TravelCenters Remains 'Opportunistic' on M&A Front

WESTLAKE, Ohio — TravelCenters of America LLC (TA) has been quiet when it comes to acquisitions this year, but the travel center and convenience store operator has been keeping its eye on the market.

"Our focus is on developing the businesses that we have, that we think has the potential to increase the scope of services that we provide to our existing customers, but also gives us the opportunity to garner new customers, particularly in the truck stock business," said CEO Tom O'Brien during the company's second-quarter earnings call on Aug. 8.

As far as unit growth in the travel center segment, TA does not have plans to introduce any significant development.

"The truck stop acquisitions are opportunistic and there’s not a time in the pipeline," he explained, adding that the company acquired one this year.

"The convenience store acquisition market is pretty hot right now and to the point where we look at stuff but haven't taken an active role in pursuing any of that," the chief executive said. "We'll be opportunistic as far as external acquisitions go for the foreseeable future until things change."

O'Brien did, however, acknowledge the company did think about selling its convenience stores as the market continues to be hot.

"We do think about that. We haven't taken action. We're in a mode where the first half of the first quarter was a pretty tough market operationally. We haven't yet seen the full impact, we believe, of the improvements that we've made, and we have a ton more growth," he said.

"If it were the case that I could get someone to pay for the growth that is yet to come, we'd consider that. But at this time, I think there is a case to be made for continuing the ramp-up and then seeing what market we're in when that's completed," O'Brien explained.

Looking at its Quaker Steak & Lube portfolio, he noted that the business is running ahead of TA's expectations. He said the next steps will be to get the franchising program "back in gear" and introduce a smaller format. 

"We think it has a place within our own network of truck stops, in some circumstances, but it also may appeal to franchisees who have particular size, facilities or what have you," O'Brien said. 

The so-called "Quaker Steak & Lube Express" could happen by the end of the year or the first part of 2018, he added.

TA acquired certain assets of Quaker Steak & Lube for approximately $25 million in April 2016, as CSNews Online previously reported. The assets joined the TA Restaurant Group.

"I think it's a difficult transition. It takes a little bit of time. But we've got all the pieces in place. Over the next year I think we'll see even more growth than we've seen," he said.

Westlake-based TA conducts business in more than 40 states and Canada, principally under the TA and Petro Stopping Centers travel center brands and the Minit Mart convenience store brand.