KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Pilot Co. turned to two particular groups of experts when planning New Horizons, its $1 billion initiative to overhaul hundreds of locations across the United States and improve the overall Pilot experience: its own employees, and the professional drivers that the travel center operator serves.
An extensive feedback and planning phase preceded the design and construction phases for the project's 400-plus full remodels. The retailer reflected on its business philosophy and how it could better reach its goal of providing an outstanding experience — something that has only grown more difficult due to unprecedented challenges.
The company is currently dealing with a massive driver shortage that Pilot doesn't expect to change anytime soon, as well as an equipment shortage. Professional drivers themselves are dealing with a parking shortage, among other difficulties. And the trucking industry as a whole faces challenges in the form of fuel prices, financing services, and the auto industry's slow transition to electric vehicles.
"Because of COVID, the world has changed. "We need to evolve," said Pilot Co. CEO Shameek Konar, noting that this affects everything from people's preferences to how they think of travel to how they want to interact with each other and with vendors.
During the feedback process, Pilot asked its team members and the professional drivers the retailer serves "what they want, what they really value, what they're challenged with, [and] what they don't like," Konar explained. He acknowledged that the company received some "tough" feedback from guests, but welcomed the critiques.
Pilot identified a number of key points:
- Two-thirds of professional drivers say showers are the most important factor they think about when choosing a travel center;
- 60 percent of professional drivers point to food offerings are their top reason for choosing a travel center;
- More than half of professional drivers mention the ability to get in and out quickly as a key factor in their travel center selection;
- Nearly 90 percent of auto drivers choose a travel center based on its convenience, safety, cleanliness and product availability;
- 85 percent of auto guests use restrooms when they stop at Pilot stores, and they rate cleanliness as the most important factor; and
- Pilot team members want spaces to recharge during their shifts, as well as technology that helps them be more efficient so that they can focus on store guests.
The final New Horizons plan calls for improvements across all these areas that customers and team members care most about. According to Konar, the challenge was not deciding how much to invest, but rather figuring out what exactly to do with the $1 billion, where to do it, and when to do it.
In addition to improved facilities for drivers, Pilot team members will be able to enjoy upgraded, reconfigured and expanded breakroom and workspaces that have new kitchen equipment. New technology will be used to minimize their administrative work and make their jobs easier.
Pilot is also focused on increasing appreciation recognition for its team members, ranging from added perks and discounts to wellness programs; a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion; and celebrating upgraded store openings with family-and-friends parties.
"We believe guests' experience will never be better than team members' experience," Konar said.
The first phase of the New Horizons project is already underway, with 50-plus Pilot and Flying J travel centers slated for renovation in 2022. Multiple phases will follow as the company progresses its store design and incorporates new innovations.
The three-year initiative will include full remodels of more than 400 Pilot and Flying J locations and upgrades at several more locations as part of the company's largest investment in store modernization yet.
Knoxville, Tenn.-based Pilot Co. currently operates more than 800 retail and fueling locations in 44 states and six Canadian provinces.