The Love’s Revolution

With an increasing store count, ongoing redesigns and a renewed focus on foodservice, Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores has transformed its business model.

By Erin Rigik, Associate Editor.

Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores is set to begin construction on its 300th location this August. As it prepares for this milestone, the travel stop and c-store giant is making a dynamic push to bring its 58 Love’s Country Stores—in Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas—up to speed with full interior and exterior facelifts.

Along with these extensive remodels, Love’s is ramping up its foodservice presence, expanding its proprietary Love’s Subs brand to include pizza and burritos; remodeling its coffee, condiments and grab-and-go sections and providing customers with new frozen beverage and yogurt programs. The proprietary foodservice program feeds nicely into the company’s Love’s fuel brand, enhancing its overall brand value.

In addition to currently operating 292 Travel Stops and Country Stores in 39 states, Love’s also operates more than 500 Gemini Motor Transports, 148 Love’s Truck Tire Care locations, four Love’s-branded car washes and a number of QSRs (see sidebar). In the latter half of 2012, the chain aims to build eight new travel stops with its 300th location set to open in early 2013.

“Currently with our c-store division, we are going through the process of looking into what we can do to better service our customers, upgrading the appearance of our stores and providing more offerings to our customers,” said Mike Herman, director of operations for Love’s Country Stores.
In 2011, Love’s first began sprucing up its stores, upgrading to three-in-one fuel dispensers at all 58 of its convenience stores. With the forecourts finished—in May 2012–the full store remodels began. At presstime four stores had already received facelifts with the project scheduled for completion in 2014.

“Each store is on a different timeline,” Herman noted. “We’re targeting about 15 stores this year, and we’ll target another 15-20 in 2013. We’re on a process where stores most in need and our highest traffic stores are converted first.”
 
Outside-In Revamp
Stores set for remodeling will receive an updated exterior with a brick stone motif; however, the outdoor graphics package, which rolled out just 10 years ago, will remain the same. “We’re still pleased with that package and our graphics still look really good,” Herman said. “As we added the new three-in-one gas dispensers, we also just updated the graphics on our pumps.”

Inside, the stores will receive a more extensive remodel, complete with new floor and ceiling tiles, a brighter, more energy efficient lighting package with two-bulb fixtures (down from four), a fresh interior graphics design, and a new cherry-walnut color on the walls to brighten the stores and offer a more upscale and “food-friendly” feel. The restrooms will also receive an upgrade, with single stall units becoming dual stall restrooms with dual sinks.

The new interior graphics design includes new menu boards and fresh signage for Love’s newly introduced frozen drink and yogurt programs.

Cold Treats
Customers looking to cool off from the heat can find a new Jolly Rancher carbonated beverage offering plus a Dannon Co./YoCream frozen yogurt program.  

“What makes our program different from most others is our state-of-the-art dispensers. We take up a six-foot linear footprint of frozen drink machines with 11 different options, and our frozen yogurt program, with the pull of a lever, gives customers a selection of 17 different yogurts, candies and flavors,” Herman said. “At most c-stores you see frozen drink machines lined up 4-6 side by side, taking up 8-12 feet of space. At Love’s, we do it in a much smaller footprint. Space is limited, especially at our older stores, so we need to do more with less.”
 
Food-Friendly
Love’s is also launching new foodservice initiatives within its Love’s Subs proprietary brand. “Where we don’t offer Subway, we have a Love’s Subs program, which is a made-to-order sandwich program,” Herman said. “Now we’re incorporating a made-to-order pizza program (Love’s Pizza) and a made-to-order fresh burrito program (Love’s Burritos).”

Within these programs, customers choose their toppings, meats and sauces and can watch their food being prepared. Restraints for space will dictate if stores get all three of the food offerings, but at least one of the offerings is planned for every store.

For hungry, on-the-go customers, Love’s is adding a five-foot open air grab-and-go cooler filled with pre-made sandwiches, burritos, pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers and fresh fruit, among other items.

Behind the cooler sits a self-serve island with a condiment bar that features lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles, ketchup, hot chili and more for topping food items. On the other side of the self-serve island sits a coffee bar that has also received an upgrade with dual coffee dispensers, cappuccino machines, an array of creamers, iced coffee and a tea program.
 
The Price is Right
Love’s not only attracts customers with its wide variety of food offerings, but also with its value-added pricing system. Popular with customers is Love’s Two For $5 Mix and Match Program.

“Our fresh-made burrito sells for $2.99 and weighs nearly a pound, but customers can get two of those for $5, or they can get two slices of pizza or two sandwiches for $5,” Herman said. “Customers can also mix and match. If I’d like a burrito and my wife would like a turkey sandwich, that’s also two for $5. It’s a tremendous value to our customers. It can sometimes be hard to find top quality, great price and value, so that’s what we try to give to our customers.”
 
Differentiation
With so much competition for share of stomach, Love’s understands that there are no shortcuts to providing outstanding service, great products and value.

“There are three reasons why customers choose a convenience store,” Herman noted. “One is fuel, two is restrooms and three is food. It could be in any order. We’re committed to evaluating those three reasons customers stop, and providing them plenty of options.”

To that end, in addition to updating its gasoline dispensers in the forecourt with three-in-one fuel (diesel, unleaded regular and super unleaded), Love’s also rolled out compressed natural gas (CNG) beginning last December at several of its existing locations across Oklahoma for a grand total of 11 CNG stations, giving the state of Oklahoma more than 70 existing or planned public CNG stations.

Love’s first CNG fueling station opened at its Kingfisher, Okla. location, where several companies operate CNG fleet vehicles. CNG currently retails for $1.69 per gallon equivalent, making it a less expensive fueling option for both consumer and fleet vehicle companies. As such, CNG is a burgeoning profit center for the chain.

“We’re in the process of identifying areas of need for CNG,” Herman said. “We have a concentrated area of customers who use CNG, and we’re placing those dispensers in those areas and evaluating how it goes.”  

When it comes to its newly remodeled restrooms, Love’s is focused on giving the customers what they want, from more space to a nicer ambiance to a consistently clean environment.  
 
Satisfying Today’s Customers
Love’s foray into an expanded proprietary program and its grab-and-go open cooler, frozen yogurt and frozen beverage section, plus condiment and coffee bar, is all part of Love’s overall plan to meet the high expectations customers have of foodservice venues. Its expanded array of options fits a diverse array of customers from those seeking healthier fare—like fruit cups and subs—to those looking for value with the two-for-$5 Mix and Match

Program and those who enjoy speedy service from the grab-and-go cooler.

But while the chain concentrates on food, fuel and restrooms, its No. 1 focus is always its customers.  

“We go by a motto at Love’s: ‘Clean Places, Friendly Faces,’ so when customers come to Love’s, it’s our goal to make sure they have a happy experience. Being customer driven is the biggest thing that differentiates us as a chain,” Herman said. “Our great customer service makes people want to come back. Customers may try our stores for the first time for our fuel, foodservice or restrooms, but ultimately what wins them over is our service and clean places and friendly faces.”

Another key differentiator for Love’s is its status as a privately-held company, owned and operated by the Love family since the company was founded in 1964. “They care about their employees and it shows, and it allows all of our team members to want to show that same type of care to our customers,” Herman said. “The Love family always works to make life better for their employees and their customers.”

Love’s Through the Years

• 1964: Tom and Judy Love incorporated Musket Corp., the predecessor to Love’s Country Stores, and leased an abandoned filling station in Watonga, Okla. for $5,000.
• 1972: The first Love’s Country Store opened in Guymon, Okla., combining a c-store with self-service gas—a new concept at the time.
• 1978:  Love’s Country Stores expanded to 60 locations in small communities in Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas. In-store delis were introduced to make fresh sandwiches on site.
• 1981: The first interstate Love’s Travel Stop opened in Amarillo, Texas.
• 1992: Taco Bell Express debuted in an Oklahoma City Love’s Travel Stop. Today, more than 150 QSRs are located in Love’s  Travel Stops & Country Stores nationwide.
• 1998: Love’s partnered with Children’s Miracle Network to hold an annual in-store fundraiser. Over the next 12 years, Love’s will have raised more than $4 million for children’s medical research.
• 2008: The Truck Tire Care concept was introduced, offering roadside assistance and tire care at select Travel Stop locations.
• 2010:  Love’s acquired 20 Pilot Travel Centers and six Flying J locations as a result of antitrust concerns regarding the Pilot-Flying J merger.
• 2011: Love’s upgraded to three-in-one fuel dispensers at its Country Stores, and added compressed natural gas (CNG) dispensers to 11 stores in the Oklahoma market.
• 2012: Love’s announced plans to construct eight new Travel Stops before the new year, with its 300th location set to open in 2013. The company also embarked on a plan to remodel its fleet of Country Stores, while expanding its proprietary foodservice program to include burritos and pizza, as well as a grab-and-go selection.

At A Glance: Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores

Founded: 1964 in Watonga, Okla.
Annual Sales: More than $17 billion

Businesses:  More than 290 Travel Stops and Country Stores combined in 39 states nationwide, including 237 Love’s Travel Stops and 58 Love’s Country Stores in Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas. The company also operates approximately 500 Gemini Motor Transports, 148 Love’s Truck Tire Care locations and four Love’s-branded car washes.   

Proprietary Food Brands: Love’s Subs (49); developing Love’s Pizza and Love’s Burritos

National Foodservice Brands:  Subway (133), Carl’s Jr. (10),
Hardee’s (16), Arby’s (45), Godfather’s Pizza (14), Baskin Robins (1), Taco Bell (1), Dairy Queen (2), Chester’s Chicken (50)

Leased QSRs: Arby’s (1), Burger King (2), Carl’s Jr. (4), Del Taco (1), Denny’s (4), Grandma’s  (1),  Hardee’s  (1), McDonald’s (48), Sonic (2),  Steak-n-Shake (1) and Wendy’s (8).

Fuel Brand: Love’s

Executive Management Team:  
Tom Love, Founder and CEO
Frank Love, President of Love’s Operating Cos.
Greg Love, President of Love’s Development Cos.
Doug Stussi, Chief Financial Officer
Tom Edwards, Executive Vice President of Operations

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