Flying J wears many hats — travel plaza operator, oil explorer and refiner, real estate developer and more.
What started as a handful of retail gas stations a little over 30 years ago is today a far-flung network of 124 travel plazas and fuel stops in almost three dozen states plus Canada. Another 30 facilities are under construction and will open within the next two years, with plazas having recently opened in Carney’s Point, N.J., Plant City, Fla., and Cokeville, Wyo. And forget about the tired old term “truck stop.” The facilities owned and operated by Brigham City, Utah-based Flying J Inc. offer everything from convenience stores, to full-service restaurants and food courts, to theater-style drivers’ lounges (with large-screen TVs), interactive game rooms, all-suite Flying J Motor Inns, business centers and much more.
Incidentally, Flying J, with 1998 sales of more than $2.5 billion (including fuel and excise taxes) has the distinction of being the largest of the more than 10 million privately held companies in the U.S. Headed by CEO and Founder Jay Call and President J. Phillip Adams, it ranks 98th on the list of Forbes magazine’s 500 largest private companies.
Flying J’s travel plazas generally “cost $5 million to $7 million to build, on 20- to 25-acre sites,” according to Virginia C. Parker, the company’s director of marketing for Interstate Operations. “And besides serving the needs of travelers, they have come to serve local residents as well.”
Open around the clock, the facilities are typically sited on interstate highways. They’re a major economic development factor as well: Each employs between 100 and 120 people, putting Flying J’s employee work force in the 8,500 range.
And forget the greasy spoon of movies and cartoons: Flying J’s full service Country Market, The Cookery, and Thad’s restaurants seat up to 150 and offer everything from a savory menu to an “all-you-can eat” buffet. Its food courts feature Pepperoni’s Pizza and the Magic Dragon (Oriental cuisine).
On the Road
It doesn’t end there. Professional drivers have access to private shower rooms (accessible via personal access codes), private phone booths and laundry facilities. And to take care of business, the facilities offer RoadLink kiosks that provide fax and copy service, pre-paid phone cards, trip routing and mileage reports plus equipment posting and load matching. They also have ATMs and postal services, calibrated-scales and more.
Want to send some flowers from the road? “The plazas have floral delivery, as well as a call board service that promotes local business through road-link kiosks,” says Parker. For appearances sake, “They’re beautifully landscaped, easily accessed and illuminated for driver security,” she adds.
Finally, fully automated fuel desks and Express Pay card readers are the order of the day at the fuel islands. “Transactions are literally processed at the speed of light through a dedicated communications network,” Parker explains. “We have internally developed state-of-the-art information services.”
Paperless and Cardless Radio Frequency Technology
“After four years of extensive research, we have unveiled new radio frequency technology, originally developed to control the refueling of Israeli airplanes, to facilitate the administration of fuel purchase transactions,” says Parker. The system, installed and operating in more than 1,000 locations worldwide, promises to provide the transportation industry with a fraud-free, data accurate, paperless and cardless fueling system,” she continues.
Here’s how it works: Coupled with Flying J’s Retail Operations Sales System (ROSS) and with third-party billing companies, the system operates through a specially de-signed radio frequency (RF) tag that can either be carried by a driver or located in his or her vehicle. Two devices are integrated with Flying J’s fueling system: One is a small RF tag encrypted with an identification number and permanently attached with a special adhesive to the vehicle’s fuel tank.
The second is an antenna built into the nozzle of diesel fuel dispensers. “When the fuel nozzle is inserted into the throat of the tagged fuel tank, the system connects electronically and recognizes the identification number,” Parker explains. “That allows for immediate authorization of the transaction. When the fuel nozzle is removed from the tank, the system loses the ‘pulse’ of the tag and shuts off the dispenser.”
Because the system is completely automated, drivers don’t have to use cards, nor do they have to manually input transaction data. RF transactions are customized and critical data is processed electronically.
Looking for Fuel
Then there’s the other side of Flying J. Besides catering to the needs of the nation’s professional drivers, the company operates a multi-faceted, fully integrated oil company complete with exploration and production capabilities, refining and supply, transportation and real estate and property development groups.
And the company is launching a far-flung network of lube, tire and wash facilities. Called J Care Service Centers, they will provide preventive maintenance and tire services, wash bays and additional driver amenities.
At a time when downsizing and cutbacks are rampant in business, Flying J has continued to find new ways to fuel successful, diversified expansion. “I personally have never seen a time when we have had more opportunities in front of us and available to us to explore in all of our operating segments,” adds Adams.