Trucking stands at a crossroads, as the ceaseless march of technology looks poised to significantly change the way one of the country’s largest and most important industries operates. As the industry changes and adapts to the future, so too must the many ancillary services that have grown up around it – none more so than the truck stop. While some have feared that they may become an endangered species as trucks continue to become more efficient, automated and self-contained, the reality is that the truck stop is more likely to evolve than disappear. To stay relevant, there are several areas in which the truck stop must adapt.
“Time is money” is a common phrase, but nowhere is it more applicable than in the trucking industry. With great distances to travel and tight deadlines always looming, every minute counts for truckers. The truck stop of the future will need to recognize this fact and cater to it with greater convenience and efficiency. This means making changes to everything from store layouts to payment methods, allowing patrons to identify and find what they want, make a payment and get back on the road as quickly as possible. This need for efficiency extends beyond the store and into the lot as well. Many truck stops are poorly designed, with lots that are poorly laid out resulting in cramped quarters, wasted spaces and frustrating navigational challenges. Redesigned lots that are more convenient, easier to use, cleaner and better lit should become the norm as truck stops seek to find new ways to appeal to truckers.
Another way to boost efficiency is to bypass the store altogether. Since most truckers purchase fuel when they stop, reimagining the modern truck stop to be more pump-centric holds obvious appeal. The ability to make small purchases from integrated vending machines while fueling up – particularly beverages, snacks and other convenience items – offers a simple way to make the truck stop more convenient and appealing for drivers working under tight schedules. Another option that has become popular recently is the drive-through, allowing drivers to purchase nearly anything they may need without leaving the cab.
While low fuel prices and amenities are often seen as key factors in where truckers decide to stop, surveys of drivers often reveal that great customer service is just as important. With trucks steadily becoming more self-contained, the truck stop of the future will need to deliver superior customer service to draw in truckers and coax them out of their well-appointed cabs. One solution that is already being rolled out is the “truck hop” – a store employee stationed in the lot who can take orders from drivers while they’re refueling, retrieve the order quickly and even take payment on the spot. Some truck stops are also experimenting with full-featured concierge services to cater to drivers on longer stops and overnight stays. These services are likely to see broader adoption in the coming years.
In an ironic twist, another strategy for future-proofing truck stops may involve going back to the past. Where truck stops were once largely full-service stations, most today have evolved to become simple pump-and-go fueling stops and basic convenience stores. That may be changing once again, as some truck stops are finding an advantage by offering drivers basic maintenance and safety services like oil level checks, tire pressure and tread inspections and light and signal checks. As trucks become more technologically complex, truck stops may also benefit from employing service attendants who can assist drivers with malfunctioning tech systems, unexpected dashboard lights and other common troubleshooting issues.
A driver in search of a parking spot for the night pulls up an app on their smartphone, taps a couple of times and is presented with a list of nearby truck stops and the number of spots that are open in their lots. It may sound like the future, but it’s a technology that may not be far away. Drivers often spend too much time looking for an open parking spot, and smartphones offer an easy way to alleviate that problem. Truck stops can benefit from app integration in other ways as well, from enabling one-touch payment at the pump to speeding up weigh-ins and managing the litany of paperwork that is often required.
Truck stops may also become a hub for the evolution of freight matching. With the ability to digitally track freight, process paperwork and handle monetary transactions, the truck stop provides a natural platform for drivers, carriers and shippers to match freight with trucks capable of carrying it. This service also ties in well with invoice factoring, in which the truck stop pays the driver for their delivery and later collects the money owed to the driver on their invoice. All of these transactions may be handled digitally, offering greater convenience to the driver and eliminating much of the work that must be done in order to receive payment for their work.
Though much of the trucking industry understandably centers on facilitating the job at hand, truck stops in the future may also become important in assisting drivers themselves. The trucking industry has long been recognized as encouraging a less than healthy lifestyle, and it isn’t hard to see why. Between sitting in the driver’s seat for hours on end, guzzling sugary drinks and relying heavily on greasy-spoon foods and convenient snacks, many truck drivers find it difficult to stay fit and healthy. That will likely change as truck stops look for new ways to provide greater service and remain integral to the industry as a whole.
The push for more health-related services has already begun, as some large truck stops have begun to integrate express gyms and even fully-featured fitness centers. The coming years will likely see more facilities adopting 24/7 workout centers, especially as wearable technologies make it easier and more appealing for drivers to track fitness goals and maintain regular workout routines. Healthier food options are likely on the horizon as well, as increasingly health-conscious drivers opt to seek out more nutritious meals rather than fast foods and convenience store snacks.
Major changes are looming in the world of trucking, and some disruptions are likely to occur. Traditional industry practices and services are no longer enough to meet the demands of today’s technologically advanced world, but that doesn’t mean the truck stop’s days are numbered. Indeed, those who are savvy and bold enough to embrace the future may emerge stronger than ever and better equipped to meet the many challenges to come.