Russell’s Truck and Travel Center 2 has it all—a business built on Christian values, a one-in-a-million car museum, a family of owners skilled in grocery items and even a director of operations that sleeps on location. Located 70 miles from Amarillo, Texas, on I-40, the Russell family added the location to their portfolio of businesses, which includes grocery stores and another truckstop, two and a half years ago.
Today, Mark Russell runs the location, his brothers run the grocery stores and his dad oversees their other travel plaza and headquarters. They run all of these businesses with Christian values as the cornerstone. As Russell explained, “We are a Christian company, valuing integrity, morality and treating people with respect. Our chapel is inside and is very nice. Our Christian faith is very important to the way we do business.”
They show their faith in many ways, such as encouraging donations from visitors to their car museum rather than charging an entrance fee. To date, the museum collection has amassed over $100,000 to feed the hungry in Amarillo. Russell said, “One hundred percent of the donations received goes to feed the hungry.”
In addition to feeding the hungry, the car museum also attracts a lot of repeat business to the location. With the dream of starting the museum, Russell’s dad started collecting cars 30 years ago. When it became more than a dream, he got more aggressive with his collection. Russell says, “The museum is an investment rather than a hobby. When my dad purchases a car, it is an investment. You might walk in and say, ‘There are $2 million worth of cars collecting dust here,’ but it is actually an investment in our business.” They continually change out the cars and even have vacationers who come in once or twice a year just to see what is different in the museum.
The car museum may feed a visitor’s intellectual soul, but the Russell family also literally feeds customers with their unique grocery items. With over 15 years in the grocery business, they know the right products for everyone and carry more grocery products than a typical c-store. “The closest town is 16 miles away, and it doesn’t have a grocery store. The closest grocery store is 36 miles away. Because of this, many local farmers and ranchers will come to us for daily items. They will call ahead and ask questions when looking for a particular item.”
They cater to those locals, but they also stock and price for truck drivers, avoiding what Russell called the “typical high mark-up” in other locations. “Those high mark-ups make it unaffordable for drivers to buy essentials. More and more drivers are making less and less and are having trouble just getting by.”
The family has owned grocery stores for 15 years. Russell explained, “I was a district manager for our grocery chain that we had in the surrounding town. My forte has always been in grocery stores.”
He told Stop Watch it took him a bit to figure out the different needs of a truckstop versus a grocery store, but he quickly learned how to best cater to RVers, truckers and the locals with their grocery items. For example, he has learned that they only need to carry one type of cake mix vs. the eight or nine in a grocery store. They also don’t need to carry a lot of fresh fruit or vegetables, but they do carry some items such as potatoes, apples and seasonal fruit. They also have a lot of health and beauty line items, which has paid off. “I’ve had more and more people come up to me and tell me how appreciative they are of our grocery and health items,” Russell shared.
When asked whether he likes running grocery stores or truckstops better, Russell said, “Probably working at the truckstop. You still have the thrill of business like in a grocery store because you see a lot of new people.”
It is a good thing Russell enjoys the truckstop business, because he lives right at the location in a mobile home during the week. “It is a little different. Because we are out in the middle of nowhere, I live on the premise five nights a week. Typically I’ll work a 12-hour day but I am available 24 hours a day, because as I said, I am literally here,” he said. “It isn’t atypical for me to do things at midnight. I start at 9 a.m. and am pretty much here until the restaurant closes at 9:30 p.m.”
He shared with Stop Watch that while running the location is more fun, it is also more challenging in some ways because of the diversity of issues. “There is always something new to tackle. Last night we had a problem with the projector in the museum where we show movies, so I had to spend several hours figuring it out. This morning we had a truck run over a 12-foot long barrier. There is always something different going on.”
He tackles all of these challenges in a button-down shirt and tie. “I want customers to be able to easily find me and recognize me as a manager if there is an issue. I want to jump into problems as fast as I can,” he said.
Russell was quick to point out that he makes it all happen with a great staff. “We have been blessed with very good help. We are fortunate to employ people that are educated in areas that they need to be, many of whom drive a fair distance to get there. It has been real pleasant.”
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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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