Written Plans Help Truckstop and Travel Plaza Operators Plan for the Future

Planning has always been an important part of operations at Sacramento 49er, but three years ago, Tristen Griffith, general manager of the location, decided she needed a more detailed approach. Griffith hired a consultant who helped her craft a written document the company evaluates annually and lives by all year.


Planning has always been an important part of operations at Sacramento 49er, but three years ago, Tristen Griffith, general manager of the location, decided she needed a more detailed approach. Griffith hired a consultant who helped her craft a written document the company evaluates annually and lives by all year.

Ideas can apply to any aspect of the business and include short- and long-term projects. “One manager might think we need to renovate our parking lot and update paving. That is something that we know isn’t going to get done this year, but we want it on our strategic plan because we know we need to get to it within a certain time,” Griffith said.

Most items on the list can be accomplished within a year, but the document also includes items that are part of a five-year plan, such as a major shower renovation.

“It is getting to be a lengthy document, but we can look at it and say this is where we started and this is where we are,” Griffith said. “In the manager meetings, we discuss where we are with it and even when something is done, we go back throughout the year and touch every one of them.”

At Sacramento 49er, every manager in every department thinks of ideas at the beginning of the year and the company comes up with start dates, end dates and deliverables.

Darren Schulte, vice president of membership at NATSO, said it is those types of details that can determine the success of the plan. “To be effective, strategies needs to be executable, attainable and actionable,” Schulte said. “Don’t put a plan in place unless you’re going to measure it.”

To track success, it is important to hold people accountable, Schulte explained. Sacramento 49er makes one person responsible for each item within its strategic plan. “Nobody is alone at it but there is a lead,” Griffith said, adding that the company reviews steps within the plan regularly.

For example, Sacramento 49er identified a goal of increasing traffic in the truck wash, so they created a loyalty program. Even after the loyalty program got underway, they continued to look at the deliverable and identify additional ways to boost traffic.

Deanne Schatz, operations manager at the Petro Fargo, said drafting a strategic plan can help operators identify items that need repair. “Sometimes when you are here every day, it’s hard to see what needs to be upgraded or fixed because you are used to seeing it,” she said. “When you put a timeline on things, you start looking at what’s out there now versus what you have, such as gas dispensers and awnings, and see what the new ones look like and figure out how many versions back you are. Then you can really start to see clearly the wear and tear and just how worn down things are.”

The Petro Fargo makes it a goal to evaluate its parking lots and driveways annually and commit to keeping them pothole free. Schatz said the company’s main building and facility is 20 years old, so they are completely re-facing it along with the fuel island. “We have been planning and working on it for a year as it’s quite an extensive project,” she said.

For Keith Wade, operations director at Petro Dodge City #397, organization is key to planning. “I was taught the ‘Five P’s’ early in my life—Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance,” he explained, adding that he has a “Site Improvement Bible” that helps him stay organized.

The Site Improvement Bible is housed in an Excel spreadsheet and has several pieces of information, including active and complete projects. “I list and track almost every intermediate to large project in this list,” Wade said, adding that upgrades are crucial. “Travel centers age three years every year because they are open 24 hours a day.”

Schulte said that when crafting a plan, operators should be realistic and understand the company’s current resources and how they fit into the plan. “Your goal might be to have regular meetings every month, but the fact of the matter is you’re shorthanded and can’t. Or you say you’re going to clean the restroom every 10 minutes but you only have one custodian on staff,” Schulte said. “To make it executable and realistic, you have to look at what you can do to get there. Avoid doing pie in the sky planning or things that don’t make sense.”

Schulte said that doesn’t mean companies can’t dream big, but that to be successful, they need to have a clear and executable strategy. He added that he has seen plans fail because they aren’t realistic. “With the best plans, you give yourself a realistic timeline that is achievable and you go the length. It is important for whoever is doing the leading to understand that,” he said.

Sacramento 49er has also started a reserve fund to finance the strategic plan and equipment purchases. “We look at anything that is in there and expected renovations and how much we should be saving for that every year,” Griffith said.

The reserve fund includes a list of all of the company’s major equipment—items that cost more than $5,000—such as the roof, air conditioning units and pavement.

“We hired a company to do a reserve study and go into every department and list every item over $5,000, it’s expected life and the replacement cost,” Griffith said. “If you know you have five more years left on an item and it will cost you $100,000 to replace it, you need to be saving $20,000 a year.”

Griffith said organizing the reserve fund was daunting. “The first year we had to save over $1 million and some odd dollars. We couldn’t do that, but that was the starting point,” she said. “Just opening the accounts and getting it started was a big step.”

For Wade, calculating a project’s return on investment can help him determine success. He said most of his recent intermediate projects have a ROI of around one-and-a-half years, while some simple projects, such as new fixtures or candy bins, can have a ROI of three months (learn more about how he calculates his ROI in the sidebar).

Once a plan is in place, it is important that the entire team execute it and keep the long-term vision in mind. “As a plan moves forward, there are two things that have to be thought through,” Schulte said. “You can’t give up on a plan just because it got rough, but you also have to recognize if a plan needs to be adjusted or just abandoned.”


Tracking the Return on Investment
Operators said tracking their return on investment is an important part of their strategic plan. Keith Wade, operations director at Petro Dodge City #397, shared how he calculates the ROI on a new project: 

Let’s say you remove an arcade and decide to add a western clothing area in this space. 

FIRST STEP: Figure out your current sales per square foot in your existing clothing area.

SECOND STEP: Figure out the costs for the renovation.

THIRD STEP: Calculate your projected profit.

FINAL STEP: Divide your profit into the cost of the renovations to get the ROI. 



This article originally ran in Stop Watch magazineStop Watch provides in-depth content to assist NATSO members in improving their travel plaza business operations.

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