People Power

Trail’s Travel Center owes its success to a hard-working, friendly staff.

The Pizza Hut at Trails Travel Center may entice traffic to take exit 11 on I-35, but they’ll keep coming back for the beautiful facilities, local specialty products and stellar employees.

Rocky Trail, president of Trails Travel Center, has been with the truckstop located in Albert Lea, Minn., since 1985 when his father bought the location. In March of 1998, they moved to their current location and became a TravelCenters of America franchise.

Trail told Stop Watch, “When we rebuilt at our current location, we wanted a wow factor.”

The 29,000-square-foot main building is indeed “wow” worthy with high ceilings, unique lighting, and an open and uncluttered layout. They took their cue from local heritage and built using a Scandinavian architecture design.

Both plentiful parking and flowers surround the location. It boasts 305 truck parking spots and 250 car parking spots for the half-million drivers who visit the location annually. The flowers offer a warm, clean welcome. An elderly couple has maintained the flowers for years.

The architecture is not the only thing that is unique at the location. Trails Travel Center is filled with local specialty products. Trail and his management team believe in promoting the community by selling high quality products from local companies. They have products such as locally made soaps, scented candles and sausages. These products not only support the community but also give them exclusive offerings that set the location apart.

Rocky Trail
Trail began his career in the industry three decades ago as a pump jockey. He told Stop Watch the best part of his job is the people he works with. “They are good, honest, hard-working people and it is a privilege to work with them every day,” he said. He advised those new to the industry to get good leaders for their managers as “people make or break you.”

Want to get in touch with Rocky Trail to learn more about the secrets to his success? Contact NATSO at for an introduction.

A caring and productive work environment
Like many NATSO members, the location’s success is fostered on good employees with strong ethics. In fact, the location’s ethics system is built on the principles of the Bible. All potential employees are required to take drug tests and are given background checks. Employees can have had problems in the past, but they have to be honest about them from the start. This high standard for character and integrity has paid off with a great team. As Trail expressed, “The employees here care about our business.”

They also care about each other. The managers have lunch together almost every day, which brings them all together to help one another.

Trail and his team are always looking for ways to improve or get “1 percent better” as they say at their location. They’ve even taken their quest for improvements on the road with a semi-yearly road trip to area locations. In the past, they have visited other great NATSO operators including Jim Goetz at Petro Travel Plaza in Portage, Wis. and Will Moon at Iowa 80 TA Truckstop in Walcott, Iowa. During these trips, they gather business intelligence on what other locations are doing well. These trips always result in many ideas on how to improve. Ideas gathered in the past include how to better set up their merchandise and how to better clean the showers.

General manager Steve Klingman told Stop Watch, “Change is wonderful. It always happens.” He must be in charge of renovation, because the location has just finished a major remodeling and is planning more improvements soon. Recently, they took out their arcade and replaced it with additional cooler doors with LED lighting. They updated their to-go food area and, as a result, expect their to-go sales to almost double by year-end.

In the near future, they plan to take on the projects that were temporarily shelved when the recession started. These include remodeling their kitchen and gift store as well as showers and bathrooms.


This article originally ran in Stop Watch magazineStop 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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