can push a button on the TA/Petro TruckSmart app (www.ta-petro.com), which will automatically relay the driver’s latitude and longitude. The Find Truck Service & Stops app (http://http://ift.tt/1N35jtb) allows users to search for truck repair, towing service and truck parts from their phone.

DATA TRANSMISSION APPS

More and more drivers are able to take care of the business end of their operations from the cab of their truck. The CamScanner app (www.camscanner.com) lets drivers use their phones as a scanner. The mobile app from Sylectus (https://www.sylectus.com/) offers image capture and indexing capabilities that remove the need for paper records and provide automated, near real-time tracking of drivers and loads. The Transflo Mobile+ app (http://ift.tt/12Gg0LV) provides access to delivery documents, load tendering, and claim and accident submissions along with two-way messaging so carriers and drivers can send and receive messages along with real-time information and updates.

ELECTRONIC LOGGING APPS

Smartphones and the apps that run on them can automate what were once paper-based tasks and give drivers more legal driving time each day. A growing number of drivers are turning to electronic logging apps and logs, such as BigRoad (http://www.bigroad.com/fleet-home), XRS (http://xrscorp.com/electronic-driver-logs/) and TomTom Telematics (http://business.tomtom.com/en_gb/).

WEIGH STATION BYPASS APP

The Drivewyze PreClear Bypass app (http://drivewyze.com) can save drivers time by minimizing stops at weigh stations with bypasses they receive based on the carrier’s safety score. Drivewyze also offers a free app that provides a heads up as drivers near a weigh station.



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Operators turn to technology to improve operations and increase the bottom line

Today’s technology is allowing truckstop and travel operators to rethink the shopping experience and make it even more customer centric, which can cultivate loyalty and grow sales. The right technology can also streamline operations and reduce staffing needs, all of which adds up to improved profits.

“Given a 75 percent smartphone adoption rate, mass consumers are increasingly comfortable, proactive and mobile technology users. So, the timing is ripe for retailers to apply technology where it enables a better shopping experience,” said Chuck White, vice president of brands and marketing for DAS Companies Inc. “Savvy travel plazas, like leading convenience retailers, are using technology to create more welcoming, convenient and engaging shopping experiences.”

There are thousands of new technologies operators can invest in, but the key to success is investing in the right technology. White said, “Steve Jobs, Apple’s visionary founder, forewarned, ‘You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology—not the other way around.’”

White said retailers are using digital media, such as search engines, websites and apps, to build pre-store relationships. They are also using loyalty programs supported by websites, email, in-store kiosks and coded loyalty cards and creating more engaging shopping experiences through interactive displays.

Darren Schulte, vice president of membership at NATSO, said operators have to first understand who their customers are to ensure they employ the right technology to meet their needs.

“I’ve seen operators bring a technology into their business and hope people will adopt it. That is challenging to do,” Schulte said. “It is more critical to understand what customers are looking for.”

Once operators understand their customers, they can start to target specific technologies throughout the location.

TOOLS TO GATHER CUSTOMER FEEDBACK

Coffee Cup Fuel Stops has installed customer satisfaction kiosks at three of its stores. “We’re using Opinion Meter as the survey source and Samsung Galaxy 10-inch tablets as the hard- ware,” said Chris Heinz, director of finance & operations, at Coffee Cup Fuel Stops. Heinz explained that he chose the Android because they don’t have a lot of updates.

The number of responses varies by location, which Heinz attributes to the placement of the devices. “At our stores with the new design where the men’s and women’s restrooms are nearest each other, we’re getting 300–400 responses a week,” he said. “At the Vermillion store, which has a different design, we’re getting 100 a week.”

Real-time feedback is the biggest benefit of the survey devices, Heinz said. The kiosks have four smiley faces, two of which are for bad or okay. “If they click bad or okay, it takes them to a window and they can detail whatever the problem is. It goes instantly to the fuel desk manager and myself. The goal is to make realtime adjustments,” he said.

The surveys can also alert the location to bigger issues. When reviewing the monthly report for one location, Heinz noted repeated comments about a bad odor. “We had our HVAC service company go and check it out and one belt was bowed on a ventilation fan, so they fixed it and it improved our bad odor results. I have them looking at alternative ways to increase ventilation,” he said.

Without the feedback, Heinz said it could have taken quite some time before they realized there was an issue.

Heinz will continue using the devices for restroom surveys, but he plans to eventually expand them into other areas of the business.

GRAB-AND-GO TECHNOLOGIES

Schulte said it is well known that professional drivers are starved for time, which is why technology that can get them on their way quicker does well. He said everything from electronic menu boards to improved ordering methods are gaining traction.

Some locations are turning to kiosks, which allow customers to place orders that go directly to the kitchen. “In the made-to-order space, our kiosk is a very good match because you can, as a business owner, offer any product you wish in any work flow in any look and feel,” said Justin Palmer, vice president of engineering for Xpedient, a manufacturer of kiosks. “The experience is very similar to an airport kiosk where you go up and interact with a touch screen to navigate through an order.”

Palmer said kiosks can work for any type of food, including subs, pizza, fried chicken, salads and dessert.

Thorntons Inc., which operates a chain of convenience stores and one truckstop, has added sandwich ordering kiosks that it has branded Subworks, said David Caudill, vice president of information technology for Thorntons Inc. “We want people in and out and we don’t want to be the reason they’re held up,” Caudill said.

Once customers complete their order, they receive a ticket. They can shop until their number is called, then they pay at the cash register. “The good thing is they have three minutes to walk around and shop. Then we cash them out and let them go,” Caudill said, adding that customers that don’t want to use the kiosk can still order and customize their sandwich at the counter.

The kiosks can help minimize errors in any orders. “As far as getting order accuracy, we see people being more accurate because the customer can indicate exactly what they want,” Palmer said.

Xpedient can also configure workflow to provide build instructions for different menu items, which can improve operations in the kitchen. “It is basically the recipe that the store owner can configure,” Palmer said, adding that the system can route orders to different stations within the kitchen. “Some customers break out their kitchen into different areas—drink area with coffees, etc.”

For Caudill, the kiosk has been especially helpful with suggestive selling. “The human behavior is to ask once or twice whereas the kiosk asks every time you go to the next screen and you get more guests to take the offer. It puts the control in the guests’ hands,” he said.

Kiosks can also help on the labor front. “Everybody tries to hire the friendliest people they can get, but sometimes people are in bad moods. With the kiosk you know what you’re going to get,” Caudill said.

Palmer said the kiosks allow locations to operate leaner and shift their labor. “As far as the order taking goes, there is no requirement to have a staff person for that. What we have seen folks do is have one or more kitchen folks that are multitasked—maybe they do inventory with stocking but also work in the kitchen as well,” he said.

One of the benefits of the kiosk is the data it provides back to owners, which can allow them to make better decisions to enhance the bottom line. “You’re not only understanding that they got a turkey sandwich, you know they got it with lettuce, olive and tomatoes. Now you have a better understanding of the replenishment,” Palmer said.

Palmer said the start up kit is usually a $5,500 investment. “Depending on the hardware stack you go with, typically a counter top kiosk and receipt printer is $2,500 to $3,000,” he said, adding that there is a licensing and support fee.

Caudill said the hardware is agnostic, but Thorntons is using Posiflex. He added that the system is easy to use and employees have minimal interaction with the kiosk. “It is set it and forget it. You’re going to have the occasional issue where the printer got jammed, but that is it,” he said.

There are some barriers to entry, Palmer said, explaining that some of the older generations prefer to order with a person. “The adoption of the technology has been the most successful on the East and West Coasts and Texas,” Palmer said, adding that the Midwest has been slower to adopt the technology.

Heinz is looking into self-serv kiosks for his location, but said he prefers technology that can scan anything with a barcode and accept payment, whether it is cash or a credit card. “The idea is to take people out of the line that just have two or three items,” he said.

TOOLS TO BRING THE INSIDE OUT

Schulte recently talked with one NATSO member that is investing in technology so employees can take food orders right at the diesel islands. He said, “They’re in the process of putting their menus on iPads with a Square [credit card swiping device] so people can pay there. They will be walking out to the fuel stop and saying, ‘Sir, can I get you anything?’”

“Drivers are starved for time, and a large percentage of customers fuel and leave. This location is working to make the stop more effective and efficient for the driver,” Schulte said.

SIGNS THAT SAVE TIME

Digital menu boards can also reduce the amount of time drivers need to spend at a location. “A menu that is changing and giving customers all of the prices is engaging on the eyes and serves a need—speed. It helps you make a choice quicker,” Schulte said. (Schulte has written about digital signage many times on NATSO’s blog. Read 12 Benefits of Digital Signs for more ideas on why it is a good idea at http://ift.tt/1WzO4S1;blog/12-benefits-of-digital-signs.)

TOOLS TO BRING CUSTOMERS INSIDE

A large percentage of customers at truckstops and travel plazas simply stop to fuel, but new technology may help locations draw customers indoors.

Technology that holds promise in this space are beacons—a piece of hardware that can be attached to a wall or countertop to transmit messages or prompts directly to a smartphone or tablet. The devices can be used both in-store and outdoors, collect data on shoppers, and provide information on where a customer is and how long he or she stays there. This, in turn, allows retailers to send targeted offers to customers’ smartphones in an effort to increase loyalty or suggest product.

Operators could use beacons in multiple places, such as the entrance, coffee bar, register and fuel pumps and alter the messages they send customers based on where they are in the store. For example, someone fueling could receive a coupon or offer aimed at drawing them inside.

INTERACTIVE DISPLAYS

White said the next generation of apps will utilize beacons to allow smartphones to be fully interactive with a display. “That technology will be deployed and tested at Best Buys, Targets and high-end retailers,” he said, adding that he doesn’t think travel centers need to invest in an app at this point but can tap into technology their suppliers offer.

For example, Schulte said, Subway has an app that allows customers to pre-order. “The location can create the sandwich so it is ready when the customer arrives,” he said.

Suppliers can also use technology to create in-store displays for operators. DAS Companies Inc. has partnered with Love’s Travel Stops to create their “Mobile 2 Go” zone, a “sensory-charged,” full-scale mobile electronics department that allows customers to see, hear, touch and try on technology.

At Pilot Flying J, DAS Companies Inc. devised a center store mobile tech aisle anchored by a Mobile Tech Learning Center that enhances customer learning through a push-button, computer monitor encased in a classic jukebox designed kiosk that houses cellular headsets and GPS devices. And at WILCO, DAS Companies Inc. employed an Electronics Engagement Center that empowers consumers to play with live mobile electronics devices, watch 30-second videos, and search a complete mobile electronics product library via a push-sensor, computer monitor.

THE RIGHT LIGHTS

The right technology can also encourage drivers to stop in the first place. Mark Allaman, regional sales manager for Sunshine Electronic Display Corp., said LED signage can get drivers’ attention and encourage them to exit. “Being unchained from physical updates, you can have up-to-the minute pricing to remain more competitive in your market,” he said.

LED signs also allow operators to make price changes electronically, rather than physically, which can save staff time. “There’s a lot of good will generated the day site personnel are freed from changing track numbers in nasty weather,” Allaman said.

When trying to decide on which signage to use, operators should consider the line of sight to the sign and the rate of speed on surrounding roadways. “Then I would suggest thinking about contrast, how clean the sign looks, what message to you want to send to prospective customers and what image you want to project to your community,” he said.

A BACKUP SYSTEM

Keith Wade of Dodge City Petro learned the hard way that losing internet service can be costly. When AT&T accidentally cut a line near the travel plaza, Dodge City Petro lost internet service for two days straight. “As you can imagine with today’s technology, we were dead in the water. Most of our systems would not function,” Wade said, adding that the company couldn’t process fuel cards or credit cards, which resulted in thousands of dollars in losses.

Now the location pays for two internet providers and runs them simultaneously to have back up in place. “It costs more, but we would have paid for it five times if I had already figured that out,” Wade said.

It was easy to find a second provider and it took about two hours for the company to come in and install the system.

“We made a simple change that many have probably already figured out, but I bet there are some still out there running one internet provider,” Wade said.



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Space Age Travel Center blasts off with a remodel

Located off of Interstate 84 in Hermiston, Oregon, Space Age Travel Center went through a total remodel and rebrand this year.

“We opened in 2000 and we were getting a little outdated. We wanted to refresh the branding and open up the floor,” said Don Nelson, general manager.

Other goals included adding more space for fresh food, focusing on coffee branding, creating a new store brand, deemphasizing cigarette and tobacco signage and fixtures and providing upgraded driver amenities. They also wanted to completely redo their bathrooms so they were family friendly and big and open.

The company hired KRS out of Eugene, Oregon, for the remodel. The process began with a detailed survey with questions about their company, strategies and goals. KRS then sent back a few designs that fit within their budget and mood boards.

The remodel took a little over three months. “We stayed open the whole time. There were a lot of inconveniences, but we made it work. We pushed hard to do it quickly,” said Nelson.

SPACE FOR WI-FI AND CHARGING

The location put in new Wi-Fi stations on both the gas and diesel side. In addition to the free Wi-Fi, the stations offer places for customers to plug in their cell phones and laptops. They’ve added signage so customers know about the Wi-Fi and placed large windows.

“We get a lot of people that come in off the highway that sit and charge. As soon as they see it, they stay a little longer,” Nelson said.

A SUPER NOVA OF FRESH FOOD

Adding more space for fresh food was a big goal of the remodel. “We had a tremendous need for space to sell quick-grab items, such as sandwiches, ready-to-serve items and fresh fruit. We lacked adequate space to expand this category and believed that open air coolers would provide an opportunity to offer an expanded line of items that fit this opportunity area,” Nelson said.

They added a big walk-around cooler and several more modern fixtures for grab-n-go items. They can now offer fresh-made sandwiches that come in twice a week and many more items including yogurt, cheese and granola.

COFFEE PLANET

The truckstop’s coffee and fountain beverage area was given a complete overhaul. “Our fountain and coffee bar was congested with equipment and offered no identity or brand quality,” Nelson said. To fix this, they branded the coffee area with the appropriately named Coffee Planet brand and added small touches, such as orb lights, to reinforce the theme.

They also took advantage of new coffee technology. “We went with a more modern style for our coffee. It is a coffee on demand system. Those new brewers are really fancy. They serve a perfect cup every time,” he said.

They upgraded their fountain beverage machine so it includes the latest foundation technology of flavor shots. They also put in Bob Evans gravy dispensers, which are proving to be very popular.

SEND CIGARETTE AND TOBACCO SIGNAGE AND FIXTURES INTO A BLACK HOLE

They had two goals for their cashier desk. They wanted to deemphasize the cigarette and tobacco signage and declutter the area.

“Truckstops start to outgrow their space and get cluttered. Our goal was to be less cluttered. Checkout areas are great for impulse buys, but we did not possess dedicated space for this type of product, which made the area cluttered and unattractive,” Nelson said.

To meet these goals they lowered and reduced the size of the cigarette signage and created built-in fixtures in the front of the counter for impulse buys.

DRIVER AMENITIES THAT ARE LIGHT YEARS BETTER

To improve the space for their updated driver area, they took out the arcade and phone bank. They also redid the TV lounge and added a piece on the fuel desk to house some of the driver-related services. Given the bad winter weather in the state, they added a weather monitor that shows drivers the weather along key routes.

ARE THE REMODEL RESULTS INTERSTELLAR?

“We met all of our goals of the remodel. It turned out exactly how we thought it would,” Nelson said.

Their customers agree. He said, “We have had nothing but positive comments. Now that we are finished we get compliments everyday.”

And the news with the most gravity? In the just two months since the remodel, their insides sales have grown 7 percent.



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Anti-Theft technology cuts losses at the pump

Fuel theft can result in huge losses for truckstop and travel plaza operators. To help minimize theft, operators are taking a multi-pronged approach, combining technology that can help them monitor inventories and alert them to tampering at the pump with an increased awareness from employees.

“It is the price of admission these days to keep the thieves away from your dispensers,” said Bill Jones, president of Warren Rogers Associates.

KEEPING INFORMATION SAFE

Skimmers—devices that are placed within pumps to capture credit and debit card information—can be among the largest threats. Retailers that are hit with skimming not only lose fuel, they get a chargeback for the purchase, said Darren Schulte, vice president of membership for NATSO.

Operators are adding locks to their pumps and are going a step further with sensors, such as those from Flintloc, that will detect any intrusion into the pump, send a real-time alert to management and shut down the power to the pump.

“We alert the clerk and we will alert the owner or the corporate office all in real time,” said Dave Jacobs, national sales manager for Flintloc.

STOPPING FUEL THEFT

Because sensors from Flintloc alert operators when someone opens a pump, they prevent thieves from installing skimmers and also stop them from disabling the pulser—a spinning gear—within the pump that rotates to ring up gallons. Once the pulser is disabled, any gallons that flow from the pump will not be counted, allowing thieves to steal fuel.

Jones said more than 90 percent of fuel thefts take place at a dispenser. Technology from Warren Rogers Associates monitors fuel levels along with transactions, providing another means to stop theft.

“We can see which dispensers the theft took place from and the amount of theft and the date and time. Our customers will reference that time and date with their own security systems,” Jones said.

Several years ago when Michael Sibley, president of LaPlace Travel Center, experienced fuel theft, he turned to simple padlocks, which he added to the fuel pump cabinets. He said the devices have been effective, but thieves continue to up their efforts. “Most recently we had an issue where a thief did not open the door but actually cut a hole through the face of the dispenser,” he said. “I subsequently added some internal ‘hardware’ to my dispensers, and I look forward for this thief to try again!”

Because theft is bound to happen, Jones recommends operators have proper video monitoring so they can identify the driver or license plate if a theft occurs.

QuikQ is currently testing equipment that will take time-lapse pictures during the time a fuel transaction is open. “We will make it very easy for a carrier that has a question about a fuel ticket to look at time lapse pictures during the time that the truck transaction was open,” said Ernie Betancourt, president of QuikQ. “With one click, a fuel manager that has a question about an invoice can look at pictures taken a minute apart.”

Some locations, including 275 Love’s Travel Stop facilities, are installing RFID fueling technology from QuikQ, which can cut down on theft. “The product was designed for driver convenience, but a side benefit of it is that the RFID reader is reading the tag the entire time the truck is fueling. If the truck leaves the lane, the dispenser turns off,” Betancourt said.

Sibley has always been concerned about drive offs, and to help prevent them, he updated his Trendar system so it would allow trucker card preauthorization and installed a Passport point-of-sale system that allowed for larger preauthorization amounts. Before that, the location had drivers leave their credit card and driver’s license with the cashier, but drivers didn’t like the extra step. Although upgrading the systems was expensive and caused some back-office complexities, Sibley said it was worth it.

ENSURING COMPLETE DELIVERIES

Jones said operators also have to be concerned with theft from deliveries. “With our system, we are able to precisely measure the amount of delivery within the tank,” Jones said. “We can see the amount of product that has entered the tank, reference what was in there and then reference the bill of lading to say if they’ve been shorted on delivery."

Warren Rogers Associates uses an onsite computer, an automatic tank gauge console and tank gauges—probes that go into each one of the tanks and measures product level and temperature.

RELYING ON EMPLOYEES

In addition to technology, operators should emphasize employee awareness, Schulte said. He recommends every shift leader take a quick walk around the location, including the outside, when coming on duty.

“Walk the pumps and see if they’ve been tampered with. Make that a part of your process,” Schulte said. “Look at the equipment. Make sure it is maintained and working properly. If you have three shifts and three people are looking at it every single day, the likelihood of something happening and going unnoticed for a long period of time is decreased.”

Sibley said the human element is key. “Placing security stickers on doors, or buzzers inside may help, it really boils down to collecting in advance, getting card companies to authorize higher amounts, having employees better watch for thieves in the act, and educating the public to be aware to help watch,” he said.

The state of Florida, the Florida Petroleum Council and Florida Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association have joined together to prevent skimming fraud following the discovery of more than 100 skimmers on fuel pumps in the state. The groups have recommended fuel retailers routinely check their pumps for signs of tampering and watch for suspicious activity, such as trucks blocking their view and passengers sitting in parked cars for long periods of time, which could be someone trying to remotely access a skimmer’s collected info. They also warn to watch for signs of tampering, such as torn security tape.

 



via Business Feeds

The Connected Truckstop: Growing sales with an online presence

Smartphones provide on-the-go access for travelers and professional drivers no matter where they are. Whether they are plotting their next stop on a road trip, trying to decide where to stop for the night or looking for a great place to eat, people are using their handheld devices to make purchasing decisions.

To connect with those potential and existing customers, truckstop and travel plaza operators have to maintain an online presence and should work to control as much of their information as possible.

Dustin Trail of Trail’s Travel Center in Albert Lea, Minnesota, has spent the last year defining his online presence and making sure his information was unified across the web. He has gotten involved on social media sites, including Yelp and Facebook, and made sure all of his data was accurate on Google.

“Anyone can just create your business with or without accurate information. For us it was important just to go through and claim that stuff,” Trail said. “You wouldn’t let someone design your own billboard, would you? It is staying proactive on all of those different avenues.”

Trail also added a virtual tour to the company’s webpage to show people what the location is like, and it helps with online searches. “If you have high-quality photos on Google, you’re more relevant and will appear higher up in searches,” he said.

Taryn Brice-Rowland, NATSO’s information technology director, said searches are particularly important for mobile phone users. “Android phones are powered by Google Business and iPhone results are powered by Yelp,” she said.

Chris Heinz of Coffee Cup Fuel Stops turned to a provider, LocalVox, to help him clean up his digital presence, particularly on Google. “I was struggling to get Google to stay. We had one location that would consistently show seven miles away. It was painful and I couldn’t get it done myself, but these guys did,” Heinz said. “Now I have the password, everything is showing right and we have a current picture showing.”

While Trail’s main focus has been on Google, he also updated the company’s information on Garmin, Bing, Trip Advisor and Foursquare. “Foursquare is a good way for customers to shout out your location. It gets tied in with some Facebook stuff too,” Trail said.

When deciding which online platforms to pursue, Trail said it is important to understand your resources. “You would not overextend yourself in your location, so do not do it online by maintaining virtual presences that you cannot sustain,” Trail said.

As a result of Trail’s efforts, the company’s web traffic has increased every month and so have sales. “From a year ago to today we have double the Facebook friends and double the Google Plus views and website views. With that, our sales are up,” he said.

Trail said most departments have seen 10 to 15 percent increases depending on the category. “Even if our customer count isn’t growing, we seem to be driving more inside sales. Our inside sales numbers are up around 10 percent,” Trail said. “Our restaurant sales are up almost 11 percent over last year while the industry standard right now is 2 to 3 percent. In a truckstop environment, full-service restaurants are dying and ours is growing.”

When coordinating an online campaign, Brice-Rowland said consistent branding is key. “Everything a truckstop does should reflect its digital presence and vice versa,” she said, adding that operators should be careful not to make their sites too busy.

While Trail now has control of his online presence, he said it isn’t something you can set and forget. “I don’t think the process ever ends. It is a constantly changing. It needs to be updated. It needs to be monitored,” Trail said, adding that operators shouldn’t feel discouraged when staking their claim online. “It took time to build your truckstop and it will take time to build it online, so plan accordingly.”



via Business Feeds

Ten Tips for Locating Hourly Workers

With the economy improving, it is becoming more and more challenging to hire new employees. Here are ten tips for finding the best new hires.

Search for employees from other industries. “I often suggest people look for workers in places they don’t normally look,” said Darren Schulte, vice president of membership for NATSO.

One industry that truckstop and travel plaza operators can tap into is home health care. “They have very loyal employees that are used to taking care of people. What do we want in a cashier? Someone who is friendly and wants to help,” Schulte said.

Schulte also suggests operators look to the hotel industry when searching for custodians. “Both of these industries—hotels and home health care—don’t always pay well, so we may be able to offer these employees a higher salary than they were receiving,” he explained. “If you’re an organization that is looking for a full-time employee and you have benefits, you may be surprisedat the type of person you can find and hire in those industries.”

To find these employees, operators should look at how hotels and home health care centers recruit for employees. “My guess is they aren’t advertising through the help wanted sign,” Schulte said, adding that operators could reach out to a local staffing agency to let them know what types of positions the travel plaza has available.

Make recruiting an ongoing process. Recruiting only when you have job openings can leave you at a disadvantage because you’ll most likely rush to fill the position, which could result in a bad hiring decision.

Focus on word-of-mouth advertising. While technology has brought about more employee recruiting innovations, such as job boards, websites and social media, referrals from existing employees, vendors and customers are still one of the top ways to find a new hire. You should also be on the lookout for good customer service. Whether you’re checking out at the grocery store or ordering coffee at Starbucks, keep an eye out for good service and let the person know that you are always in the market for friendly, helpful employees.

Put hiring information on your website. Adding a “Careers” or “Join Our Team” tab on your website can help spread the word about open positions. Even if you don’t have a current need, you can list the qualities you are looking for in potential hires.

Use social media. If you’ve already cultivated an online presence (see related story on page 18), you can spread the word through your social media channels.

Use local job boards. Look into all of the resources available in your community. These vary by region, but they could include online listings via local television stations or newspapers or community Facebook pages.

Cultivate a relationship with your local schools. You can introduce your business to local high schools, tech schools and colleges by sponsoring events on campus. You can also create a more formal internship program for certain positions.

Know what you are looking for in an employee. Create a job description for every position, which will help you identify the qualities your employee needs to have.

Make it easy to apply. Putting systems in place, such as job applications that can be submitted online, that make it easy for potential hires to apply can increase the number of applicants. See suggestions at right.

Maintain a reputation as a good place to work. Keeping facilities nice, being involved in the community and treating employees fairly will all affect the number of job applicants a location receives.



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The New Mattress Professionals

By Charlie Wells The mattress industry is having its Silicon Valley moment. With flashy marketing and names like Eve and Casper, Leesa and Keetsa, mattress startups are trying to reinvent mattress selling, offering fewer products, simpler pricing—and none of the industry’s traditional holiday-weekend discounts. The new companies say the millions of dollars in venture-capital funding they have attracted are a sign that the established mattress industry is ripe for disruption. And consumers, for better or worse, have even more purchasing options in their pursuit of a good night’s sleep.The startup brands bring together peer-to-peer selling techniques and new media platforms, to turn their customers’ enthusiastic social media posts into cheap but effective viral marketing.“This is basically the Uber of mattresses,” says Brett Hogan, a 29-year-old self-described “early adopter” in Austin, Texas who ordered a mattress online from Leesa, in Virginia Beach, Va., after talking to friends and doing some online research. Mr. Hogan says he discovered he is a “hot sleeper,” and that other memory-foam mattresses tend to trap heat. He was sold on Leesa’s claim that it keeps users cooler at night. He ordered a $990 king-size mattress and a few days later got a “surprisingly small” box delivered to his front door with the mattress stuffed inside. The last thing Mr. Hogan, who works at a human-resources technology startup, and his wife wanted to do was to spend their Saturday or Sunday afternoon in a mattress showroom with an up-selling salesman. Besides, Leesa, like many of the other new brands, offers a 100-night trial period: If customers don’t like the way they sleep, they can return the mattress. Other marketing tactics customers seem to like are the new brands’ simplified websites, social-media marketing that can involve answering people’s questions about products and in some cases, offering to pay customers $50 for each person they refer. And many customers are taking part in a form of social-media promotion—the unboxing video, which in this case shows what happens when someone unboxes a memory-foam mattress and the rolled up foam grows like a shriveled-up sponge hit with water. Scores of videos show people posing with freshly unboxed mattresses from brands like Leesa, Casper, Eve, and Yogabed. A video might include a link to a referral code, so that the video creator can get their $50. “This is the Mary Kay model, digitized,” says Matt Mattox a vice president at The Martin Agency in Richmond, Va. “I’m sure it was a happy accident, but a great byproduct of the way these mattresses are packaged is that they really expand when you open them, and people want to share that experience.” A queen-size mattress from Casper costs $850, shipping included, with a 100-night free trial and a 10-year warranty. Leesa’s comparable queen-size offer costs $890. Both companies allow customers to return their mattresses for a full refund and free pickup during the 100-night trial. Other companies such as Tuft & Needle, Eve, Yogabed, Endy, and Keetsa offer similar products, price-points, and return policies. Mattresses are a lot like men’s suits, says Michael Silverstein, a senior partner at the Boston Consulting Group, who specializes in consumer buying and retail. You can spend a few hundred dollars or a few thousand, but quality won’t rise in lockstep with price. “The market for beds is a very large one, with a high degree of dissatisfaction. With the right marketing, the right product design, and the right set of functional benefits, a startup founder could make a lot of money,” he says. Money is pouring in. In February, Casper said sales exceeded $20 million in its first 10 months of operation, a spokesperson said. Investors in Casper range from established venture-capital firms to actor Leonardo DiCaprio, singer Adam Levine, and hip-hop artist Nas, according to The Wall Street Journal’s Venture Capital Dispatch blog.Mattress sales are growing online, even outside the specialty startup boutiques. Big retailers say this is because consumers are getting comfortable making large purchases online. Now there are so many mattress startups, it is hard for consumers to choose between them. Kylie Ledbetter, a 27-year-old lifestyle blogger from Houston, and her husband had an old mattress they needed to replace, but they felt overwhelmed by all the choices. With the brands’ 100-night return policy in mind, they ordered two twin mattresses—one from Leesa, one from Casper. “What we concluded was that the Casper might possibly be better for people who weigh less, such as myself,” says Ms. Ledbetter. “In comparison, my husband is able to sink further into the Leesa than I am.” Ms. Ledbetter and her husband ended up keeping the mattresses for more than 100 days and so couldn’t return them. But Ms. Ledbetter says she got $250 from Casper for five referrals, and she still receives $50 each time her Leesa mattress code is used, so that her Leesa mattress was effectively free. Another tactic the new mattress brands are using is celebrity endorsements or associations. Pope Francis was expected to sleep on a memory foam relaxed firm queen-sized mattress by West Port, Conn.-based online luxury mattress startup Saatva’s Loom & Leaf division. The pontiff visited the Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary near Philadelphia last weekend, according to Stephen Dolan, the seminary’s chief financial officer. Mr. Dolan said the mattress was donated but declined to comment further and referred questions to the company. Saatva chief executive Ron Rudzin says he is “simply honored and blessed” by the news. Stuart Carlitz, chief executive of Bedding Industries of America, which manufactures Saatva mattresses, says he was approached by representatives from the World Meeting of Families, who asked if he could supply a bed for the Holy Father. The World Meeting of Families is sponsored by the Holy See’s Pontifical Council for the Family, and the pope delivered mass at the meeting on Sunday. Mr. Carlitz says he donated the Saatva mattress, which retails for $999.Basketball player Jeremy Lin, model Kylie Jenner, and actor Mario Lopez have shared their excitement over Casper purchases by posting pictures of their recently arrived boxes on Instagram. They received tens of thousands of “likes.” Philip Krim, chief executive of Casper, says these celebrities weren’t paid to post on behalf of the company. Ian and Abby Corry made an unboxing video soon after receiving their Casper mattress in the mail. The Tampa Bay, Fla. couple had just returned an uncomfortable mattress they bought on the cheap from a department store’s Black Friday sale. Mr. Corry, 25, had seen lots of mattress review videos, and figured that as a videographer, he might as well give it a shot to share their experience and help others trying to navigate the new marketplace.The couple’s review of the Casper is almost entirely positive—Mr. Corry says this is in part because he and his wife had such a negative experience with the department store mattress. The couple, as all Casper customers are, was also offered $50 for each person, up to five, that used their Casper referral code to buy a mattress. Now, the video has received over 34,000 views on YouTube and the couple has earned $250. “Casper isn’t paying us to sponsor its product,” said Mr. Corry. “We were just amazed to see the thing go viral.” Write to Charlie Wells at Charlie.Wells@wsj.com

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UPS Invests to Learn About Direct Web Sales

By Laura Stevens United Parcel Service Inc. is investing in a tech startup that allows brand manufacturers to set up websites and sell directly to consumers, bypassing the middlemen.Two-year-old Ally Commerce Inc., headed up by a former eBay Inc. executive, has launched websites and other e-commerce services for brands including D-Link, Bosch and Electrolux. The startup has raised a total of $8.4 million in two rounds of funding, and UPS declined to disclose the amount of its minority-stake investment.Direct-to-consumer online sales by manufacturers have become e-commerce’s final frontier, and it is fast-growing. By next year, direct-to-consumer online sales are expected to become the largest source of sales for brand manufacturers at 34% of the total, according to a survey by Forrester. Brand manufacturers reported in the survey that their online sales grew nearly 30% in 2013, compared with about 14% growth for all e-commerce, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.At that time, Jason Rubottom, now CEO of Ally Commerce, was working at eBay and noticed a tipping point as more than a dozen major manufacturers expressed interest in getting into online sales. He was also in touch with the Atlanta-based founders of an online music-equipment retailer with experience and technology, who came up with the starting point for a new cloud-based software platform to bring the same logistical expertise to manufacturers.Ally Commerce’s technology allows manufacturers to tap the company for everything from creating and running a website to fulfillment of orders and returns. The company launched in January 2014 and did $10 million in sales its first year.Shoppers already expect to be able to buy direct. The margins are typically twice as good for the manufacturers if they sell directly to consumers than through retailers and other channels, Mr. Rubottom said. “This is consumer-driven,” he added. “You want to go to one spot, and you know you’ll find it there.” Ally Commerce is the latest in a string of startup investments by the strategic corporate venture arm of UPS, ranging from crowdsourced delivery app Roadie Inc. to 3-D printing manufacturer CloudDDM LLC. Currently, the delivery giant has a portfolio of about 20 companies which have invented technologies that align with UPS’s interests—especially in areas that might affect UPS and its customers’ businesses in the next two to five years, said Rimas Kapeskas, head of UPS’s strategic enterprise fund.When UPS invests in a startup like Ally Commerce, it is for research purposes. It is often cheaper than UPS carrying out its own research and development. “We want to understand how they’re operating. It’s a very cost-effective deployment of our capital,” Mr. Kapeskas added.E-commerce is a special target for investments, he added, “because it’s transformed our business.”Growth in online sales has caused growing pains for UPS in recent years, including back-to-back holiday seasons in which it disappointed investors with its performance as online orders surged. The company warned earlier this year that costs to ramp up for its increasingly unpredictable holiday season will continue to be a drag on earnings. The business is also low margin, as delivery drivers often go farther to drop off cheaper packages at houses scattered throughout a neighborhood.In response, UPS has sought more profitable e-commerce outlets, including expanding its ability to handle retailers’ returns. But it remains to be seen how much of a role UPS might take in the direct-to-consumer space. Mr. Kapeskas said that the company typically doesn’t purchase the startups in which it is invested.Ally Commerce now has 30 customers, including D-Link Systems Inc. The computer networking-product manufacturer first started using Ally Commerce about a year ago to sell its products on marketplaces like eBay. Previously, the company struggled with juggling filling single orders to consumers with its big shipments to retailers. Now it ships routers and other products to Ally Commerce, which fills the orders. Write to Laura Stevens at laura.stevens@wsj.com

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Nod Your Head If You'd Go to a Bobblehead Museum

By Joe Barrett Famous for beer, brats and baseball, Milwaukee could soon add another B to its repertoire: bobbleheads.A pair of childhood friends crazy about the nodding dolls are trying to raise about $250,000 to open the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum by next fall.Museum co-founders Phil Sklar and Brad Novak, both 31 years old, quit their day jobs in corporate finance and retail, respectively, to follow their dream. The pair, who share a two-bedroom condo in Milwaukee stuffed with a few thousand bobbleheads, say the city on Lake Michigan is the perfect place for the museum. “This is a bobblehead-obsessed state and a bobblehead-obsessed city,” Mr. Sklar said. “We’ve traveled all over, and it really makes sense here. It’s bobblehead country.”To raise money for the museum, expected to house about 10,000 of the dolls, Mr. Sklar and Mr. Novak have started taking orders for custom bobbleheads, contracting with a manufacturer in China. Just in the past month, they helped bring 35 designs for 50,000 new bobbleheads into the world, Mr. Sklar said, including a portly one for a local restaurant, Chubby’s Cheesesteaks.On Tuesday, the two co-founders, along with Olympus Group, a Milwaukee-based maker of mascot costumes, announced a contest for children under 18 to design a new mascot for the museum. The design, Mr. Sklar said, will be “totally up to the kids. We love creativity in bobbleheads.”So far, the co-founders have raised about $100,000 through the custom bobblehead business and founding memberships in the museum, which they’ve sold at various price points to people in 40 states. They earlier tried their hand at online crowdfunding, which didn’t meet their $250,000 goal but succeeded in bringing in members.The plan is to locate the 7,000- to 10,000-square-foot museum near other Milwaukee attractions, like the Harley-Davidson Museum, the Fonzie statue (official name: “Bronze Fonz”), the old Pabst Brewery district and a new basketball complex for the Milwaukee Bucks.It will tell the story of the bobblehead, which starts in the late 1700s with Chinese dolls with springs under their head to create the nodding, bobbling effect. “Those go at auction for about $30,000,” Mr. Sklar said.Mr. Sklar recently purchased a collection in Lafayette, Ind., of 400 or so pop-culture bobbleheads, including the Hawaiian Punch kid, Casper the Friendly Ghost and Homer Simpson.Last spring, the pair picked up their most valuable collection from someone who had seen an article about them in their hometown paper in Rockford, Ill.: 32 bobbleheads of NFL teams, including the first made for many of the teams, dating back to the 1960s, Mr. Novak said. Some of the rare dolls are worth hundreds of dollars each. “They didn’t want to give them away, but they wanted to help us out, so we got a very good price,” Mr. Novak said.Other possible highlights of the museum collection: Around 30 presidential bobbleheads, Donald Trump, Martin Luther King and three versions of Pope Francis bobbleheads commemorating his recent U.S. trip, including one where he holds a Philly cheesesteak while wearing boxing gloves.Among other prizes, the winning designer of the museum mascot will get a free trip to the museum when it opens, a $500 scholarship and 12 copies of their design in bobblehead form.“It will definitely give them bragging rights,” Mr. Sklar said. Write to Joe Barrett at joseph.barrett@wsj.com

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