Seven Tips for Tapping Into Holiday Sales At Your Truckstop


In 2014, holiday retail sales reached $616.1 billion, the U.S. Commerce Department reported, and truckstops and travel plazas are well positioned to tap into a portion of those sales. But simply putting in holiday-themed merchandise won’t drive sales. To boost sales, operators have to market the right products at the right times.

NATSO members joined together this month during a NATSO Operational Exchange* conference call to share their experiences with holiday merchandising and offer quick tips to boost holiday sales. Here are seven key ideas operators shared during the call.

Identify the Customer
Operators agreed that the key to merchandising is understanding who the customer is. To increase sales, operators should look at the demographics of who is coming in and understand that those demographics could be very different for locations even within the same state. By breaking down demographics, operators said they were able to identify which products appealed to which shoppers. Among older shoppers, operators found that $20-$30 remote control helicopters have sold well. Operators located near popular fishing areas have found that fishing gear and high-end coolers sell well.

Start Early
Holiday sales often start well ahead of the holidays. The National Retail Federation found that in 2014, the average holiday shopper had completed more than half—52.9 percent—of his or her shopping by December 10, up from 49.9 percent in 2013. To better understand when to start promoting holiday items, operators can take cues from retailers around them. If large retailers in their area are launching holiday promotions ahead of Black Friday, the truckstops and travel plazas should too. Operators said it is also important to recognize the top shopping days for the general public may not be the top shopping days at the truckstop. Black Friday, for example, may not bring in a lot of foot traffic at a travel plaza, but heavy travel days before and after Thanksgiving could be a prime selling time.

Look for the Hot Products
Operators recommend checking in with vendors early in the year to find out what the top sellers are going to be. If there is a hot game or a new toy, truckstops and travel plazas should consider selling it, even if they can’t match the price of the local low-cost, big box retailer. Operators also said they’ve had success selling products customers don’t expect to see at a truckstop, such as purses and the latest and greatest sunglasses.

Create a Plan for Inventory
Before buying holiday merchandise, operators should have a plan in place for taking care of items that don’t sell, and that plan should go beyond simply marking goods down after Christmas. Some operators mark items down at various points throughout the holidays while others choose to purchase from a vendor that will take the merchandise back if it doesn’t sell.

Create a Program
By creating a destination location within the store for gift items, operators can spur sales. One operator has found success creating a gift basket program. For New Years the location put together a basket with hangover relief, energy drinks and lottery tickets. On Mother’s Day the same location put together a large wineglass, a bottle of wine and a tag that said, “Buy this for your mom on Mother’s Day. You’re the reason she drinks.” Another location has had luck making and selling gift bags of coal at Christmas, and can sell up to 200 a day.

Hold a One-Day Sale
One-day sales can be a great way to sell merchandise. To be successful, locations should schedule sales for the days they have the most shoppers in the store, which doesn’t always equate to the days with the largest number of customers. For example, Mondays and Wednesdays might find a lot of drivers inside the store, but those drivers may be looking to get back on the road quickly. Since people tend to shop more on the weekend, Saturdays could be the best day for a sale. Operators also said they have had the most success by making the one-day sale an event and focusing on a tight timeframe, such as 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Watch for Shrink
Unfortunately, theft can go up during the holidays. To cut down on shrink, operators said they’ve positioned merchandise close to the cash registers and locked down some high-priced items. Because employee theft can also increase, operators should keep an eye on transaction counts, look for registers that are open too long and watch for cancellations of large purchases.

Photo Courtesy of Petro Travel Store #353


*Open to all NATSO truckstop and travel plaza members, NATSO Operational Exchange monthly calls provide a forum for operators to discuss operational questions and connect with peers on a single topic.

Limited to 15 operators, next month's call will take place on Thursday, September 10 at 11:00 a.m. EDT10:00 a.m. CDT9:00 a.m. MDT and 8:00 a.m. PDT. Operators will discuss Daily, Weekly, Monthly ChecklistsAs a leader, how do you ensure you spend your time on the right things? Do you have a system for daily, weekly and monthly tasks? Plan to share your ideas on the call.

You can register online at or by emailing

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