Bowlin Travel Centers Has Been Offering All the THINGS for More Than 100 Years

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Bowlin Travel Centers, headquartered in Albuquerque, New Mexico, has been serving the traveling public in the Southwest for more than 100 years. Today the travel center company is led by President and CEO Michael Bowlin and has grown considerably since it started as a single-store operation in New Mexico.

“We have ten locations, seven in New Mexico and three in Arizona,” Bowlin said. “Each location is unique and different. They don’t look like other truckstops and each has a different experience. I guarantee if you stop at one of our stores, you will find something you want and haven’t seen before.”

The Retail Thing
The locations are known for their large retail sections, which appeals to the vacationing families and drivers that visit their locations. “They all have wives and kids. We want our customers to take something home from the Southwest. We have specialty buyers in each of the areas, such as artifacts and jewelry,” Bowlin said.

“On of our greatest assets is the customer service people behind our jewelry counters,” he explained. They make sure to offer unique, carefully sourced Native American jewelry. “We have the best Native American jewelry in the country. People always say, ‘Wow! That is cool and that is neat.’ We deal directly with the Native Americans that make it and we track who made it and when,” he said.

The History Thing
“I’m almost 70 years old. My father, Claude, was born in 1891. He began in the trading post business in 1912,” Bowlin said. In 1935, the senior Bowlin built the Old Crater Trading Post at Bluewater, New Mexico, along a gravel Route 66. “He saw that long-distance travel started to come and he also saw that the general public wanted to buy Native American artifacts and jewelry,” he said.

In 1972, Michael took over the business. He added more travel plazas and changed the name to Bowlin Travel Centers across all of the brand.

In 1980, they created an outdoor advertising agency since they always used a lot of billboards. By the mid 1990’s, it covered the southwest with more than 4,000 billboard faces in New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Texas and Oklahoma.

“In December of 1996, I took it public and we became Bowlin Outdoor Advertising & Travel Centers Inc., with initial public trading on the NASDAQ Stock Market,” Bowlin said. In 2001, he the sold the outdoor advertising operations to Lamar Outdoor Advertising.

The Thing
In 1969, they bought The Thing, a roadside attraction that is heavily touted on billboards up and down the interstate. The ads entice travelers along a sparse stretch of desert highway to stop just to find out what the mysterious Thing might be.

“The intrigue draws people in and encourages them to stop,” said NATSO’s Vice President, Membership Darren Schulte. The object is a supposedly a mummified mother and child, which is believed to have been made by exhibit creator Homer Tate.

“It is a fun spot. It is a place to do more than go to the restroom, but also to take a break and stretch your legs,” Bowlin said, adding that the museum is currently undergoing renovations and will reopen soon. “No one knows what will be in the museum and there are a little hints throughout the store. For example, we have an alien holding a sign about the museum.”

The Human Things
Bowlin Travel Centers employ between 200 to 250 staff members, depending on the season. “We have a lot of seasonal help,” said Bowlin, adding that summer is their busiest time of year, especially the Fourth of July. “Holidays in general are very busy for us.”

They have a very active human resources department that does constant training on customer service using training methods that they have developed over the years. “You can tell when people really know how to do their job well,” Bowlin explained.

Amy Toner's photo

Amy Toner

Toner markets NATSO products, services and meetings. She is the content editor of NATSO's core websites, Stop Watch magazine and Highway Business Matters biweekly articles. In addition, she provides creative services across all departments. Toner joined NATSO in 2006. Prior to joining the association, she served as director of membership services at an association for ambulatory surgery centers. Toner lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and son. More

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