Ken Parent has been with Pilot Corp. and Pilot Flying J for 23 years, and president of Pilot Flying J since 2015. Like his tenure, the company is “very mature,” Parent says.
The company has a total network of more than 900 retail and fueling locations in 44 states and six Canadian provinces. In 2019, Pilot Flying J opened 26 units, and it’s aiming for a similar number—20 to 25—for 2020. It has what Parent calls “large growth plans” for California, Texas, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington.
“We have a large network, so it’s out West where there is opportunity in filling in some gaps here and there in our network. We’ll continue to look at those key markets,” he says. Pilot Flying J uses feedback from fleets and other customers to identify gaps in markets it should consider.
One nontraditional avenue of growth for Pilot Flying J is its newly launched One9 initiative, a fuel network catering to small fleets. It gives members access to more than 170 locations at a variety of travel-center brands either owned by or in partnership with Pilot Flying J, including Mr. Fuel in the Midwest, Pride in Arizona and Stamart travel centers in North Dakota, as well as designated Speedway commercial diesel fueling lanes. Many of these sites are in areas that won’t support full-fledged Pilot or Flying J travel center locations.
How many stores could Pilot Flying J build? “We have five more years approximately of building 20 to 25 a year, but, in addition to that, that’s where the One9 network comes in in terms of acquisition,” Parent says. “These stores are not on interstates; they’re on U.S. highways and they are close to heavy distribution or intermodal areas, around airports with all of the distribution centers being built, so we would look at different types of markets to fulfill and to grow our network.”
Approximately half of the new stores planned could be acquisitions, Parent says. It could also be joint ventures that Pilot Flying J would run, and “bring our scale and expertise to a decent fuel business.”