Attract New Customers to Boost Sales

In today’s market, truckstops and travel plazas are facing increased competition on several fronts. Restaurants and retailers are adding fuel as well and charging stations for electric vehicles, and convenience stores are rolling out amazing grab-and-go food programs. At the same time, improved fuel mileage on ve­hicles means customers don’t have to stop as often for fuel. In response, operators are stepping up their ef­forts to attract new customers while also increasing the conversion rate of fuel customers, getting them to come into the store.

ADDING OFFERINGS

Just over one year ago, Bobby Berkstresser, owner of White’s Travel Plaza, launched Destination Station at the location, which has brought in more customers. Destination Sta­tion features a Caribou Coffee, Sub­way and Popeye's Chicken as well as a made-in-Virginia store, pet wash, movie theater, barber shop and the country's first pharmacy at a travel center. The location also features live music once a month.

Since Destination Station opened, Berkstresser has seen Friday, Satur­day and Sunday become the busiest days of the week. “Traffic and sales are increasing every month,” he said.

More importantly, customers’ mentality is shifting, Berkstresser said. Instead of seeing the location as a place to stop and get fuel, people are truly seeing it as a destination.

“We have drivers who are planning their 30-hour break with us. They get a haircut, they watch TV, they go to the theater and watch mov­ies and they get their prescriptions here,” he said.

The number of drivers filling their prescriptions at the truckstop is in­creasing. Recently a professional driver came in on a Sunday in crisis because he had run out of medica­tion without realizing it. “The phar­macist emailed the doctor and got a prescription sent in and was able to get it filled. The driver couldn’t believe it. He said, ‘I just got my prescription filled at a truckstop,’” Berkstresser said.

Berkstresser said adding music per­formances, which feature local blue grass and country bands, has boosted sales as well. “The drivers like it but the local crowds love it. Our restau­rant business is incredible on the nights we have music,” he said.

The performances are also boost­ing the sense of community. After a performance one week, Berkstresser received an email from a customer saying it was one of the nicest com­munity get-togethers she could re­member. “She said, ‘I’m having a blast. I’m seeing people out that I haven’t seen in years.’”

Cindy Knight, human resources manager at Rochelle Travel Plaza, said adding events for the commu­nity has helped her attract locals and drivers alike. Petro Rochelle hosts an annual car show, which is help­ing bring in customers. “Because we’re located right off of Interstate 39, I get cars from all over the place, Knight said. “It is free and we do trophies for the top 10 cars. Hope­fully we can get people out here and get them in the building so they can see what we have,” she said.

STOCKING UNIQUE ITEMS

Knight is also focusing on add­ing items her customers can’t get any­where else. Dot’s Pretzels, which are made by a small company in North Dakota, are a popular item that brings in customers. “We’re the only ones in the state of Illinois who sell them. We have a rack of them and we have Face­book fans who will post if the rack was empty,” she said. “We’re trying to find those niche products people can’t get anywhere else to try and get the locals to come out.”

She has worked with a local ven­dor to carry Woody’s Caramel Corn, which is popular in the area. “There are certain stores around Northwest­ern Illinois that have it and we can tout that we are one of them,” she said.

Petro Rochelle has added Strom­boli—a type of turnover filled with cheeses, meats and vegetables—to its grab-and-go deli because it isn’t available anywhere else in town. “Usually you see the traditional piz­za ingredients, which we do, but we also do pulled pork, Italian sausages and peppers and chicken broccoli,” Knight said.

Knight said gaining local custom­ers is a priority. “You have the ups and the downs with the over-the-road traffic. If you can get the loy­alty of the local customers, that can prop you up through those ups and downs,” she said.

Jim Goetz, vice president of Goetz Co., which operates the Petro Travel Plaza in Portage, Wisconsin, has in­creased sales by focusing on locals as well as tourists heading to their cab­ins. The location added liquor and mixers. “Years ago we never would have thought of it,” Goetz said.

Petro Rochelle also reaches out to travelers. The location has added ser­vices and fuel specifically for RV traf­fic. “We carry a line of RV-specific items in the trucker store and we have the pull-through parking for them and a pump that is off to the side to make it easy for them,” Knight said.

Knight advertises the RV services at the five major campgrounds within an hour-and-a-half of the location. “I ad­vertise in the map that they give every camper. I highlight our full RV services so they can hit here on the way home or on their way next year,” she said.

WORKING WITH SCHOOLS

Supporting local schools and sports teams can also attract new cus­tomers. Knight said she offers free ice cream cones to teams, and Berkstresser has offered a portion of sales to local elementary schools.

“It is nice to do things for the com­munity and make a difference, and it might bring in people who wouldn’t come in. If they come in one time, they are more likely to come back,” Berkstresser said.

GET SOCIAL

To spread the word about its products and specials, Tristen Griffith, general manager at Sacra­mento 49er, said the location has turned to Instagram to connect with both existing and potential custom­ers. The store manager posts photos of the location as well as items that are on special.

Both Berkstresser and Knight use Facebook to attract customers. In addition to sharing on the loca­tion’s Facebook page, Knight shares on pages for local groups, posting information about jobs and local products the location has available.

OFFERING SAMPLES

To spur sales of existing prod­ucts within the store, some locations are offering samples of products. During the Great Ideas! Session at The NATSO Show 2016, one in­dependent operator told attendees that the location had boosted sales of peanut brittle by setting up a table to offer samples and then suggestive sell­ing the candy.

Dan Alsaker, president of Broad­way Flying J, said the location saw sales of Tropiceel muscle ointment increase when he offered samples to drivers with each shower.

Tropiceel provides unlimited sam­pling so its customers can provide samples of the muscle relief rub to drivers who have purchased a show­er. “It makes drivers feel special at that stop,” said Becky Jean Horrace, a spokeswoman for the company.

Horrace said the samples help boost sales of the products and spur word-of-mouth marketing among drivers. The company also provides sample packs to locations’ employees. “We want to build champions. Employees who have had a positive experience with our products and might be inclined to enthusiastically share the benefits they received,” said Patrick Jovin, director of marketing for Tropiceel.

ENGAGING EMPLOYEES

Employees play a crucial role in attracting and retaining custom­ers, Berkstresser said, adding that he is increasing wages and is hiring better and nicer employees all of the time. “A few years ago at The NATSO Show, a lady from JetBlue spoke and gave hints on the quality of help and past and future behavior and what you can expect,” Berkstresser said, referring to Ann Rhodes, JetBlue founding execu­tive and author of Built on Values: Creating an Enviable Culture that Outperforms the Competition.

Creating a customer-service focused culture is dependent on managers and the human resources department, Berkstresser said. “Once you start that culture, then those are the people that come and put in applications. We had a lady from the community come in last week. Her family had sold their bed and breakfast. She said she’d seen what we’d been doing and wanted to be a part of it,” he said. “When you start attracting those types of people and good people want to come to work for you, it has a trickle effect.”

CULTIVATING LOYALTY

Attracting customers is just part of the equation. Converting them to loyal repeat customers is the next step. Berkstresser said his offer­ings as well as employees are bringing customers back.

One of Berkstresser’s local, elderly customers moved all of her prescrip­tions to the location once the pharma­cy opened and came in daily for a meal or to purchase something. “Coming to the truckstop gave her a reason to get dressed each day,” Berkstresser said.

When the woman passed away re­cently, her husband brought Berk­stresser a gift and told him that the night before his wife died, she told him she was sorry she didn’t get to the truckstop one last time to say good­bye. “He said she loved getting out every day and saying hi to everyone. That isn’t a story that most people in the truckstop business would tell you,” Berkstresser said. “That ultimately is what you’re here for. What you can do for people and how you make them feel is why we’re in business.” 



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