Fuel, Fun and Root Beer Flavor in Knoxville, Tennessee

With 175 parking spots, five service bays and 300 to 500 drivers coming through the door every day, Knoxville West TA Travel Center in Knoxville, Tennessee, keeps busy. “You know, we have a big piece of property, but my general manager and I make sure we touch each department every day,” said Sam Smith, vice president of operations. In addition to the service center, the location features a retail store, diesel and gas sales and a food court. Smith shared a few of the things that have kept the location thriving since opening in 1989.



“The truckstop business is a challenging business, but we make it fun,” Smith said. For example, each year the location participates in a national, annual event called Run for the Wall. On Memorial Day, primarily veterans ride their motorcycles across the country to convene in Washington, D.C., stopping at the truckstop on their way. On the Wednesday before Memorial Day weekend, the truckstop has a band to entertain the motorcyclists when they stop for gasoline and coffee and donuts. Smith said, “Our general manager, Randy Smith, is a 21-year retired Master Sergeant in the Marine Corps and he put this together 10 years ago. It is a fun day!”



A year ago the truckstop started treating their fuel tanks on a regular basis. “With the introduction of ultra-lowsulfur diesel (ULSD) and biodiesel, you are more likely to have bacteria and fungus in your tank, which can be a big problem if you don’t treat it properly,” Smith said. “I take this on personally,” he added, even calling himself the mad scientist of diesel fuel. They test the fuel monthly and treat it with Tank Clean. This focus on the quality of their fuel has been successful and many regular customers comment on it.



“We have tried many different things over the years. Some haven’t worked, but we make sure to try new things all the time,” Smith said. When it comes to new projects, Smith takes the lead. “I am the guy that keeps our financial balls in the air. I create the budget, bid it out and oversee the project. I also measure its results to make sure we’ve gotten a good return on our investment. We’ve really come far in 18 years,” he said. A recent venture was turning their TV room into more of a movie room. “We have leather chairs and Blue Ray discs,” he said, adding that they also converted their game room into a sports bar for their professional driver customers. It has a bar with root beer on tap, peanuts and three big televisions. While they started their food court in the 1990s, they have expanded it. They recently reimaged three out of four brands in food court, where they offer Burger King, Pizza Hut, Popeyes and Subway. They also expanded their location’s offerings to include Dunkin Donuts three years ago.



Knoxville West TA Travel Center has a lot of long-term employees. “Our shop manager, for instance, has been there since the month it opened. We have mechanics that have been there for 15 to 20 years. We have a fuel desk cashier that has been there since the day place opened named Lucy. And my general manager has been there for 15 years,” Smith proudly shared. “These people really make us unique,” Smith said. Smith sees his role as the daily cheerleader. Every day he visits the front line staff and asks them about their day and their families and what he can do to make their jobs easier. He makes sure to act on the improvement suggestions he gathers. Smith’s final advice on employees? “Make sure you hire the friendliest person you can,” he said. Also, he encouraged fellow operators to invest in a full-time maintenance staff person. “We are an equipment intensive business, if something breaks down you have to hire to call a third party. Our full-time maintenance man cleans and maintains the equipment, which prevents things from breaking down so frequently. He also maintains good relationships with vendors so we get parts quickly,” Smith said.

via Business Feeds

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