Petro Dodge City #397 is by all accounts a large operation. They boast a main building with 12,000 square feet, employ roughly 100 employees, and see between 900 and 1,000 truck drivers a day. However, this doesn’t stop them from doggedly pushing for more growth. As owner Jim Hays jokes, "You can't go broke making more money."
Hays hired Operations Manager Keith Wade a little over a year ago to help lead the push.
The location has taken advantage of trucking trends to grow sales in their food service area. “With the hours-of-service regulations, truckers don’t really have time to stop to sit down and eat, but fortunately our lunch crowd and Sunday crowd is huge because of our strong local base. And then drivers get off the road around five o’clock, and we have a good dinner crowd from them. It really is working out great for us,” shared Wade.
While sit-down food sales are crucial to the operation, they work hard to ensure they secure sales from any hungry trucker that is looking to get back on the road in a hurry. They’ve increased the amount of prepared grab-and-go items for sale, such as homemade sandwiches and salads.
They prepare the grab-and-go items in their Iron Skillet kitchen. “We are lucky enough to have a large kitchen as it is very hard to run two profit centers out of the same kitchen,” Wade said.
The increase in grab-and-go items has doubled the store’s revenue while also ensuring no one goes away hungry. The best part is that they’re not cannibalizing their existing sales. This strategic move has affected their restaurant by only half a percent, a decline that is clearly offset by the fourfold growth in their propriety deli sales.
They are also currently negotiating to add a quick-serve restaurant (QSR). “Some may say we are crazy to add a QSR with a full-time restaurant, but again we are making this change to meet the needs of those time-strapped drivers,” Wade said. “You don't make a great bottom line with a QSR, but it is shortsighted to only look at that because you get a lot of additional revenue once they are inside your location.”
Once they’re in the store, Wade said additional sales of impulse items are likely to follow. “We want them in our store and we want them to buy a candy bar. Those candy bar sales are exactly why you put a QSR in,” he said. Adding a QSR is also expected to attract four-wheel traffic.
This summer the location physically grew by opening a new truck repair shop and adding 200 parking spots. According to Wade, it was a very difficult process, but they are extremely pleased with how it turned out. In fact, Wade said, “we ended up with the Taj Mahal hall of truck repair shops.”
For those who are also taking on an ambitious project like this, Wade recommends tackling complimentary projects at the same time if possible. For example, because they were already moving dirt for the new shop, they also decided to add the 200 truck parking spots at the same time. “We had to move the world to make it happen,” Wade joked, adding that it was worth it to meet the needs of their drivers. “We were sending people away nightly because we ran out of parking spots. We could hear them complaining about us on the cb, which is never good,” he said.
He also had advice on competitors, stating, “From experience, I know there is enough business on the interstate for everyone. So even though there are a lot of shops in the area, there is still enough business for everyone. We treat those other shops as partners."
Dodge City even sends those other shops business when appropriate. For example, they don’t do major engine work and some of their competitors do so they’ll send that work to other shops they respect in the area.
When pursuing growth, Wade cautioned other operators to be patient. “These things are huge engines, if you try to change it in a day you are going to fail.”
And if patience doesn’t work, he said to call a friend in the industry for advice. Wade uses connections from his 20-plus year truckstop career to reach out for advice. “Whenever we are stuck, there is always another manager to call. Some of my favorite folks to call are Deanne Schatz-Eisenschenk in Fargo, N.D., Bob Ryan in Atlanta and Sam Smith in Knoxville. These are all great operators and great people.”
With a new shop and soaring food sales, it would be conceivable to think Dodge City plans to rest on their laurels for a bit, but they have many more plans in the works. “We are going to add a two- bay truck wash, which we’ll operate ourselves,” Wade shared. They also plan to remodel the mall area of their site, increase the size of the fuel desk and upgrade their pumps so that they have diesel exhaust fluid at every pump.
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