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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Pilot Flying J is pushing forward with a growth strategy that will see a nearly $500-million investment to renovate existing locations over the next five years, while also opening 20 to 30 new locations annually.
President Ken Parent told the Knoxville News Sentinel that the company is undergoing a "reimagining," with updated exteriors, new signs and logos, floors and lighting, better food presentation and improved employee break areas at its locations.
Pilot Flying J's last rebranding and makeover was in the late 1970s.
According to Parent, 2016 was a "test year," in which Pilot Flying J spent about $40 million to improve and expand. The company opened 17 new locations in 2016, and reopened two renovated sites.
This year, Pilot Flying J will increase that investment to $85 million. "For the next four years … we will spend a little over $100 million back into our existing facilities," Parent said. "We think it's really important to go back and invest in our existing chain."
That's $100 million per year from 2018 to 2021. Those modernizations are built into the company's capital plan, in addition to 20 to 30 new stores annually, he told the news outlet.
Pilot Flying J's new sites will feature gasoline pumps, "PJ Fresh" casual dining, coffee selections, a convenience store, free Wi-Fi, showers and some driver lounges.
Some existing locations will get new gasoline pumps, depending on their age, Parent said.
According to the executive, the company is taking steps to adjust to the rise of online retailers like Amazon, which is changing supply chain patterns — and trucking trips. With that in mind, Pilot Flying J wants to increase its appeal to motorists, though professional drivers will remain its core business.
For big trucks, the company will test an online parking reservation plan in the first quarter of 2017. The real-time system — coupled with construction of more parking spots — is intended to alleviate space problems, and could be applied nationwide, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports.
In addition, Pilot Flying J plans to build 20 light-maintenance and repair shops across the country this year, and increase that to a possible 200 by 2021. That is the last piece needed for Pilot Flying J to provide a full spectrum of services for truckers, Parent said.
Pilot Flying J has built a training facility in Knoxville to staff its new repair shops, and employees were expected to arrive Jan. 8 to start classes, Parent said.
In addition, the company is putting $25-$30 million toward renovation and a phased expansion of the company's Knoxville headquarters, to be finished by year's end, Parent told the news outlet.
PILOT FLYING J'S 2016 ACTIVITY
The major push comes on the heels of a busy 2016. Last year, Pilot Flying J expanded its number of Pilot and Flying J stores by adding 58 additional locations to its network. Through PFJ Southeast LLC, a joint venture with Speedway LLC, Pilot Flying J completed the conversion of 41 former Speedway/Wilco locations throughout the Southeastern United States.
"Working with Speedway, as part of PFJ Southeast LLC, has allowed us to quickly and easily grow our presence in the heavily traveled Southeastern corridors," said Parent. "We're excited for the convenience these additional locations will bring to our guests and trucking company customers."
The company's growth also included 17 new travel centers, which added more than 1,000 local jobs to their communities. Each new location features full amenities for professional drivers, as well as area residents and travelers. With the 58 additions, the Pilot Flying J network now offers:
- More than 750 locations across North America
- 4,200 parking spaces for a total of 74,000 parking spaces
- 320 showers for a total of 5,100 showers across the network
Pilot Flying J also recently released myPilot, its newly enhanced mobile app. Professional drivers now have the ability to save time with the app's "mobile fueling" feature, which allows drivers to pay through the app.
Drivers can also use the app to check which diesel pump is likely to open up next, reserve a shower, view store listings, get directions, and receive and store electronic receipts, etc. In addition, all guests can save 3 cents per gallon on gasoline and auto diesel when they use the myPilot app.
"2016 has been an exciting year of growth," Parent commented. "We've made investments in new locations throughout the country, and we've developed agreements with partners like Speedway. This is part of Pilot Flying J's continued commitment to growth, and another step in our mission to connecting people and places with comfort, care and a smile to better serve our customers and guests. We look forward to continued growth in the new year as well."