NATSO Aims to Future-Proof the Truck Stop & Travel Center Industry

The organization talks changes coming down the pike at NATSO Connect 2023.
Melissa Kress
Executive Editor
Melissa Kress profile picture
NATSO 2023 Chairman Jim Hays
NATSO 2023 Chairman Jim Hays

DALLAS — The truck stop and travel center industry is on the cusp of change as evolution in fuels and mobility are poised to usher in a new landscape.

The transition comes as the industry mourns the loss of a longtime leader, Tom Love. Recognized as an industry pioneer, he cofounded Love's Country Stores & Travel Stops with his wife Judy when they opened their first site in 1969. He passed away on March 7 in Oklahoma City, the hometown of his family-owned and -operated business.

As NATSO President and CEO Lisa Mullings pointed out during the organization's recently held NATSO Connect 2023 event, Love spent a lot of time in Washington, D.C., fighting hard on behalf of the industry. "Today, that fight is more important than ever as the truck stop and travel center industry stands on the brink of change that is radically disrupting our industry," Mullings said, pointing to several factors such as autonomous trucks and alternative fuels. 

With inevitable change coming down the pike, she explained that advocacy is the key to getting information before lawmakers — and not only showing up when the industry needs something. "Lawmakers and their staff need us so that they can understand how their policies and decisions affect their constituents," Mullings said during her keynote remarks at NATSO Connect 2023, held March 7-10 in Dallas.

Echoing the need to raise the industry's collective voice amidst change, NATSO 2023 Chairman Jim Hays said he is looking forward to getting many things done this year.

"There are always changes coming out of Washington, D.C., and the states. We can really have an impact, but we have to make our voices heard," said Hays, owner and developer of Dodge City Petro, a Popeye's franchisee, and owner of petroleum jobbership Hays & Son Oil Co. in Alabama.

NATSO has been championing the industry for more than 50 years and although some of the challenges are the same today as in the beginning, the founding members of the organization could not have imagined some others — like the "unprecedented" COVID-19 shutdowns, according to Hays. 

In 2023, NATSO's mission remains the same: to help advance truck stop and travel center operators and offer solutions to the challenges the industry faces, he said. 

What's Next in Washington?

The March 9 keynote also included a session on public policy with members of the NATSO government affairs team: David Fialkov, executive vice president of government affairs; LeeAnn Goneen, senior director of government affairs; and Jessica Fend, senior policy advisor.

"All of the policy developments, along with the market dynamics, make it very clear that we are on the cusp of a pretty massive transition on the way we do business, primarily in the fuels that we sell," Fialkov said. "Never before has it been the established policy of the United States government to transition away from one form of transportation energy to a completely different one in such a short period of time."

It is exciting, according to Fialkov, although he acknowledged that those who make a living selling fuel may not be as excited. "The reason I am excited is that this industry is extraordinarily well-positioned to navigate that transition and come out stronger on the other side," he explained. 

Fialkov pointed to the attention that truck stops and travel centers are getting from outside players, like BP and its recent deal to acquire TravelCenters of America, Berkshire Hathaway's stake in Pilot Co., and the entry of traditional convenience store players such as QuikTrip Corp. and RaceTrac Petroleum into this business.

"A lot of wealthy entities are parking their money in the truck stop industry. They are not doing that because they don't think the energy transition will occur; they are doing that because they are confident that this industry is well-positioned to navigate it," Fialkov said. 

A plus for the truck stop and travel center industry is that it will take longer to transition away from diesel than gasoline, and the industry makes more money from diesel. Additionally, the industry's real estate off interstates is conducive to selling alternative fuels, he added.

According to the NATSO government affairs team, the key legislative issues currently facing the industry include:

  • Climate change policies;
  • Clean fuels policies; 
  • Electric vehicle charging; and 
  • Hydrogen fuel.

NATSO Connect 2023 took place at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine, Texas, in the Dallas metropolitan area. The organization's next notable event on its calendar is NATSO Day on the Hill, being held May 15-17. 

About the Author

Melissa Kress
Melissa Kress is Executive Editor of Convenience Store News. Read More