A Hess Truck for Simon: A Plannerben Holiday Special

Every year, broadcasters temporarily replace their programming with Christmas- and Holiday-themed shows from old chestnuts like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (pace, Stuart) to such cutting-edge and meritorious fare like “The Great Christmas Light Fight.”

Who am I to stand apart from the crowd?

I’d like to share my own personal tale of Holiday marketing, which we shall call “A Hess Truck for Simon.”  For a good bit of marketing insight and not a little schmaltz, read on.

First, our protagonist, the aforementioned Simon:

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Go ahead.  YOU say no to this face.

Simon is my nine-year-old son.  Simon loves Lego, Minecraft, subways, the New York Yankees and, of course, his Hess Toy Trucks.

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The Great Green-and-White Fleet.

For the uninitiated, a little Hess-tory (see what I did there?).  Fifty years ago, Hess Gasoline began the annual tradition of selling green-and-white Hess-branded toy trucks from their stations sprinkled throughout the East Coast of the US.  Readers younger than 40 may have trouble remembering when gasoline stations offered all kinds of incentives for customers to buy gas, including roadmaps, sports-themed drinking glasses and, of course, toy cars.  Hess hung onto this tradition longer than most, up until their proposed sale of their retail business to Marathon Oil.  Fear not, sports fans.  Hess plans to sell the trucks online starting in 2015.

From the parent’s perspective, Hess actually offers a quality toy at a good price.  Simon received his first truck at age 3 and it remains in good shape (it’s the dump truck/loader combo on the right in the photo above), which should attest to its build strength.  This year’s toy cost $30, including batteries.  The price seems to have crept up by $1 every year since I’ve bought them.  Still, this price compares more than favorably to toys from Target or Toys R Us.

As a marketing program, the Hess Toy Truck helps the brand transcend from a humdrum seller of fuel to something iconic.  Granted, this transcendence happens but once each year, but that’s still one more time per year than any other gas station brand makes a dent in anyone’s consciousness.  That’s gotta count for something.

But now, back to this guy.

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I have plenty more pictures if you like

Every year, my wife and I make a Hess Truck a Chanukah present.  Actually, we make getting the truck a present.  Usually, Simon and I (and occasionally his sister) take the subway down to the Hess station on 10th Avenue, near the Lincoln Tunnel exit.  Then we go for a donut and hot chocolate across the street at Dunkin’ Donuts.  No, it’s not a trip on the Polar Express, but it’s a nice little excursion.

This year, however, we made a dreadful tactical mistake.  For the past few years, Chanukah has fallen weeks ahead of Christmas on the Western Calendar, most notably during last year’s Thanksgivukkah.  As a result of shopping so early in the season, we’ve never seen a Hess station without a big supply of trucks.

This year, Chanukah began on the evening of 16 December.  We usually save our truck trip until the weekend, so we didn’t really start looking until Saturday the 20th.  While out shopping in New Jersey, we stopped by a Hess station on Route 4, only to find a little “Trucks Sold Out” sign at the register.  We shrugged an planned to make our subway trip to West 45th Street for Sunday.

Not wanting to tempt fate, I called the station Sunday morning, only to be told that they, too, had run out.  I then turned to the truck website to find that they had no more to ship.

It’s fair to say that panic set in.

eBay turned up several auctions for new-in-box trucks for anyone willing to part with over $100.  I figured that after Christmas, unwanted trucks would appear on the site at slashed prices, but I really wanted Simon to have his truck during Chanukah.  On my wife’s suggestion, I put out an APB on Facebook and a friend offered to look at his local stations in Western New York (thanks, Todd!).

Then I got the text from my old friend, Rob Luria.  He had seen several trucks at the station in Haverstraw, New York.  A quick Google search later and I found their phone number.  When I called, a woman with a Caribbean-flavored accent answered and said that they have one–only one–truck left.  In fact, a customer had just returned it.  (Side note: who would have thought you could return something you bought at a gas station?)

I asked if she could hold the truck aside for a while and she said she would hold it until 2 PM.  It was then about 10:30 and I had actually just gotten into bike-riding clothes for a morning outing.  Then I looked at a map:

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40 miles to Haverstraw.   Half a tank of gas.  One can of Coke Zero.   Hit it.

Off went the bike clothes.  I hastily got dressed and hustled Simon into the mighty Volvo.

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To the Volvo!

With light traffic and occasional liberties with the speed limit, the trip took only about 45 minutes.  However, I can’t recall a more tense drive.  We saw snow fall.  We saw warning signs for deer.  Most of all, I had no assurance other than a stranger’s promise that we’d find a truck when we got to Haverstraw.

Well, to cut to the chase:

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Victory.

The clerk had kept her word, even making sure that I was the “Ben” who had called her over the phone.  After paying for the truck, I shoved all the singles I had in my wallet into her hand.  Simon smiled and got some high-fives from grown men in the store, who told him how lucky he was to get the last truck.  I let out a long, loud breath and felt like a pretty good dad for a change.

After some pizza, we made the trip home.  And Simon added the last truck we’ll ever buy at a Hess station to his fleet.

With that, enjoy whatever holidays you feel like celebrating and accept my good wishes for 2015.

We will return to our regularly-scheduled blogging shortly.

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