Pilot Flying J Plans $1 Billion Expansion, Renovation

A Pilot location featured in the New Horizons launch video. (Pilot Flying J via YouTube)

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Pilot Flying J announced March 9 that it plans to spend $1 billion to remodel nearly 500 of its oldest travel centers across the country.

The Knoxville, Tenn.-based company said the three-year initiative it’s calling “New Horizons,” is the largest plan in its history to modernize and upgrade its facilities. All told, the company has 800 stores. Some of the money will be spent to upgrade its newer facilities as well but those changes will not be as extensive.

On a presentation for reporters, company executives said they believe the effort will reinvigorate Pilot Flying J’s customer base, much of it being professional truck drivers who have endured difficult conditions during the last two years because of the coronavirus pandemic, with limited access to restaurants, hot food and showers at both private and publicly owned facilities.



“Our goal is to create an outstanding experience for our guests,” CEO Shameek Konar said on the call. “The way we say it at Pilot is, ‘How do we earn the turn?’ Which is, when you’re on the road, you stop at a Pilot; we want to earn your turn. When you come back, we want you to stop at a Pilot again. Creating that experience and listening to our guests is something I hope will differentiate us from our competitors.”

Konar

The renovations will begin this year and the company said 60 locations will look substantially different by early 2023. Another 90 will get a more moderate upgrade. Pilot Flying J is building 34 new locations this year and 14 are already under construction.

The changes will start with the parking lots where lighting will be upgraded and there will be a new design flow to make it easier for truck drivers and people in passenger cars to get diesel and gasoline. Restrooms will also get a substantial overhaul with brighter lighting, new tiles and more energy-efficient fixtures including touchless technology. For professional drivers, the new showers will be larger and redesigned as well as made easier for employees to clean and maintain.

“It’s brighter, it’s well-lit, guests can get in and out of our locations, find what they need just way easier than they have before,” Pilot Vice President for Store Modernization Allison Cornish said. “We are taking a long look at how to upgrade our facilities. We want our facilities to be welcoming.”

The company made the decision after it said it surveyed thousands of its customers at hundreds of locations and read the reviews, some of which were “tough,” Konar said.

The survey found 66% of professional drivers indicated clean showers are the most important factor they think about when choosing a travel center.

Another 60% said they rate food offerings as a top reason for choosing a travel center and more than 50% said the ability to get in and out of a facility is the most important factor for deciding on which travel center to stop at while on the road.

Some 90% of auto drivers pick a travel center based on its convenience, safety, cleanliness and product availability and 85% of auto guests said they utilize Pilot’s restaurants when they come into one of its facilities.

Company officials say for both truck drivers and passenger drivers the upcoming changes will also see a significant upgrade in its menu selections with more salad and fresh fruit offerings, including blueberries, clementines, grapes and pineapples for spring. The revamped menu also will feature other items being cooked at the travel center, including hot, made-to-order sandwiches along with grab-and-go food and premium coffee.

Pilot Flying J is also anticipating the moves toward a more diverse energy future, by adding additional electric charging stations and preparing for alternatives besides unleaded gasoline and diesel, and those could be coming by the end of 2022. “We know energy transition is coming,” Konar said. “We are looking to work with other partners to develop an electric vehicle charging network across the country. It’s definitely possible for Pilot to come and solve the range anxiety issues that people have with electric vehicles. We can create a network from Los Angeles to Jacksonville, Fla., along I-10, every 100 to 150 miles to make sure there is charging available.

But Konar admits trucking will be a bigger challenge.

“As we wait for that technology to settle down, and for people to figure out where it is going in trucking, we can reduce carbon through other initiatives and we will sell about a billion gallons of low carbon, renewable diesel and it emits about 50% of the carbon you get from fossil fuels,” he said.

While not providing a specific number of new truck parking spots in its network, the company said it will be adding additional places for truck drivers at the 34 new truck stops now being built.

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