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Five Key Takeaways from a Truckstop Industry Icon
During NATSO Connect, Bobby Berkstresser was presented with the Hall of Fame Award, which recognizes individuals for their notable participation in their communities, industry and the association. As part of the presentation, Tom Heinz, former NATSO Chairman, past Hall of Fame Award winner and president of Coffee Cup Fuel Stops, sat down with Berkstresser to learn more about his experience and success in the travel plaza industry. Berkstresser was happy to share his insights with Heinz and the show’s attendees.
On Getting Started: Berkstresser got started in the truckstop and travel plaza industry when he was looking for a garage for his towing business. The owner of Lee Hi was getting ready to close the location and called and asked Berkstresser if he’d like to buy it.
“I told him I didn’t have money like that, and he said I didn’t need any because he’d finance it. I just needed enough to get started and I had $5,000 in the bank,” Berkstresser said.
Berkstresser took over at Lee Hi on Oct. 3, 1981, doing $660 the first 24 hours he was in business. “Today you’re supposed to have a business plan. Mine was that I didn’t know better to not try,” he said.
Today, Berkstresser has added to his businesses and now operates White’s Travel Center and Orchard Creek Convenience Store in Raphine, Virginia, and a BP Fairfield in Fairfield, Va. He employs 430 people in his community.
On Creating Innovative Offerings: One of Berkstresser's greatest successes has been with Destination Station: at White’s, which he opened about 30 months ago. “We said, ‘We need to define ourselves as something different,’” he said.
Destination Station has a pet wash, multiple quick-serve restaurants, a barbershop, a laundromat, a theater and showers. They also host live music weekly and Destination Station features the first pharmacy in a travel center. “The driver comes in and shops there. He is buying his shampoo and his clothes,” Berkstresser said. “Our Friday, Saturday and Sunday business have become three of our best days. That makes us different. It used to be you survived the weekend waiting for the Sunday through Thursday. It has truly made us a destination.”
On Giving Back: All of Berkstresser’s facilities are within a 10-mile radius of each other, giving the businesses a prominent presence in the area. “We all live in the community,” Berkstresser said of his family. “Our 400 employees all live in the community. We appreciate the fact that we’ve been so blessed,” he said, adding that the truckstop and travel plaza industry has provided him with a great living. “With that comes a responsibility. You have to be good to your family, your church and your community. My son is serving on the school board, I have been on the Chamber of Commerce. I don’t think there are many boards we haven’t served on in the last 35 to 40 years. WE have this reputation in our county and with it comes an appreciation that you can make your community a better place to live.”
On Rewarding Employees: Berkstresser told attendees he values his employees and has found innovative ways to reward them. About 25 years ago he came up with the idea to reward employees not just for doing their jobs but also for going above and beyond. “Managers can hand out Bobby Bucks for a job well done or meeting a daily record or monthly record,” he said.
What’s more, this year for Christmas, Berkstresser’s locations gave almost $20,000 in Bobby Bucks to employees. “If employees want a pair of boots or something, they save the Bobby Bucks. We feel like that gives them an incentive,” he said, adding that he hosts a lot of pizza dinners for employees as another way to reward employees.
On Leading by Example: Berkstresser said he looks forward to walking around the location every morning. “It is amazing when the owner is walking around. I can’t stand for finger prints on a door or the deli case. It is letting people know that you expect a certain degree of excellence. We want to be better than the average stop. We want to be cleaner, we want our people better dressed,” he said.
He also expects managers to be working managers. “We want our employees to know there isn’t a job their manager won’t do just as well as they are. We want our managers to be engaged with our employees. We’re hiring the best and the brightest young people today,” he said.
The NATSO Foundation is collecting nominations for the 2019 award until August 15, 2018. Nominate any industry leader here.
/// NATSO Connect 2019 will be held February 10 - 13 in Nashville, Tennessee. Register and learn more about NATSO Connect here.
Photo credit: Brittany Palmer/NATSO
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