Food From the Best at Columbus West

In the 11 years since it opened, Columbus West Travel Center in Columbus, Wisconsin, has grown from a convenience store to a full-service truckstop. “It started out as a convenience store and then as truck traffic increased, it was converted over to a truckstop by adding seven die­sel fueling positions, three showers, laundry, game room, lounge, Arby’s restaurant and hot food, prepared on site,” said owner Richard Sheard.

Stop Watch sat down with Sheard to learn more about the location’s operations and gain his insight into the industry’s latest trends.

Emphasis on Food Service
Food service is becoming a more important component of the over­all sales at truckstops and travel plazas and Columbus West Travel Center is poised to take advantage of this trend.

“As fuel sales do not allow for any significant growth, going forward our emphasis has to be on promot­ing inside sales, especially freshly prepared, good quality foods. “We are offering more and more fresh food options,” Sheard said.

Sheard has found several ways to grow his food service, including increasing healthy offerings and emphasizing speed (see more below). Columbus West Travel Center also has plans to offer new food items. “We have brought in a Perfect Fryer and will begin providing fried and baked chicken, fried cheese curds and other assorted fried food items as well as some signature sandwiches,” Sheard said.

A Dependable Crew
Staff is key at Columbus West Travel Center. In addition to Sheard, a store manager, assistant store manager, 10 cashiers, one maintenance person and two employees in accounting support everything on the location’s 17,000 square feet and 70 parking spots. The location has two-way ra­dios for cashiers to communicate with each other.

They keep everything looking great at the location by having one person each shift that works the floor, keeping shelves filled and keep­ing the restrooms and showers clean. “This allows our cashiers to always be available to serve our customers in a timely manner. When there is a slow period, one of the cashiers will take care of the coffee island, which is in plain site of the checkout coun­ter,” Sheard said.

Prepare for the Worst
After discovering an embezzlement problem in 2014, the location add­ed some additional security proce­dures to protect their cash.

“We now run all cash and credit transactions through our cash reg­isters so we have one complete re­cord for all transactions in our end of day report,” Sheard said, adding that the location uses locked bank bags for bank deposit runs and has two accounting people verify each other’s work. “We also looked at the automatic safes but have found that they just currently do not work for us,” he said.

Take Advantage of the Bigger Network
“We offer smaller trucking firms in our area a fleet card option through our BP network,” Sheard shared. BP offers monthly detailed reports on paper and online for fleet purchases on its fleet card. “This takes away the credit risk for us and allows us to of­fer an additional fuel discount. This allows us to be able to better com­pete with the big chains,” he said.

Plan for the Future
In addition to expanding their food of­ferings, the location’s plans for the fu­ture also include opening a truck wash and a maintenance facility on the six-acre site adjacent to their truckstop later this year.

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Tips to Grow Your Food Service

Richard Sheard, owner of Columbus West Travel Center, offered these three tips on how to grow food service offerings:

  1. When choosing what food to offer, pay attention to what your customers want. Sheard said, “Talk to your customers about what they would want in food at your location. Give them healthy options. With many older truck drives having health issues, a need for healthier options is important.” Offering baked chicken to go along with fried chicken as well as gluten-free foods, fresh fruit and salads gives customers more choices.

  2. Offer good quality that is available fast. Today’s customers are demanding greater quality and convenience in the food they purchase. “When offering an expanded food menu, do not go cheap. Prepare good quality food offerings made fresh every day,” Sheard said. He added that it is worth it to pay a little extra for good equipment that will provide a consistent quality product. Columbus West Travel Center has had great success with its take-n-bake pizza program.

  3. Offer samples. Another good piece of advice is to offer food product sampling. “It works for Costco and Sam’s Club and it will work for you,” Sheard said. He recommends operators always have something free to sample and offer a discount on the items being sampled to encourage an impulse sale on that day. “For example, we offer a variety of cheeses, but a customer may be hesitant to purchase a type they have not tried before,” he said. Columbus West Travel Center also exposes customers to new food at its open house. “We hold an annual open house for our trucking customers with free food and gift drawings,” Sheard said.

 



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