Innovative Truck Stop Plus locations in New Brunswick focus on customer service diversification but what’s next to keep the industry environmentally sustainable?By Kristen Lipscombe
The model, a modernized service station
Why would a couple of successful lawyers decide to open up two brand new service stations in the small Maritime province of New Brunswick?
“It’s two different worlds,” Marco Godbout, president of business development for Truck Stop Plus, agreed with a chuckle of the venture he and wife Vicki Wallace-Godbout started working on behind the scenes several years ago while still running their shared law firm in Moncton, NB, “It was the business opportunity, really,” said Marco, who originally hails from Grand Falls, N.B.
It’s Marco’s wife, however, who runs this modern service station initiative. She’s the official co-owner along with Hermel Michaud, who also serves as the company’s fuel distributor via Shell Canada.
Marco and Vicki met while attending law school at the University of Moncton. They have not only worked alongside each other in the court room and office, but also share a similar sense of business savvy, and together have bought up and leased out several residential and commercial properties in the City of Moncton, always keeping their eyes open for their next big project that would allow them to “diversify.”
They began to develop their vision for a more modern type of truck stop, one that would not just meet the needs – but go above and beyond for all drivers – while following the Madawaska Maliseet First Nation (MMFN) community’s struggles over several decades to secure provincial government funding for an off-ramp into Edmundston, N.B., that would allow the community to build a power centre and welcome businesses on designated lands, ultimately in order to provide jobs for community members and boost the local economy.
“We had good information that the First Nation needed help from a potential tenant to be able to convince the Province of New Brunswick that it was worth their while to collaborate financially to help build the off-ramp,” Marco said.
“The location is the most important thing in business,” he said of what attracted them to build the new Edmundston service station. “We’re right adjacent to the four-lane highway, so we’re right there where the new power centre was created on the outskirts … by the hospital, so truckers that leave the Maritimes – this is the last stop.”
“It’s the gateway to the Maritimes.”
“We worked side-by-side with the First Nation to educate the banks, the lenders, the lawyers and … some financial institutions,” Marco said of explaining the difference between traditional and protected ancestorial lands, or reserves, and designated lands that allow for First Nations communities to permit mortgages and leases to non-Indigenous groups and individuals.
In fact, Vicki herself is a member of the Madawaska Maliseet First Nation, and her father served as chief during the 1980s, so the legal crackerjacks and business-minded couple decided they were more than capable of partnering as the new power centre’s first official tenant.
They broke ground on their Edmundston Truckstop in 2011 and officially opened to the public on 100 Grey Rock Road, available directly off the TransCanada Highway in October 2012, with several tenants popping up inside and around them, including a strip mall, car dealership and casino. Drivers can take Exit 19 off Highway 2 into what’s now called Grey Rock Power Center to access a long list of convenient amenities.
“So that creates a buzz around the truck stop; because the driver, he or she is the most important person,” Marco said. “The driver wants a series of amenities.”
“We didn’t just build a truck stop,” Marco emphasized. “We’re always thinking about what the driver wants.”
“So in our complex we built very nice, expensive modern showers for the truckers; we built a lounge for them that is even more comfortable than a lot of their own houses because they are on the road many days and they appreciate it.”
“I thought they were joking, but week after week, and month after month they would say, ‘Wow, thank you for respecting us and caring for us, because we’ve never seen that before (through) 40 years of driving across North America.”
There are also plenty of food options on site. “We attracted Tim Hortons to come into our building … and now it’s their busiest location in Edmundston.” The stop also features Burger King and a St. Hubert chicken express location, a local seafood restaurant called The Pirate – which Marco assures features delicious fresh lobster rolls – along with Grey Rock Valleyview Restaurant and a well-stocked convenience store with drinks and snacks to refuel any and all drivers.
Other amenities at that Edmundston stop include “modern and accessible” public washrooms that “adhere to regular and rigorous cleaning,” a touchless two-bay car wash “for fast and easy access,” a “hassle-free, mess-free, self-serve pet wash station,” laundry amenities, a business centre with high-speed Internet access available to truckers and other drivers, free Wi-Fi both inside the building and in all parking lots, which includes more than 225 spaces of all sizes. And let’s not forget more than 20 pumps offering diesel, DEF and gasoline.
The Edmundston Truckstop has served as a model for their second location, which the Godbout’s and partner Michaud opened in April 2020 off Exit 462, also off Highway 2, or the TransCanada Highway.
They’ve since changed the name of their first venture to Truck Stop Plus Edmundston, while their second location, naturally, is Truck Stop Plus Moncton, with plans to open more of these modern takes on service stations down the road.
“Truck Stop Plus Moncton is the most complete truck stop in southeastern New Brunswick, open 24 hours, 365 days a year. Clean, modern and spacious facilities to meet the needs of all travellers,” the Truck Stop Plus website describes, adding food services include Tim Hortons, Wendy’s and Caledonia Eats ‘N Treats.
“Fuel, cardlock, oil and lubricants, convenience store offering local products, fresh food on-the-go, health and personal care items, souvenirs and gifts,” are all available on site, and similarly to the Edmundston site, there is a business centre, free Wi-Fi and ATMs available, a professional driver’s lounge, modern showers and laundry facilities, a bus and truck wash, vacuums and air station, auto-propane, cylinder refill and exchange, free dumping and a replenishing stations for RVs.
“Our mission at Truck Stop Plus is to enhance the experience of our clients by continually striving for impeccable service as well as putting a particular focus on their well-being,” the company’s website says.
“We offer clean and modern washroom and shower facilities, a comfortable and relaxing driver’s lounge, a readily accessible exercise room as well as fresh food for the road.”
Marie-Josee Michaud, public relations and communications for Truck Stop Plus, points out several other stand-out features that align with the company’s vision for more modern and welcoming service stations.
“The new Shell retail cardlock service station at Exit 462 in Moncton offers professional drivers and recreational travellers easy access to the most modern and spacious facilities in Atlantic Canada,” she wrote Auto and Trucking Atlantic in an email.
“With over 125 truck- and oversized vehicle- parking spaces, a professional drivers’ lounge, business centre, fitness room, shower facilities, convenience stores, a truck parts corner, air and vacuum stations, two fast food chains and a sit-down restaurant, Truck Stop Plus Moncton is one-of-a kind and raises the bar for one-stop-shop excellence in customer service,” Marie-Josee wrote.
”Under development is an automatic truck wash and truck express lube, auto propane and replenishing stations for recreational vehicles.”
Marie-Josee emphasized that “details matter,” such as adding “a well-lit canopy, entrance and parking area with security cameras,” which helps make customers feel safer, including the increasing number of women entering the trucking and transportation industries.
“From complete one-stop propane and dumping stations for recreational vehicles to safe and easy access to pumps and parking spaces for big rigs, we have our ears to the ground for what customers wish for,” Marie-Josee explained. “It’s the small things that guide customers when choosing between us or next door.”
The Moncton Truck Stop Plus site has been built on the success of the Edmundston location, she said. “We are now strategically located at both ends of the Trans Canada Highway 2 in northwest and southeast New Brunswick.”
The Godbouts and partner Michaud are finding success in the creation of these new and innovative service stations, with plans of course, to expand to additional highway stops someday down the road. Certainly, the industries they serve aren’t going away any time soon; oil and gas remain in high demand and more environmentally-friendly driving options are simply too expensive for the average consumer, with not enough infrastructure in place yet to support regular use of hybrid and electric vehicles on the road, anyway.
The environmental advantages of electrical vehicles
But are service stations planning for that eventual public push to a more sustainable transportation industry? Our oil and gas resources are finite, after all, and it’s only a matter of time before demand increases for hybrid and electrical vehicles, perhaps more so in a post-pandemic, more-globally aware world. And that will mean more infrastructure in place to serve those vehicles. Maybe not today; maybe not tomorrow, but eventually that infrastructure will become a necessity for our shared sustainable future, not a choice.
“Yes, there’s a big buzz around electrical cars now,” Marco said, adding there are charging stations available at the Edmundston Truck Stop Plus through a partnership with New Brunswick Power. The Moncton location has yet to add them to their site although the power company offered a set number of contracts for service stations across the province.
“But a service station is not like in the past, where you only need fuel then you leave, Marco said. “People want convenience, they want something quick, they want something to eat, they want a business centre.”
“So with all of those added services – and vehicles will always need something to fuel them, whether it’s electricity or another energy source, there will always be services that the travelling driver will need to stop for.”
Shannon Trites, executive director of the Retail Gasoline Dealers Association of Nova Scotia and executive director for the Automotive Sector Council of Nova Scotia, sees the challenges that the 250 independent gas stations across her province face every day, from trying to compete with big oil corporations during normal times, let alone during COVID-19 pandemic times.
She works to support local service station “retailers in their bid to stay in business based on economic challenges.”
“What’s happening now is that we have places that are shutting down based on the lack of profitability, but it’s affecting everything,” Trites explained. “So when you go to fill-up at one of our members in Cheticamp, it’s the last station before you go on the Cabot Trail, and if you don’t gas up there, you’ll get in trouble.”
“And they literally, without any support from anybody, they put up a sign on the highway that said, ‘You have to gas up here,’ because there are no gas stations in between any more; they’ve all shut down.”
They’re not trying to lure customers into their business, Trites emphasized; they’re just trying to keep drivers on the road safe. “They’re not making money on gas.” The provincial government is well aware that fuel needs to be available in every community in order to keep the economy moving, Trites said, but she also points out that these current industry challenges may provide opportunity to help move the service station industry forward toward a more sustainable future.
“Wouldn’t it be amazing if our government supported our independent gas stations to innovate into the infrastructure (needed for electrical vehicles)?” Trites asked. While bigger companies such as Irving can afford to build charging stations on site, “wouldn’t it serve the community better to service independent (stations) who couldn’t afford that switch over?”
Trites said the Retail Gasoline Dealers Association of Nova Scotia and Automotive Sector Council of Nova Scotia are working hard to build relationships and reach out to communities and governments to emphasize the importance of putting new infrastructure in place sooner rather than later.
“The people who champion this change inspire and motivate me every day,” Trites said in an email, “and as the world embraces its own evolution, I feel the local industry is shifting to do the same.”
But that shift will likely happen slowly, particularly with ongoing pressures from the oil industry around the world, combined with the additional economic pressures of COVID-19, coming together “in a perfect storm.”
So what’s next for service stations?
“The challenge of staying in business in rural Nova Scotia is embracing technology and essentially giving the customers what they want by diversifying services,” Trites said. “Retail gasoline detailers are not going to just open up a gas station; they’re going to open up a convenience store.”
Enter the objectives and goals of the Truck Stop Plus locations in Edmundston and Moncton, whether they’re ready for a run on electric vehicles or not.
“Tastes and trends are continually changing, customers are becoming more and more demanding,” Marie-Josee said. “It’s a perpetual cycle, and we, at Truck Stop Plus, are doing all that is possible to keep on top of consumers’ evolving needs and expectations.”
“What we are trying to show the client is that they are No. 1,” Marco agreed. “We need clean facilities; we need good service.”
“Buying fuel, the product is pretty much all the same from one competitor to the other, of course at a competitive price, but in addition to that competitive price, you need that service and that nice facility so it’s modern; it’s clean.”
“It’s about personal attention,” he added. “We have somebody going to pick up the papers on the lawn every day; so those are the small little details.” “That’s what we call the ‘plus’ in the Truck Stop Plus logo,” Marco said. “We always have room for improvement, like any business, and we’re trying to raise the bar as high as we can in developing these sites, and the future ones as well.”