ExpediteNow Magazine spends some time with Tom Liutkus, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations for TA/Petro.
Please tell us about yourself.
I am Tom Liutkus, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations for TA/Petro. I’ve been with the company over 14 years now. My team has historically communicated all of the exciting programs and promotions to the professional truck driver/customer or to their fleets and carriers.
Give us a little history about TA/Petro.
Both brands (TA and Petro) have long, proud histories. TA is nearly 50 years old while Petro was founded in 1975. The key is that both operated as “full service” travel centers. That means they believed long ago that the professional truck driver deserved a facility with large parking, multiple showers, dining options, truck maintenance and a large assortment of other driver amenities and services. Not all chains came from this vantage point. But both our brands did.
With that long history in the industry, what are some of the biggest changes (or challenges) you’ve seen in recent years?
Certainly technology has fostered many changes that impact trucking in so many ways. From new engine technologies and other ways trucks are more fuel efficient to smart phones and apps replacing the CB radio, technology continues to impact all industries. Increased regulations for both the carriers and the drivers (like FMCSA hours of service regs.) have had huge impacts.
What are some ways our industry can overcome these issues?
I think our industry has embraced technology pretty well. We are a retailer. So when customers evolve or need technology to make them more efficient, it is in our best interest to offer them the products and services that enable them to do that. As for regulation, that is something that from the local level on, we need to educate our legislators so they know how it impacts each and every truck stop, truck driver or their fleet on the potential positive or negative impacts. The industry has many who volunteer to do this in Washington but more voices need to be heard.
How are drivers using TA/Petro differently from 10 – 20 years ago?
The basics are still there no matter what decade you look to. Fueling, clean showers, good meals, and a friendly face are all still in high demand and drivers should expect that. More drivers are seeking parking and that is why we introduced Reserve-It! 3-4 years ago. A certain percentage of drivers want the peace of mind for a spot they can call their own and not lose precious hours of service looking to find a place to park for the night. Another area where some drivers are spending more time addressing is staying healthy. A fair portion of them are more aware of negative driver health trends and they are exercising more, eating better and being smart about lifestyle choices. TA/Petro is happy to offer our StayFit program so they can manage these lifestyle decisions.
The service TA/Petro provides to our industry is critical. Without fuel, everything stops. What other services does TA/Petro provide to drivers?
Truck maintenance and repair is something we excel in. We’ve been doing that since the early days of our existence. With the maintenance business, roadside rescue services like RoadSquad continue to assist drivers when breakdowns occur. Through our smart phone application TruckSmart, we offer ways for drivers to reserve a shower remotely, get in the maintenance service queue quicker and be able to press a button to alert RoadSquad when they need roadside assistance. In the very near future, we will offer drivers the ability to order and pay for a Reserve-It! parking space via the TruckSmart app. Safe to say, our focus is on making both the fleet and the professional driver more efficient. In each case, when they improve their efficiency, they thrive economically. We spend a lot of time thinking of way is to do that for both sets of customers.
RoadSquad. Is it just for large fleets?Tell us about RoadSquad.
RoadSquad and RoadSquad Connect is for anyone, driver or fleet. Individual drivers are just as prone to have breakdowns so RoadSquad stands ready with over 450 rescue trucks to get that truck back on the road quickly. And with RoadSquad Connect, if our trucks are already dispatched, we have partnership arrangements whereby a rescue partner will get to that truck quickly. We manage the entire process from start to finish and we measure ourselves so our ability to get that truck back on the road improves every day.
What industry organizations is TA/ Petro affiliated with?
There are a number. We can start with St. Christopher Truckers Fund. We have supported SCF since 2010 with our annual Band Together for SCF fund drive and we are proud to have generated over $1.3 million in assistance to date. We support Truckers Against Trafficking and train our employees and provide pamphlets for drivers so together, we can join the fight to end human trafficking. We are active members of Women In Trucking and we also partner with OOIDA to host the “Spirit of the American Trucker” display truck. We also support, in even smaller ways, great organizations like Trucker Charity and Trucker Buddy International. We know it is important for us to be active members of the trucking community. That means we’re part of making the industry a better place for all of us.
What does the Truck Stop of the future look like?
Technology will certainly continue to play a role. Technology never stops and it will continue to look for ways to make us and the professional driver more efficient. I’d also say that fuel may evolve in the future. Natural gas is presently impacted by lower crude oil prices but CNG and LNG will resurface at some point. Electrical developments may also impact the way trucks move in the future. Our locations are large, much larger than anyone else has. What we pride ourselves on is that we can adapt to any of these changes because we have the space to do it.
Anything else you would like our readers to know?
Just that we value our customers and respect the job they do. It’s why within the offer of a “full service” travel center, we’re wired to keep finding ways to make our customers more comfortable, efficient and above all else, respected for the job they do. Our job is never done seeking to fill those business platforms and we’re happy with the challenge to perform every day for our customers. Visit TA/Petro at Expedite Expo 2016, booth # 467!