In 1958 James A. “Jim” Haslam II entered the fueling industry with one gas station. Today he has more than 650. Pilot Flying J is the largest operator of travel centers and travel plazas in the country and produced about $30 billion in sales in 2011. Haslam’s leadership and expertise has benefited his family business and the truckstop and travel plaza industry alike, and The NATSO Foundation is pleased to honor him with the Hall of Fame award.
“He’s built the largest brand in our industry. He’s been very philanthropic, and he’s been a successful husband and father. That is someone we can all look up to and emulate,” said Jim Goetz, vice president, Goetz Companies.
Roger Cole, president, Highway Service Ventures, said, “The thing Mr. Haslam has brought to the industry is the ability to look to the future and anticipate the needs of our customer before much of the industry recognized those things. He always had a big vision.”
In 1955 Haslam took a job as a wholesale salesman for Fleet Oil. After six months, he jumped in and started to learn the operations side of the gas station business and started running the chain of Sail Oil gas stations, but he knew he wanted to be in business for himself. So in 1958, Haslam bought his first store in Gate City, Va., for $6,000. Within the next seven years, Pilot had 12 locations in three states.
Pilot was competing with big-name companies, such as Exxon, Shell, Texaco and Mobil. To make their locations stand out, Pilot focused on customer service. Attendants would write customers’ names on a piece of tape and place it inside their gas cap so they could call them by name.
To help fund Pilot locations, Haslam utilized bank financing. In 1965, Pilot partnered with Marathon Oil, which bought half the business for $200,000 and loaned Haslam $4 million to build more stations. The stations weren’t like today’s locations. They were simple 200-square-foot buildings with restrooms on the side and six gas pumps. Inside they sold drinks, Lance cookies, cigarettes and motor oil. A few years later, in the early 70s, they added convenience stores.
Pilot repaid the loan in the mid-1970s and continued to build locations. The company opened its first travel plaza in 1981—right around the same time President Reagan deregulated trucking and a number of small trucking companies started up.
“Mr. Haslam clearly had a vision of what similarities there were in the convenience store business and the truckstop business and how he could make the transition from the convenience store sphere to the truckstop world and did it phenomenally well,” Cole said. “He had the vision to say speed, economy and efficiency is about to become more important to the economy and the trucking industry than were things like amenities and size.”
Goetz said Haslam also pioneered the idea of adding quick-service restaurants into truckstop locations. “Today that is the norm, but he pioneered that,” he said. “They also used technology to track their customers and track their likes and dislikes. They brought a sense of more professionalism to the industry than it had seen prior to their time.”
In 1988 Pilot bought out Marathon Oil but joined with them again in 2001. In 2008 Marathon was ready to sell, so Haslam partnered with CVC Capital Partners and bought Marathon out for $700 million. The Haslam family retained 60 percent of the company. In 2010, Pilot merged with Flying J.
Despite all that has changed since he first entered the industry, Haslam said the key to success remains having a clean location with curb appeal that gives customers a good value. It also pays to have quality employees who pay attention to profit margins and offer good customer service.
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.
The magazine is mailed to NATSO members bimonthly. If you are a member and not receiving Stop Watch, submit a request to be added to the mailing list. Not a member? Join today or submit a request to receive additional information.
Subscribe to Updates
NATSO provides a breadth of information created to strengthen travel plazas’ ability to meet the needs of the travelling public in an age of disruption. This includes knowledge filled blog posts, articles and publications. If you would like to receive a digest of blog post and articles directly in your inbox, please provide your name, email and the frequency of the updates you want to receive the email digest.