Analyzing the Pilot/Flying J Merger

Talking to a lot of drivers, it appears that many of us just didn’t see this coming. Yes, word eventually got around that Flying J filed Chapter 11 late in 2008, likely due to the fact that Flying J has usually been full of a lot of stuff that drivers would’ve appreciated if the tanked economy didn’t tank their economy. But once it got to the point that a driver is supposed to be happy with 1800 miles a week (a crying shame), the driver had to focus on bills and pinching pennies just to survive. Just look back on how many Owner-Operators lost their trucks to the bank and how many drivers just threw in the towel.

So, Flying J, with its innumerable choices in dining and merchandise, large square footage of space inside, and countless parking areas, must have endured high overhead and other numerous expenses. Further, it’s been clear that Flying J has been trying to pull in the once-growing RV community, doing so by creating travel plazas as opposed to truck stops that looked high-end, pleasant, and emanated an aura of sweet pleasantries as opposed to the smell of diesel and frying oil lived with everywhere else. If this assumption is correct, the idea of catering to a well-to-do crowd lost a luster to the recession as that crowd lost economic strength daily. In the end, Flying J suffered, and it’s been obvious for some time. What wasn’t known by the demographic of people who are where the rubber meets the road is how they would cope.

It’s been intriguing to hang around the truck stops and listen to drivers (who love to talk) explain their reasons why they prefer certain truck stop brand names over others, and this particular driver has heard Flying J’s name mentioned quite a bit. Honestly, this particular driver has never favored Flying J, but it would be unfair to say I was disappointed with the chain. In honesty, I have often preferred the simplicity of Pilot over the unnecessary fluff of Flying J. I’ve often been more than mildly irritated with Pilot going too cheap at some locations, what with too many having a scant few parking spaces and no showers, and some having no parking at all. This is annoying because the Pilot sign lures drivers like the golden arches lure children, so there should be something akin to what we’re used to when we get there.

Be that as it may, a Pilot is almost always enough for what a driver needs during his ten-hour DOT break. The dining choices may not be healthy enough for a demographic suffering numerous health issues, but there’s something to eat nonetheless. Then, in honesty, some of the larger ones offer nice dining options, so the option to eat better lies within the driver’s hands. Then, to shine a pretty light on Pilot’s finest quality across the industry, Pilot has long offered the best coffee, not just competing against other truck stops but also rivaling all but the most professional baristas out there. No, most drivers aren’t seeking a Mocha Cappuccino with real whipped cream and a dash of Madagascar cinnamon in Venti or whatever kooky sizes are offered. Rather, the driver just wants a choice in octane and boldness, and then creamers that are always there and in various flavors if it isn’t too much trouble. Apparently, the hazelnut flavor is quite popular among drivers since it is the hardest to keep stocked.

The coffee issue is brought up regarding Pilot mainly because this very issue has often been Flying J’s biggest weakness. Flying J, with all of their extravagant appearances and gaudy trinkets combined with a lot of nice dining (some Flying J’s offer exquisite breakfast buffets, and I mean exquisite), missed the train entirely on understanding how smart it is to offer good coffee and good coffee choices. Now that Pilot and Flying J are conjoined, perhaps some business osmosis will take place and Flying J will hear the java jive.

Beyond something so trite, the drivers hope that this combined strength and business diversity will be paid forward with the simple philosophy of genuine concern for the wants and needs of the consumer demographic. In other words, we hope our wants and needs within the truck stops are acknowledged. Look, we’ll eat the deep-fried crap if it’s about all that’s there, but please offer some reasonably healthy choices at reasonably affordable prices. It doesn’t have to be salmon and tofu over a low-fat Caesar salad next to baked poultry or spinach lasagna; there should simply be a choice of something better than what’s guaranteed to make us heavier and certainly feel heavier in the belly. Yeah, the words spoken that Denny’s and Subway are involved in are pleasing since they offer reasonably healthy food for us.

To go further on consumer concerns, we hope those overseeing the new and larger business do not go the way of so many other businesses and start thinking their consumers need them more than they need their consumers.

In truth, the trucking industry needs you, and with this merger, Pilot Flying J will certainly be a big dog. The humble wish is that those overseeing this traverse the higher road, thereby creating a situation where the driver is looking forward to pulling in, not merely doing because the DOT man might be watching.

This merger is a smart one, and the business created as a result is sure to succeed under the right tutelage. After all, the trucking industry isn’t going away until the age of the Jetsons is upon us, and those trucks legally have to be off the road at specific points in time. In short, they have to come to truck stops or something similar. So, if you appear to be a beacon of light and warmth from the distance to the tiring driver who just left 600 miles behind rather than the distant fires of Mordor that must be endured over the rattling chains of the Uruk-Hai of Isengard (yeah, DOT, that’s you), you’ll far more enjoy the deep riches surely coming.

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About the author
After a few years of writing for small local newspapers and freelancing for numerous national publications, Shaun took his skills to the Internet. Shaun's work has appeared on various sites and he is ready to tackle new topics and learn new things in the world of journalism.