Flourishing After the Floods

After suffering extensive water damage at its Nashville, Tenn., store, TravelCenters of America has reopened the unit with a new look and a host of modern features.

By: Erin Rigik, Associate Editor.

Just a year ago, the TravelCenters of America truck stop in Nashville, Tenn., fell victim to the historic flooding that ravaged Middle Tennessee when more than 13 inches of rain pounded the city in the first two days of May 2010. But 12 months later, the store is not only up and running again, but has undergone a $6 million transformation sure to attract customers from miles around.

“The flood was quite sudden so we had to evacuate with very little preparation,” said Barry Richards, executive vice president of TravelCenters of America LLC (TA), which operates more than 188 sites in 40 states under the TravelCenters of America and Petro Stopping Centers brands, plus 40 franchised locations. “When we returned, we found our inventory floating in five feet of water.”

The clean up effort was massive. “We had to empty the store, dispose of fixtures and take apart the walls. It was just devastating,” Richards said. “I don’t know how long it took the area to drain down, but there are pictures of cars and trucks in our parking lot with water up to their windows. Our contractor came to me and said, ‘We really need to just gut this place and start over.’”

A New Beginning
The crisis presented a unique opportunity to remodel the TA Nashville store’s design, which at 35 years old was ready for an upgrade. In remodeling the store, Richards took the opportunity to update the floor plan and interior/exterior design, and included modern amenities. “I used to have a decorator just come in to do the restaurant, but now I had a chance to let him design the whole facility,” he said.

When TA Nashville reopened for business a year later in February 2011, it featured a 4,000-square-foot c-store, complete with a new roof, a new HVAC system and digital signage throughout.

While the store has not increased in size, the remodel helped make the unit appear larger thanks to a better use of space, such as a widening of aisles, modern fixtures, more walk-in cooler space and utilization of a section that had once held a Subway franchise, but went unused after the franchisee declined to return.

The store’s 114-seat Country Pride full-service restaurant also received a full makeover. “We put in a brand new salad bar, so there is a good selection of fresh food and salad items,” Richards said. “It’s a buffet where customers can order as much as they can eat—everything from fried chicken to a steak dinner to soup and a sandwich.”

Other special features include free WiFi access, a game room, a laundry room for truckers and a new driver fitness room—one of the first in the country—with aerobic exercise equipment so drivers can get a workout after they’ve been on the road all day.  Even the showers and restrooms received a complete facelift, including new floor to ceiling tile.

The driver’s lounge also received an upgrade, turning it from a standard break room area to a luxury resting spot. “Most of our truck stops have a lounge, but we put a little extra time and money into this one,” Richards said. “It’s carpeted and it has theatre seating—plush leather seats designed by La-Z-Boy—which are very comfortable and a great departure from what we had in the past.” The lounge is also outfitted with a 55-inch flat screen TV.

The designer included a history of trucking theme throughout the store, decorating the walls with photos of trucking past. “Everywhere you turn people are looking at the framed photos on the walls. It’s interesting and enjoyable, and I’ve received many words of thanks from drivers. They’re very delighted with what they’ve found there,” Richards said.

One store item did manage to miraculously survive the Nashville floods—a large wall graphic depicting the Grand Ole Opry (left). The picture suffered minor water damage, but the designer had it restored, and it now hangs in the renovated store. “Everyone that comes in is amazed we were able to save it,” Richards said.

Finishing the Forecourt
TA spent almost $1 million on the parking lot,resurfacing the pavement and installing all new dispensers—nine total—one of which features a diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) dispenser.

TA Nashville is also the first store in the nation to include StaySafe, an experimental parking lot awareness program that includes 24-hour parking lot security cameras covering the 167-space truck parking area.

As part of StaySafe, the store’s outdoor lighting received an upgrade. “With the cameras we can see every angle of our parking lot,” Richards said. “A lot of our customers pull up at 3-4 a.m. They’re in a strange place and we want them to feel comfortable getting out of their cab to come inside. That could be intimidating in some scenarios, but not in this parking lot. We’re determined to make it a safe atmosphere for everyone—our employees as well as our customers.”

For truckers in need of repairs, the site features a six-bay truck service center staffed with ASE certified technicians, and a Freightliner ServicePoint location complete with RoadSquad roadside assistance vehicles. It also includes CAT Scale, TripPak, Western Union and Transcore load monitoring services.

TA Nashville also serves as one of TA’s training facilities for truck technicians. “We bring in mechanics from around the country to get certification on truck repair,” Richards said. “So we’re glad to have that back online because it really supports our business.”

Grand Reopening
Since the store re-opened in February, TA has seen an uptick in traffic and sales thanks to the redesign. “Easily we’re going to see double-digit increases from where we were in the past,” Richards noted.

A grand re-opening celebration during the first five days of March featured music, prizes and special deals for customers. When the store first reopened, it attracted customers who remembered when the location first came to Nashville. “At 8 a.m. on the day we opened, two guys with gray hair walked in and shook my hand. They said they were in Nashville when this place opened 35 years ago and they had seen on the news it was reopening after the floods,” Richards said. “They traveled to Nashville just to see the new store, so it was fitting that they were our first customers.”

At a Glance: TravelCenters of America

Store Count: 188 locations in 40 states, plus 40 franchise sites
Brands:
TravelCenters of America (TA) and Petro Stopping Centers
Employees
: 15,000
Company founded: TA 1972, Petro Stopping Centers, 1975

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