NATSO Connect 2024 Rewind: Gaining Loyal Customers

Recognizing, engaging with and rewarding shoppers is key.
Danielle Romano
NATSO Connect 2024_marketing session
From left: Harman Aulakh and Peter Rasmussen (photo courtesy of NATSO)

ORLANDO, Fla. — Recent findings reveal that drivers fuel up at the same travel center two to three times a week, leaving the door open for operators to gain loyal customers who will come back again for a fourth, fifth or even sixth visit. 

Key to achieving this is recognizing, engaging with and rewarding customers.

For Onvo, a regional travel center and convenience store retailer that operates 39 locations throughout Pennsylvania and New York, this means a heavy reliance on loyalty and marketing. In 2021, the Pennsylvania-based chain developed a loyalty program and at its core, the program was created to provide offers and opportunities to engage with the Onvo brand and make the products customers were already buying more attractive.

For example, the backbone of Onvo's program is fuel discounts and club programs for coffee, fountain drinks and roller grill items, Harman Aulakh, vice president of marketing, shared during the "Opportunities to Grow Wallet Share" workshop at NATSO Connect 2024.

Advertisement - article continues below

"These are items our customers are purchasing regularly. They may be on that fourth purchase and maybe have to decide whether to come to Onvo or a different location down the street, but they might realize, 'hey, if I purchase that coffee today, I'll get my free coffee next time I stop by.' So, I think [by] doing things like that, we're offering opportunities for our customers to engage with our brand," he said.

At the beginning, attaining loyal customers isn't that simple. In modern society, personal information is so important because everyone wants it. 

When a customer signs up for Onvo's rewards program, the retailer collects a sufficient amount of data, which is utilized to drive personalized offers so that customers feel they are gaining something from the personal data they are giving up.

[Read more: What Does the Travel Center of the Future Look Like?]

"We make sure we customize messages with some personal touches and deals on days like customers' birthdays and the anniversary of their sign-up date, so they can feel like, 'alright, Onvo knows this about me. I gave them this information and I'm getting something back for that,'" Aulakh noted. "Because if you're going to ask people to give up personal information, you have to make it worth their while."

Other tips for gaining loyal customers are:

Don't underestimate the power of clean restrooms. 

Participants in a NATSO survey said clean restrooms and bathrooms matter more than a loyalty program. "Start with the fundamentals. A loyalty program is a lot more fun to build and there's a lot more hype around it, but get that first part right," stressed Peter Rasmussen, founder and CEO of Convenience & Energy Advisors, a consulting firm based in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Communication is essential.

Whether it's having a loyalty program, a quality foodservice offer or clean restrooms, truck stop and travel center operators should be communicating this kind of information to keep loyal customers and attract new ones. A key outlet for communication is email campaigns, Aulakh advised.

Freebies are rewarding for both customers and retailers.

Campaigns where rewards members receive a free item, such as a hot coffee, not only drive store traffic and loyalty purchases but also entice customers to enroll in a rewards program. Drive this message through signage inside the store, at the pump and at the point-of-sale, Rasmussen said.

NATSO Connect 2024 took place Feb. 18-22 in Orlando. 

About the Author

Danielle Romano

Danielle Romano

Danielle Romano is Managing Editor of Convenience Store News. She joined the brand in 2015. Danielle manages the overall editorial production of Convenience Store News magazineShe is also the point person for the candy & snacks and small operator beats.

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds