Midway Truck Stop Thrives in Missouri
May 1, 2012
With more than a dozen different businesses on 200 acres, Midway Truck Stop in Missouri is an oasis for highway travelers and locals alike, but it hasn’t always been that way. In 1978 the Bechtold family bought the Midway Truck Stop, located halfway between Kansas City and St. Louis at the intersection of I-70 and Hwy 40, at exit 121. Situated on 12 acres, it had two fuel pumps and a leaky roof.
Businesses within the location today include Under The Gun Tattoo Parlor, Cannery Row Daycare, Spirit of 76 fireworks shop and the largest antique mall in Missouri. The location, general manager Joe Bechtold and the employees are also the stars of the hit TV series, Truckstop USA, on the Travel Channel.
Midway Truck Stop thrives on and off the screen because it is a destination stop with a wide assortment of unique offerings.
“Customers should leave with a feeling that they just went on a destination trip to someplace special,” Bechtold said.
The location caters to independent operators, striving to give them great service and unique and entertaining things to do. They bolster this destination brand by offering unique concerts and events.
In addition to concerts, the location’s expo center holds events, such as horse and car shows. They’ve also hosted a BBQ competition and have had success with eating contests. These events entertain and excite the over-the-road drivers and bring in more local customers. It also widens their reach. According to Bechtold, “People will travel for those events. They fill up our motel and come inside to other businesses, such as our bar and c-store.”
The Midway Truck Stop advertises on the radio, on television and in the local newspaper, but Bechtold believes the majority of their new business comes from word of mouth and he focuses on getting locals to spread the word. For example, Midway Truck Stop has a small bus they use to pick up people from the local retirement community. These folks are given small samples in the diner and shown hospitality that they will hopefully spread word of to their friends and families.
Good, distinctive offerings are a must, but Bechtold believes the experience starts with “happy, smiling employees.” He told Stop Watch, “We hire fun and quirky front-of-the-house employees to further differentiate ourselves.”
In total the location has 70 full-time employees and many part-time and seasonal employees. The diner, c-store and antique mall serve as the biggest employment centers.
Bechtold treats employees like family. He includes them in the large-picture decision making and incentivizes them with bonuses based on performance.
To improve customer service, he keeps his employees happy and well trained. He explained, “Nothing compares. You can’t force an unhappy person to memorize and recite a greeting. It doesn’t work.”
His approach to management must be working because most of their managers have more than 15 years of experience.
Behind the Scenes at Truckstop USA
Enough about the location, let’s hear about the TV show, right?!
Film crews didn’t just show up and begin filming out of the blue. First, the Midway Truck Stop participated in one of 300 interviews producers conducted to find the right location for the show. Once selected, Bechtold did his due diligence on the production company and the Travel Channel, which included extensive reference checks, before he signed on for a pilot.
Prior to filming, Bechtold made sure that it was clear that to have a successful partnership, all parties would need to have mutual trust for one another. This ground work paid off. He said the production company and the Midway Truck Stop are partners with “both striving to make us look good.”
When asked for a behind-the-scenes peek at filming, Bechtold said it takes a lot longer than you would think to create each episode. For example, the production company typically films for six days a week for one episode. Bechtold has to be on set the entire time to ensure his location is represented well and that nothing happens that he doesn’t know about.
For Bechtold an unexpected outcome of the show is that fans come in every hour to see the location. The fanfare has been fun for the location’s staff. “The average convenience store worker doesn’t expect to have fans,” Bechtold said.
Visit the Travel Channel online to see clips from the show.
This article originally ran in Stop Watch magazine. Stop Watch provides in-depth content to assist NATSO members in improving their travel plaza business operations and provides context on trends and news affecting the industry.
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