FLAGS AND FAMILY at Ports to Plains

If you drove up to Ports to Plains truckstop, located in Lamar, Col­orado, the first thing you’d prob­ably notice is their big American flag. “We have a 20-foot by 30-foot American flag out front and a dozen American flags around the facility,” said owner Jim Miller.

But when you enter the facility, what would really wow you is the warm family atmosphere.

Located on an off-highway near Highway 287 and Highway 50 in the southeast corner of Colorado in the Arkansas valley, Ports to Plains was originally built by five ranchers in 1984. In 2008 when the original owners were ready to retire from the truckstop business, Miller and his wife, Janis, bought it. “Janis knows all the employees by their first names. She gives everyone a hug. Our truckstop is truly a family atmosphere,” Miller said.


The location is known for its 220- seat restaurant, Rancher’s Restau­rant. “We have the largest and nicest and best quality restaurant in town,” Miller said.

Miller gives the credit to General Manager Bruce Webster for earning the restaurant all those superlatives. “Bruce is very good at running our restaurant. He is very detailed orien­tated. For example, he checks in every food vendor,” Miller said. Webster also keeps a very close on labor costs, keeping them at or below 28 percent.

The restaurant stays true to its name in a very interesting way. “One unique thing we have in our restau­rant is a huge salad bar that is made out of a manure spreader,” Miller shared. Back in 1984, the origi­nal owners took one of the manure spreaders they used on their ranch. They cleaned and shined it and in­stalled it as the salad bar.

They cater to a lot of bus traffic, serving as destination stops to com­panies such as Greyhound and Bee Line. To serve the bus traffic, they offer sandwiches, hot dogs and other to-go items in the deli in their store.


Since buying the truckstop, the Mill­ers have put $2 million into upgrad­ing it. “We upgraded everything and improved everything,” Miller said. A lot of that investment was spent on infrastructure updates including the electrical and plumbing systems. They upgraded their dispensers to Gilbarco dispensers and are offering DEF in bulk.

They also made a big investment in LED lights. Located in a remote area, utilities are expensive and upgrading to LED lights offered them a big cost-savings. “We did about $110,000 of LED upgrades over three years start­ing in 2015,” said Miller. Today they spend about 44 percent less than the $16,000 they were paying for utilities before the upgrade.


The location is very big on commu­nity, making sure to stay involved with any community functions. “Anything that the community is involved in, we are there to support it,” he shared. “Schools are big in small rural areas like ours. There is always something like a fundraiser for the school, which we are happy to support.”

They also belong to the local chamber of commerce and go out of their way to show appreciation to veterans.


The Millers visit the location once a month. But they don’t worry about the location running smoothly. “I don’t micromanage. I do have 32 cameras that I can access from any­where in the world and I can see the financials at any time, but the real comfort comes from knowing that I have good managers,” Miller said.

He takes advantage of those re­mote financials, reviewing them dai­ly. “I am big on reviewing the finan­cials. You don’t want to shut the door when the cow is already out,” Miller said, adding that doesn’t believe in loss leaders. “Everything needs to stand on its own two feet.”


Creating loyalty has contributed to Ports to Plains’ success. The family atmosphere helps attract and retain employees, and Miller said they re­inforce that atmosphere by giving spot bonuses.

When sharing his best customer service tip Miller pointed to loyalty programs, both on the diesel and gas side. On the four-wheel driver side, the location has a custom loy­alty card. “We do fun things with that like offering free dessert on their birthday or a reward for ten fill-ups,” he said.

For professional drivers, Ports to Plains participates in the AM­BUCKS program. “AMBUCKS is huge,” he said.

Miller himself is loyal to marketing group AMBEST, which he has been associating with for a long time, in­cluding serving 12 years on the board of directors. “AMBEST is very good at what they do. I am a huge fan of AMBEST for all the things they do on a personal level especially the day-to-day stuff,” he said.

via Business Feeds

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