KNOXVILLE, Tenn. --Pilot Flying J LLC is upgrading its travel centers and the products and services they provide, and the company offered media a look at some of its goals and initiatives for the rest of 2017 and 2018 during its Voice of the Industry conference call.
Those initiatives include facility, foodservice and technology upgrades, partnerships and more.
“Our team is working very hard to ensure we are upgrading our facilities, food and other in-store offerings to deliver a consistent, elevated experience to all drivers on the interstate no matter which Pilot or Flying J location they may visit,” Brian Ferguson, chief merchandising officer, said during the conference call.
Based in Knoxville, Tenn., Pilot Flying J has more than 750 retail locations in 43 states. Here are some updates on its plans …
In January, Pilot Flying J announced a $485 million investment to renovate its existing locations over the next five years.
While he did not specify a planned number of sites to be renovated, Ferguson said the company’s “new locations will include gasoline pumps, PJ Fresh casual dining, wide coffee selections, free Wi-Fi, showers and some drivers’ lounges. While we are in the process of opening new locations, we’re also working to renovate older locations across our footprint to ensure we are delivering a consistent experience at all locations.”
The retailer said it has more than 45 facility-enhancement projects planned for 2017. “We’re focused on replacing our signs and canopies with our new logo and updating site and canopy lighting to all LED, enhancing the exterior look and feel of our stores, including adding stone, tile and stucco to our exteriors, replacing floor tiles, ceilings and lighting where needed.”
Pilot Flying J is installing new cooler doors as well as decorative tiles and graphics, and updating deli cabinetry and equipment while installing upgraded beverage equipment, Ferguson said.
“Knowing a home-cooked, fresh and healthy meal is hard to come by on the road for our pro drivers, our food offerings are a key component of our five-year modernization and expansion plan,” he said. “We recently hired Shannon Johnson as our new vice president of food innovation, bringing the experience and expertise needed to continue to boost our restaurant partnerships as part of our food offerings as well as our PJ Fresh fast-casual dining. We’re also quickly moving to incorporate improved equipment technology at all of our stores to offer the very best possible food and beverage selections.”
He also said that the company is working to incorporate a made-to-order platform, providing customers with the “freedom to customize their orders if that meets their needs and tastes.”
Bass Pro Shops partnership
“As part of our effort to improve our facilities, we take the feedback from our pro drivers to heart every day,” Ferguson said. “Listening to this feedback, we’re currently working on a more robust assortment of in-store clothing and accessory options as well.”
Earlier this month, Pilot Flying J began testing a partnership with Bass Pro Shops at a travel center in Lebanon, Tenn.
“We’ve carved out … a great retail environment where we’re merchandising in the true Bass Pro Shop aesthetic their products in a limited assortment, but some of their best products that we believe our professional drivers and our four-wheeled customers will really gravitate toward,” he said. “It’s a test. We’re going to walk before we run, depending on how large the assortment gets. It’s a great number of products that we’re really proud of.”
If the experiment is successful, the goal is to expand this new Bass Pro Shops offering chainwide.
At the same Lebanon store, Pilot Flying J has introduced interactive technology and products into its consumer electronics center, said Ferguson.
“Pro drivers continue to seamlessly integrate technology into their daily lives while on the road,” he continued. “They’re always looking for convenience and reliable platforms to make their lives easier. … Last year, we completely redesigned our myPilot mobile application to better serve drivers and are continuing to expand our offering through the app this year. Earlier this month, we launched myOffers, providing in-store deals directly to our pro drivers, changing every two weeks. Examples include buy one, get one free Chex Mix, 20-ounce soda, single-serve milk and two for $4 Gatorade.”
The app is for both professional drivers and motorists. “We’ve seen really great results so far, really fast adoption. It’s one universal app, which has the same offers for everyone.”
Also, this December, all professional drivers who keep records of duty status will be required by the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Association to replace their logbooks with electronic logging devices (ELDs). “To ensure we continue to be a one-stop shop for the needs and preferences of all our drivers, we are proud to offer Pegasus TransTech’s Transflo ELD T7 devices at all of our store locations nationwide. Through the end of the month of August, we’ll be offering the devices to all of our customers at a discounted price of $99 … available right now in all of our stores nationwide,” Ferguson said.
This year, Pilot Flying J rolled out a new truck-care program, including new service centers and roadside assistance trucks to provide professional drivers with the maintenance services they need.
“We have more than 80 trucks already on the road serving our guests 24/7 and are well on track to meet our goal of 150 roadside-assistance trucks by the end of the year, if not earlier,” Dave Latimer, vice president of shop strategy and operations, said on the call.
The company also begun construction on about 20 new service centers to provide sales and service, preventative and light maintenance and Department of Transportation inspections.
“We are building the service centers in areas with minimal impact on parking and driver flow,” Latimer said. “Our first service center just opened July 8 in Warrenton, Mo., and we’re continuing to develop our additional service centers across the West, Southwest, Midwest and eastern regions of the country. As fleets continue to cut back on the number of vehicles they’re putting on the road or choosing to maintain, they must try harder to get the most out of every vehicle they have. In return, the need for service on the road is more important than ever.”
He continued, “With a driver shortage and retention of professional drivers continuing to plague fleets of all sizes, our team is always looking at new services and offerings to make life easier for drivers on the road.”
In other company news, Pilot Flying J announced earlier this month a four-year, multimillion-dollar sponsorship agreement with the Southeastern Conference and ESPN to be the “official travel center of the SEC.” It is the largest sports sponsorship deal the travel-center company has executed in its nearly 60-year history.
“This relationship with the SEC is a great fit for our brand—we have deep roots within the region, and it represents a third of our network,” said Whitney Haslam Johnson, chief experience officer for Pilot Flying J. “As an official sponsor of the SEC, we’ll execute a fully integrated marketing plan and leverage the network’s national exposure to build strong brand presence and further position our travel centers as roadside destinations of choice. We’re excited to be part of fans’ game-day experiences while traveling to see their favorite teams.”
The sponsorship provides exposure for Pilot Flying J on SEC Network programming and within the SEC footprint through SEC Nation, the network’s traveling football pregame show. Pilot Flying J will be the presenting sponsor of three SEC Nation broadcasts this season.
Pilot Flying J will activate on-site at SEC FanFare at the football championship and men’s basketball tournament and have a marketing presence within all major SEC sports championship events. Pilot Flying J will have category exclusivity and rights to SEC and SEC Network marks and logos for marketing and promotional efforts, including in-store displays.
Pilot Flying J also will look to enhance its current media inventory on ESPN by working with SEC Network analyst and radio personality Paul Finebaum. As the “Voice of the SEC,” Finebaum will drive campaign and product messaging throughout the football season with a focus on Fridays leading into game and travel weekends.