Driving the highways, tollways, and interstates of the United States, it is difficult not to notice the many truck stops distributed along these vital transportation routes. With signs emblazoned high above the horizon, and more than a few billboards alerting you of their location well before their exit, these outposts are strategically located to cater, in large part, to the professional truckers that heavily travel these routes.
Featuring showers, hotels, restaurants, plenty of diesel pumps, and large parking spaces dedicated to larger truck rigs, the truck stops identify largely with the trucker customer base, and the truck stops, in turn are rewarded with a happy customer base that spends generously in all the right places.
As an urban dweller and owner of a convenience and gas station in Raleigh, NC, I often wonder why other convenience store owners do not do the same for their service-industry customers. I have found over the years that the workers in the service sectors like HVAC, towing, landscaping, utilities, and electric are often repeat customers and spend significantly more than your average driver topping off the tank on their way home from work.
So today, as follow up to an earlier article on the importance of the occupational service sector, I’ve been asked by the editorial staff of SOspeedway to review our recent effort to pivot of our convenience store in North Raleigh to better cater to our service sector customers.
What We Did
Expanded Targeted Offerings – With our belief that a convenience section dedicated to service-based drivers would also help drive ancillary convenience stores, we devised an area for items like back rest supports, steering wheel covers, and other high-dollar, high-margin items that would likely appeal to service truck drivers, further driving in-store sales and customer retention. This “Service Section” like was located directly across from the refrigerated fresh foods section where many of these customers grab lunch for the day.
- Rewards Programs – As a convenience store owner of employee, there is a good chance you know who you best customers are and you probably know them on a first-name basis. Rather than simply waiting for them to find out about rewards programs like the Speedy Rewards Mall programs to, we actively reached out to these customers to get them involved, and where appropriate, gave them a unsolicited discount on a purchase. In my opinion nothing goes further for creating a life-long customer than recognizing these important customers individually.
- Smoking Section – We had asked our top service-sector customers what they would like more than anything and a clean smoking section was rated near the top. Although hesitant to implement for fear of driving away non-smoking customers, we were able to carve out some open green-space away from the pumps and the store entrance to locate a cozy area with potted plants and a few ashtrays. While not overly large, we wanted to ensure clean, adequate space while not creating a perception that they were being sent to “smoker’s jail” as we like to call many of the cramped smoking-only spaces we have seen elsewhere.
- Added Diesel Pumps – Service technicians are on the road – a lot. And with the increased driving miles it makes more sense for these companies to own diesel-powered vehicles versus their gas counterparts. With this in mind, we were noticing that many of these customers were having to wait for the diesel pump in the mornings and late rush hour. In response, we made the decision to convert a gas pump to diesel making it a total of two pumps and four nozzles diesel and four / eight for gas. Although there are now times every day where our traditional gas customers must wait for a pump to become available, we have seen it as an acceptable, net-positive trade-off.
While we only have 6 months of data at the time of this writing our operating revenue have increased an impressive 5% and is trending steadily higher every month. With the additional revenue, we’ve nearly paid half of the outlay for the pump conversion, new product and smoking section construction. If this trend continues, tobacco product sales will increase 7% YOY.
On the downside, as expected, we did see a higher wait time for the normal gas station pumps, and we did have had some initial setback with product placement with the new within the store. This forced us to try a number of different product offerings at the new “service section”, and had to eat the cost of a few higher dollar items that were not selling.
Feedback was mostly positive. Here’s a couple that stand out…
“We love the new additions; the smoking section is a nice area to get out of the tow truck and have a smoke break after filling up and eating lunch. Diesel pumps are not as congested at lunch.” Willis Banks, Straight Away Towing Service, Raleigh NC
“I come here around three days a week and prefer it over the BP across the street. Its cleaner and the workers behind the counter know us. Fact is, we are repeat customers and were offered a preferred customer discount without being asked. I appreciated it.” – Brian Jordan, Independent Electrician, Wake Forest, NC
For years we had a suspicion that the service-sector customer profile was more profitable than more other segments, but we were always hesitant to convert the customer experience toward that base in fear of alienating our “bread and butter” customers, however the effort so far has been well worth it.
While there are some downsides, the additional revenue speaks for itself and we would suggest any owner of a convenience store to take steps to similarly address the occupational service sector customer profile.
Thanks for reading!