8 Ways to Maximize Slow Times at Your Truckstop

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Even the busiest locations experi­ence slow times of the day, and operators said they use those slow periods to prepare for peak times and get creative to boost business dur­ing traditionally slow times.

“There are all kinds of things that can be done during slow times—deep cleaning, bagging ice, maintenance. It just depends on your set up,” said Butch Stucky, vice president of retail operations at Triplett Inc.

Keith Wade, manager at Dodge City Petro, said, “We have to stay open 24 hours a day no mat­ter what, so we mainly do a lot of preparation during the off hours.”

Operators shared their strategies for making the most of down time and using it to their advantage.

  1. Prepare For Food Sales
    “Food to go has become such a great seller that at night we have folks in the kitchen preparing food— chicken salads or biscuits—for the morning. We rev up by 5 a.m. so we’ll have 100 biscuits ready to go and have our deli area stocked,” Wade said.

  2. Go Out And Find Customers
    When it is slow in the shop at Mitten Truck Stop, Matt Mildenberg­er, general manager at the location, sometimes sends a shop manager out into the field to meet with carriers and try to drum up business. “We try to do that mid-morning or early afternoon. A lot of times that manager that left in a pick-up truck will bring back one of their trucks to work on,” he said.

    Jim Goetz, president of Goetz Companies, has started catering for businesses and events within 10 miles of the location. “The idea is we want to expand our restaurant sales. If you can’t get customers in the seats in the restaurant, we’ll go out and find those customers,” he said, adding that the location pur­chased a catering truck.

  3. Strategically Schedule Work
    The truck service center at Dodge City Petro is open 24 hours a day, and Wade said the location has worked with local trucking compa­nies to service their equipment over­night. “They’ll drop their trucks off in the evening, our graveyard guys can do the oil changes overnight and they can pick up the trucks the next morning,” Wade said, adding that the location has about seven trucking companies within a five-mile radius.

  4. Cross-Train Staff
    Mildenberger has focused on cross training employees, which he said employees are open to, especially when they realize it will keep them from los­ing time on the schedule. “Most long-term employees get the big picture and can see and empathize with the slower times,” he said. “We can move porters and restaurant employees into the back of the kitchen and cross train them to prepare foods—sandwiches, wraps, pizza—and put them out in the warmers in the c-store.”

    Dodge City Petro closes some of its quick-serv restaurants at night, but keeps its sit-down restaurant open. Since business is slow overnight, the restaurant runs on a minimal staff. “In the restaurant the servers will also be the cashiers. The server may even have to jump on the front line and cook a little bit. They have to wear a few dif­ferent hats in our restaurant during the graveyard shift,” Wade said.

  5. Manage Inventory
    Tristen Griffith, president at Sacramento 49er, said the slow times are the perfect opportunity to stock and count inventory. “We do inven­tory counts based on sections and give different employees different sections,” she said.

  6. Get to Know Customers
    Darren Schulte, vice presi­dent of membership at NATSO, said that knowing what customers purchase and when can help loca­tions create specials to spur sales during slow times.

  7. Cease Outsourcing
    During slow periods, Milden­berger utilizes staff to take care of proj­ects the location normally would have hired out. “We’re coming off of a fairly slow first quarter and we’ve been trying to think outside of the box and look at some of the projects we need done,” he said. “We’re trying to make sure people aren’t standing around and trying to come up with things they can do.”

    Mildenberger has stopped using a mowing contractor and now has one of the outside porters cut the grass. Staff has also striped the parking lot. “Instead of paying a contractor $4,000 to $5,000 to stripe the parking lot, I bought a laser line striper and have one of the guys do it,” he said.

    Staff at Mitten Truck Stop also clean out the ditch liners, fill pot holes, power wash the location and wash windows. “We have a window wash­ing company but at slower times we can have our porters do it and it saves $300 to $400,” Mildenberger said. “You’re trying to utilize that labor so you don’t have to start talking about laying people off. 

  8. Don't Overstaff
    Schulte said locations can deter­mine the right staffing patterns by un­derstanding their sales per hour. “De­pending on the operation there will be a minimum amount of labor you have to have,” he said, adding that operators want to ensure they aren’t overstaffing at certain times of the day. “Why are you going to staff 10 employees on your 11–7 shift when you don’t have customers at that time?”

    Stucky said the No. 1 expense and asset at the location is the staff. “Having the right amount of people on hand at the right time is crucial,” he said.

    Triplett tracks sales and gross profit to come up with a gross-profit-per-employee calculation. “A best practice would be to track your sales and com­pare that with your man hours and give your staff a goal,” Stucky said.

    Overall, Mildenberger said slow times can be a good thing. “Slow times make you a better business person,” he said.

Photo Credit: Chuck Fazio/NATSO



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