Increase Sales with Top-Selling Items


Stocking the shelves with top-selling items can keep customers coming back and increase profits, but finding the hot items isn’t always easy. NATSO members told Stop Watch they turn to trade shows, outside retailers and social media to find the next hot item, and they are sometimes sur­prised by what sells and what doesn’t.  

Uncovering the Next Hot Item
ruckstop and travel plaza operators said they look for inspiration in sev­eral places. Herb Hargraves, director of fuel and retail operations for Cash Magic Casino, visits local competi­tion, grocery stores and large chain retailers to see what they are selling.

“I couple this with suggestions from vendors and other retailers to deter­mine if the items will match our de­mographic,” he said, adding that he also turns to social media—Instagram and Facebook—to research new prod­ucts. “I review their Instagram and see what others are saying about their products, how many followers they have and how many likes they have. I have found that this helps gauge the interest in a product that I am consid­ering launching in our stores.”

One recent addition Hargraves made after seeing the item on Ins­tagram is a product called Oral I.V., a four-pack of a natural hydration activator that supplements some­one’s water intake. “The general idea of the product is to help keep you fully hydrated if you are going to be working outside in the sun all day, hitting the gym hard and even if you are planning a night out on the town drinking, you can use this prior to any of the above activities to help you recover faster,” he said.

Hargraves said the product is sell­ing well at the stores he has identi­fied as healthy stores, which are the locations that sell a large volume of protein bars and Muscle Milk. “As the weather continues to get hotter I anticipate construction workers and oil industry employees will try it as well,” he said, adding that is he is working with Oral I.V. to hold sam­pling events where customers can try it before they buy it, which he be­lieves will spur sales, and to produce a lower retail version to fit within the metrics of a c-store everyday item and bring the price point down to that similar to 5-Hour Energy.

Erin Osborne, a merchandiser for Hat Six Travel Plaza, has had suc­cess with a range of items, includ­ing rocks, fossils, nightlights, dishes and clothing. To find new items, Osborne said she and a colleague go to a different show about once a month. She also works with her vendors. “I always ask my vendors, ‘What do you have that is new?’ I try to stay up to date,” she said.

The dishes Hat Six sells have a western theme and Osborne said they “flew” out of the location. Os­borne said the location also has a hard time keeping stepping stones on the shelves. “They are amazingly good sellers,” she said. “The stepping stones have sayings on them and the majority are for someone you love who has passed away,” she said.

Don Paddock, president of Chair­man’s Circle member KSG Distrib­uting, said he has seen operators have success with several new prod­ucts, such as the company’s Sun Lilly roll-up sun hats, a “Beat the Heat” line from Gold Coast Hats and Fit­Kicks active wear. KSG rolled the products out during The NATSO Show and also helps operators with displays. “We try to create a vehicle to sell the product and attract cus­tomers’ attention,” Paddock said.

Chuck White, NATSO Chair­man's Circle member and vice presi­dent of brands and marketing for DAS Companies Inc., said mobile technology is a mass trend for gen­eral consumers and truck drivers. He said 84 percent of truck drivers access the internet daily and 71 per­cent own a smartphone. “In the U.S. only 68 percent of consumers own a smart phone, so the trucker is ahead of the curve,” he said.

That means technology-related products can sell well. White said the BlueParrott B450XT Bluetooth Headset and Plantronics Voyager 5200 Bluetooth headset are be­coming top sellers. “Another major trend is ELD sales. Rand McNally has a new, multi-purpose product that is not only a traditional tablet but has built-in GPS, an ELD add-on component and a host of other things that are a business tool for the pro-driver,” White said.

Unexpected Winners
Hargraves said he has items sell well that he wasn’t expecting. They in­clude adult coloring books, Tropiceel natural healing creams, key chains by KeyStaks and high-performance K2 Coolers, which are priced between $129 and $399. Hargraves has also had success with winter hats, which surprised him because of the warm weather in Louisiana.

Coats and poncho-like wraps have gone over well at Hat Six, Osborne said, adding that no one was sure the wraps would sell. “We hung them right by the door and re­ally didn’t expect to move any, but we sold out of all of them and had to keep buying them,” she said. “It is generally the stuff you don’t think will sell that flies out of here.”

Sean Flynn, general manager of Flynn’s Travel Plaza, said several years ago one of his managers got talked into buying a big order of toy monkeys that clapped their hands and played the Macarena song. “We had something like 200 of these things. I thought they were ugly and figured that there was no way they’d sell,” Flynn said. “So we put them right on the counter to try and un­load them. Every single one sold.”

Plus, they sold out so quickly, the location decided to order more, which Flynn said was a mistake. “That second order took months to sell out. It was the novelty of the original shipment that sold them, and I guess all of my customers that wanted one bought one the first time,” Flynn said.

Schulte said he is a big fan of “blow­ing and going,” the concept of grab­bing onto a trend, selling it while its hot, then moving on to something else. When the Billy Bass singing fish craze took off in the 90s, Schulte bought into it at Petro. “It took off and had legs. After that, they had other singing animals, but those of us that just stopped with Billy Bass were the victors,” he said. “You have to ask yourself, is it a staple item that is hot for your location or really just a one-and-done item that you bring in and sell out and let it go.”

Paddock said, “Sometimes it is better just to get in and get off and get on. We try not to ride things too long unless it has proven to be a continuous seller.”

Operators also said they’ve pur­chased items they thought would sell well that didn’t move. “We ordered shoulder dollies. I thought those would sell, but they haven’t,” Osborne said.

Flynn said he always thought HeaterMeals—self-heating, shelf-stable, individual meals—would have sold better. “They are a tasty meal that doesn’t need refrigeration, which you can heat up in your truck or anywhere else for that matter. We never did as well with them as I would have expected,” he said.

When trying new items, Schulte suggests locations start with smaller quantities so they aren’t stuck with products if they don’t sell.

Mike Lawshe, president of Chair­man’s Circle member Paragon So­lutions, said operators need to be open to new products, even if some don’t become hits. “Give yourself permission to fail by trying new things, but from a failure you can gain knowledge,” he said. “Too of­ten we limit ourselves to what the other are doing. That is not where you’re going to become an outlier.”

Paddock said KSG protects opera­tors on items that don’t sell and can swap products out. “The last thing we want is for them to have a bad taste in their mouth,” he said.

Paddock said operators can also try new products on a limited ba­sis to test the waters. Within KSG’s “Beat the Heat” line of hats, some customers will introduce one or two styles before adding more.

Know Your Customer
Schulte suggests operators look at current trends in food or retail. “In many cases there is no reason that whatever is selling at other locations won’t sell with us depending on who the customer is,” he said, adding that the key is to know who is stopping with you.

For example, headphones have been popular recently, but they aren’t necessarily a top seller among profes­sional drivers because they can’t use them while driving. “But if you have a lot of car customers, they may be a good option because other passengers in the car might need headphones for their devices,” Schulte said.

>White said he sees three custom­ers, the trucker, business traveler and leisure traveler. “We tend to think of products along that con­tinuum,” he said. “Do they appeal to 100 percent, 75 percent or 50 percent of the audience?”

White said operators can talk with drivers to better understand their customers, request informa­tion from vendors and look at in­dustry information, such as that provided by NATSO.

Operators said many of the staples continually sell well. Hargraves said the overall best-selling items at the company’s locations are grab-and-go salty and sweet snacks, such as chips, pastries, candy and soda. He has also seen an increase in the amount of sales on healthier snacks as well, such as Core Power high protein drinks, Muscle Milk, protein bars and gra­nola bars. “Our customers have also increased purchases of our sandwich­es supplied by our grocery vendor,” Hargraves said.

Offer Variety
Changing merchandise regularly also gives customers a reason to stop in so they can see what is new. “If things are always changing it makes it fun to come in here,” Osborne said.

Schulte said Marshalls and TJ Maxx have built on their success by fre­quently changing up their offerings. “We want people to be surprised. We want them to shop our stores and we do that by making sure we have dif­ferent things all the time,” he said.

Lawshe suggests operators cre­ate change and tap into the seasons. “Your customers will say, ‘It’s St. Pat­rick’s Day. I know I can find some­thing there,’” he said. “Create the expectation and be consistent. You’re trying to become a destination.”

The right displays and layout can help boost sales, and vendors can sometimes help operators find the best solution. On its FitKicks products, KSG has seven different ways customers can display the products, including on the counter or on end caps. “We try to give them a lot of options. The sales rep that knows the store will come in and show them a sample,” Paddock said.

Paddock said many of the dis­plays can stay year round and KSG swaps out merchandise to match the seasons. One wing display, for example, could feature winter hats during cold months and ice towels once temperatures heat up. “We’ll put that in a store so we’ll change it three to four times a year. The re­tailer allows us to control that space and pick the new items,” he said.

Take A Holistic Approach
“Just about every customer says, ‘What are the hot sellers, what do I need to have?’ Ultimately, there is no silver bullet,” Lawshe said.

However, when operators approach sales holistically and execute with a combination of design and good, quality offerings, their success in sell­ing those products increases, Lawshe explained, and the key is to create an environment that enhances key items. “It is creating an expectation by the customer that you have what they want multiple times,” he explained.

For example, at Hat Six, the loca­tion brought in multiple food offer­ings and added a proprietary deli. “They’ve taken the broad approach of offering more food options and customizing them to not only the truckstop traffic but also the locals. They are not a one-trick pony,” Law­she said.

White said vendors can offer in­sight into the right displays and positioning to help spur sales. “We as a supplier have a responsibility to provide the right product to the customers, then offer promotional opportunities that would increase conversion or getting the product merchandised well,” White said.

Photo credit: Hat Six

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