Get to Know Women Leading the Way in the Travel Plaza Industry

The truckstop and travel plaza industry is full of outstanding operators who continually make life easier for their customers. Throughout 2018, Stop Watch would like to highlight a handful of the women who make the industry great.

“We have amazing women involved in the truckstop and travel plaza industry,” said Darren Schulte, vice president of membership for NATSO. “They provide valuable leadership and very often the key issues they’re concerned about and the little touches they bring to their locations are what make them stand out.”

Brenda Fortmuller, Service Center Manager, Sacramento 49er Travel Plaza in Sacramento, California

Brenda Fortmuller, service center manager at Sacramento 49er Travel Plaza in Sacramento, California, has shattered stereotypes and earned the respect of professional drivers stopping at the location. “A lot of them come in and want to talk to another man and sometimes I get questionable looks, but after customers have talked to me and I’ve communicated with them, they understand I’ve been here a long time. Sometimes they’re shocked I know as much as a man,” she said.

Fortmuller joined Sacramento 49er 18 years ago from the petrochemicals group at a Chevron refinery. She started at the travel center as a service writer before being promoted to service center supervisor and then to her current position as manager, which she started in June. “It has been a gradual build up for me. I went from the oil industry to the service industry. It has been a learning process,” she said.

Fortmuller said she has learned the ins and outs of trucks, getting information from the mechanics that work in the shop and taking part in training offered by vendors. “I attend everything. You have to be learning all of the time to stay current,” she said.

The mechanics working at the location have been receptive to Fortmuller’s leadership, she said. “They’ve watched me grow like I’ve watched them grow,” she said. “They’ve thought it is cool that I’ve gotten to this position.”

Today she spends her days helping customers. “Every day is a new challenge. It is a learning process every day,” she said.

Fortmuller said she believes her work within the service center will open doors for others. “I think a lot of women think it is off limits to them,” she said. “I would say try it. Nothing is out of your reach. The culture is changing.”

Deanne Schatz, Operations Manager, Petro Stopping Center in Fargo

DeanneforARtilce.jpgDeanne Schatz is the operations manager at Petro Stopping Center in Fargo, which she said means she does what needs to be done when it needs to be done, whatever it may be. “I can work in just about every capacity here, except probably mechanic or cashier in the shop, and get by just fine. I love to be involved in our different departments and concepts. It keeps me inspired and intrigued in our different operations,” she said.

The location is a family-run business, and Schatz said she has worked there formally since May 1999, but has always helped in the business. “I remember stamping the back of the checks for my mom in her office when she was doing bookwork and cashiering for the early morning shift in the 7th grade. Ironically, somehow I ended up on the bar shifts when I was in my later years in high school during the summer months. Must have been to keep me off the streets,” Schatz said.

Schatz said many of the women she knows in the industry are born into it, like she was. “They have a will and fire instilled in them to be able to deal with and handle the dayto-day operations of this industry because that is what they know,” she said. “I don’t think people realize the pressure of running something 24-7, unless they have done it.”

“I think we are excellent multitaskers, because we have to be. You could be running a till in the morning and doing payroll in the afternoon,” Schatz said. “I think it’s a real challenge being heard and respected when you are a female in a position like mine in this business.”

She added, “I think that it’s assumed this job is done by a male due to the nature of what you deal with day in and day out.”

Schatz said her mom has been the brain behind the operation for years. “When people spend 15 minutes with her, whether they are in the 11 dustry or not, they realize she is an extremely smart woman, who knows exactly what she is talking about, pays attention, and is clearly the one making strong decisions for the business behind the scenes with zero recognition,” Schatz said. “My mother is strong, mentally and emotionally, and so I have become that way, even more so than her,” Schatz said. “She has taught me a great deal about the financial parts of our business. Numbers never lie, she says.”

Brandi Christie, Complex Manager for the Grand Forks, North Dakota, location for Stamart

Brandi Christie is complex manager for the Grand Forks, North Dakota, location for Stamart. She has been in her current role for seven years and has worked with the company for 12 years. “I am not only the manager of the store, but I am also a cashier, a cook, a janitor and whatever else needs my attention that day. As the manager your days change from day to day, it all depends on the day,” she said.

Christie’s day normally starts around 7:00 a.m. with her walking the store inside and out to see if anything needs her attention. Then she talks with employees to learn what happened during their shift and connects with her other manager to create a plan for the day. “I spend a lot of my day out on the floor of my store working so that I am available wherever I am needed,” she said, adding that her day usually ends around 5:00 p.m., after the evening shift gets settled and she has talked with the evening manager.

There is value to having women in leadership positions at travel plazas, Christie said. “I think women have a different outlook when it comes to the trucking industry. This is a very male-dominated industry and I think that having women in the leadership roles and managing really helps to even that out,” she said.

Christie said women considering roles within the truckstop and travel plaza industry should “go for it.” She said, “Don’t be afraid that you are a woman in a male-dominated industry. I started my job as an overnight cashier, with a male manger, but I worked hard, I set goals for myself and I proved that I could do it, and in the end it paid off.”

What’s more, Christie said that she has learned that women tend to think more ‘outside of the box’ and they tend to be able to take more risks and figure out what is going to work and what isn’t. “Sometimes you have to approach things a different way than the store down the street and I think women in management and leadership roles aren’t afraid to be different and set themselves apart from others in this industry,” she said.

Wendi Powell, Co-owner, Big Boys Truck Stop in Kenley, North Carolina
For Wendi Powell, co-owner of Big Boys Truck Stop in Kenley, North Carolina, her involvement in the truckstop industry progressed over time. Her involvement in the industry started when she was in middle school. At the time, she was dating Walter Powell, and his father leased a small truckstop. “We’d go there on the weekends and work. That was our date,” Powell said. Walter joined the military, and after ten years of service, the Powells came home and had an opportunity to buy a truckstop of their own.

“Walter worked here for five years before I came in,” Powell said. “Then I started keeping books. My work has progressed over time.”

When she came on board, Powell focused on learning one thing at a time. “Comprehending it all can sometimes be a lot,” she said.

Ten years ago, Powell took over the restaurant. She said her background as a mother and experience raising children has added to her ability to make people feel welcome when they come in. “We care about our customers,” she said. “A servant’s heart is what we want to portray.”

Managing the truckstop is a family affair for the Powells. “We strive as a family to be to other people what we want them to be with us,” Powell said. “I have two children working here. Walter has two cousins that work here. We all divide up the workloads and assist what needs to be done.”

Big Boys also has a lot of women working within the location. “I think they lend a welcome-ness to an industry that is mostly men,” Powell said.

Fortmuller photo credit: Jennifer Trinkle 

Mindy Long's photo

Mindy Long

Before launching a full-time freelance career, Long edited NATSO's Stop Watch magazine. Prior to that Long worked as a staff reporter for Transport Topics, a weekly trade newspaper, covering freight transportation, fuel and environmental issues. In addition to covering the transportation sector, Long has written, reported and edited for a variety of media outlets. She was the Washington correspondent for WCAX-TV (CBS) in Burlington, Vt., a criminal court reporter in Chicago and a freelance copy editor for Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine in Washington D.C. Long hold a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in Evanston, Ill., and a bachelor’s degree in Communications from Westminster College in Salt Lake City.More
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