Dad’s 113 Travel Center embraces the mantra go big or go home. Nine years ago Dad’s 113 Travel Center sold 1,087 dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts in one day, setting a national record for the most doughnuts sold in a day by a convenience store. “It was very chaotic. There were doughnut boxes lining the halls to the showers,” said Kevin Bird, general manager for Dad’s 113 Travel Center. “Truck drivers were like, ‘Are you a doughnut shop or a truckstop?’” Those 13,000 doughnuts represent not just rings of dough but also the ability of this Idaho Falls location to excel in everything thing do in a big way.
Bird has been the general manager of the location since it opened. Under his leadership, the 19,000-square-foot facility strives to set the standard for excellence in everything they do from the size of their location to the care they provide their staff.
Dad’s 113 Travel Center was built in 2001 on 14 acres outside of Idaho Falls, Idaho. Named for their exit off I-15—number 113—the location’s profit centers include a truck wash, utility trailer and truck sales store, and a number of branded offerings including Jack’s Tire and Oil, Rush International Automotive Dealership, Subway, Frontier Pies and a Peterbuilt shop. Doug Andrus Distributing owns the location.
Bird said, “From the start, we built very large. When everyone was going small, we went big. Our ceilings are about 35-feet tall and it is very open and very inviting. We think that is our point of difference.”
As a Pepsi employee for a number of years prior to Dad’s, Bird brought a lot experience and knowledge in merchandising to the location. “If someone is changing the aisles, it is me. I enjoy it. It is my relaxation.”
Under his guidance, they change the merchandise monthly. “My help will tell you I change everything all the time. We change aisles. We change products. We try to stay really fresh and unique and by doing that we offer so many more things that your typical truckstop doesn’t offer.”
Bird and his staff also go to a variety of tradeshows and visit truckstops all over the country for inspiration. “We want to see what else is out there.” They are always looking for something unique, especially in the area of gifts and souvenirs.
His wife, Lynette, is their buyer. “I do everything she tells me to do. She is very good at finding the best gifts and souvenirs.”
He believes their commitment to offering a wide variety of unique products is instrumental to their success. As Bird shared, “truck drivers buy gifts at the last minute. And if we don’t provide the right merchandise, they will buy it at Walmart. We try to give them as many items as possible to buy for their wife, mom, girlfriend, etc. It makes us very unique in the industry and helps us be successful.”
For example, since opening they have sold porcelain dolls to fill this gift need. At Christmas time, they sell more than 2,000 of this high margin, good selling item.
Bird’s beverage background is also a strong asset in his contract negotiations. He believes strongly in negotiating your own vendor deals. “Do it all yourself. Be involved in your own business,” he said.
It isn’t just the great deals that help the location; it is the focus they bring to them. They get into the programs they run in a big way. “We get very much behind whatever program we are involved in—whether it is Krispy Kreme or anything else. We go gung-ho,” Bird said.
Because of that commitment, when they go back to negotiate with vendors, they have the volume to back up the deals they are asking for. This commitment shows in the numbers. Dad’s 113 Travel Center is in the top 10 for volume of an independent truckstop with DAS Distributing and they are also the largest account with the Coremark in Salt Lake City.
Strategically located one day’s drive down I-15 from Canada, the location has a strong Canadian fleet customer base. The location’s original three biggest customers were Canadian. It shouldn’t be a surprise by now to learn that Bird has both negotiated good fuel deals with their Canadian customers and fostered strong partnerships with them.
For example, one of their primary customers from Canada hauls nothing but beef. When the mad cow disease outbreak hit, the carrier was shut down. As a result, the Canadian carrier could no longer meet their contractual obligations to receive a fuel discount and approached the location to see if they were going to loose their fuel discount. Bird’s response was, “Absolutely not, we are going to work with you.” Because they chose to honor the discount anyway, the carrier continues to be very loyal to the location.
They also have a very large truckers appreciation week in early September. “We want to give back to the industry,” Bird said. The location feeds their customers all week and provides a variety of entertainment from monster trucks to hot rod shows.
As a member of the Sinclair Gold Truck Stop Program, the location is very involved with Sinclair Oil Corporation.
Bird went out of his way to share praise for Darrin Flitton, fleet and truckstop manager for the network saying, “Darrin Flitton has done a tremendous job with the Sinclair Gold Truck Stops Program. He has done a great job of trying to take all these independent truckstops and marrying them together to form one joined effort. This is really hard to do with people who joined the industry to be independent. He brings us new programs and does a great job of helping send a unified message to the trucking industry about the standard of our locations.”
Coming into the industry, Bird said he had a huge fear of employee turnover. However, he hasn’t found it to be an issue. Their bookkeeper, assistant manager and even several fuel desk employees have been with them since day one.
He told Stop Watch he likes to think they enjoy this low turnover because they are doing something right. A recent change was to follow the teachings of Ann Rhoades, JetBlue cofounder and keynote speaker at The NATSO Show 2012.
“She was spot on. It really changed our focus from that point on,” said Bird.
When Bird returned from Las Vegas, he bought her book, “Built on Values: Creating an Enviable Culture that Outperforms the Competition” and has implemented many of her employee retention strategies. For example, they are now proactively recruiting to employees that fit their culture, learning from her lesson of “if they don’t fit, they never will. You can’t change them.”
Dad’s 113 Travel Center believes in spending money on renovations. They are continually spending money to renovate and expand, even though they have been open for just over a decade.
They originally built the Peterbuilt shop with five bays and they’ve already added three more bays on. Recently they’ve added four more fuel islands on the car side and plan to expand their canopies with help from Sinclair.
Meet Kevin Bird
Kevin Bird and his wife have six children of their own and have raised eight kids. All of their children have worked at the location either in Idaho Falls or by looking at locations while on vacation with dad. “I drive my family crazy with my constant stops to check out other truckstops and retail businesses,” Bird said.
He’s very active in the community. In addition to serving with his church in a number of capacities, he has coached baseball and basketball for eight years and served as the local high school’s booster club president. He is also on the board of directors on a new truckstop being built in Utah and will be on the Sinclair Gold Truckstop board.
He told Stop Watch his favorite part of his job is the freedom it allows him to travel the country. “I have a hands-off owner who doesn’t work in the industry, which gives me freedom to travel when I want. I love that freedom.”
Contradictory to that freedom is the one downside of the industry Bird shared. “We are always open, which of course means there is never a time that are closed. Sometimes it can be hard to fine time to catch your breath.
Bird said his success as a manager is directly related to the quality of his employees. Bird said, “I have great people. I have a great staff and I really believe they would do anything for me. They are not only employees, they are my best friends.”
Bird is a friend back in... you guessed it, a big way. He promised one of his employees that if she quit smoking, he said he would take her to Las Vegas. She did and off to Las Vegas they went.
And it seems that no story on Bird would be complete without talking sports. He made sure to share with Stop Watch that he is a huge sports nut. He’s a season ticket holder for the Utah Jazz and he regularly drives 217 miles to Salt Lake City to see the Utah Jazz and then drives the 217 back home. Is anyone surprised that Bird has gone big in even his love of sports? We didn’t think so.
His last words for those in the industry—“Really have a passion for what you’re doing. It is a difficult retail industry. If you don’t enjoy the industry, get out. You have to be hands on and be involved to be successful. We are a small fish in a big sea. If you are not up to that challenge, you will get swallowed up quickly.”
Photo Credit: AC Photography and Design/NATSO, Darrin Flitton/NATSO
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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