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Love's Travel Stops & Country Stores, Inc. operates more than 160 truck stops and convenience stores in about two dozen states. There are more than 100 Travel Stops, which offer interstate travelers branded fast food in addition to fuel, as well as certain amenities such as showers and parking for RVs. The stops have space for up to 150 trucks. Many feature attached fast-food restaurants from well-known national chains such as Taco Bell, Subway, and Pizza Hut. There are another 67 Country Stores, or convenience stores. The company is owned by the family of founder and CEO Tom Love.
The origins of Love's Travel Stops & Country Stores, Inc. date back to January 1964 when Tom Love and his wife Judy opened a self-service gas station in the town of Watonga in western Oklahoma. Tom Love had done a stint in the Marines and had excelled at college football, according to the Daily Oklahoman. He dropped out of school early, however, to pursue an entrepreneurial path. He tried ventures such as restaurants and car washes before discovering opportunity in abandoned gas stations. Perhaps business--and oil--ran in his blood. According to the Shawnee News-Star, his father F.C. Love had been president of petrochemical giant Kerr-McGee Corp.
After leasing their first filling station in Watonga, the Loves soon opened others in nearby small towns. Their company, called Musket Corp., grew to 40 stations within a few years. Tom Love told the Journal Record that the business won customers' loyalty during the Arab oil embargo by sourcing gasoline however possible--even buying at retail from other dealers--in order to keep their pumps flowing 24/7.
Convenience in the 1970s
In 1972 Love's opened its first combination convenience store and gas station in Guymon, Oklahoma. These eventually became known as Country Stores. According to the Journal Record, they each cost about $300,000 to open at the time.
Love's Country Stores Inc. was established in 1978--the earliest the Love's name appeared on the stores. By the end of the decade, the enterprise had more than 100 stations.
Travel Stops in the 1980s
The company began focusing on interstate locations in the 1980s. Its first Travel Stop opened in Amarillo, Texas, in 1981. The Travel Stop concept featured amenities geared toward truckers and RV drivers, such as showers, mail drops, and laundry machines.
By 1984, Love's was operating in five states: Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico. The company was renamed Love's Travel Stops & Country Stores, Inc. in late December 1986.
Branded Food in the 1990s
Love's began the 1990s with 125 convenience stores and truck stops, 70 of them in Oklahoma. It had about 2,000 employees. In 1991, the company was named Corporation of the Year by a local chapter of Sales and Marketing Executives International.
Love's began adding branded food outlets to the Travel Stop concept in the early 1990s. An Oklahoma City location had a Grandy's restaurant by 1990. In 1993, a Taco Bell Express was added to another site. Others followed the next year, as well as Pizza Hut express operations at some stores. The new national fast-food brands boosted sales not only of food, but fuel as well. Some stores offered food by all three licensees--Grandy's, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut, and some sold it 24 hours a day. Other franchises added during the 1990s included Winchell's Donuts and A&W Root Beer. (All of Love's stores were company owned; Love's itself was the franchisee, according to the Journal Record.) Love's also had its own sandwich brand: Fresh Daily Deli and Grill.
Around this time, the company also was installing debit and credit card readers to its fuel pumps. Love's also tried fitting some of the branded fast-food locations with drive-up windows, though a company executive later told National Petroleum News that these did not justify their expense.
By 1995, Love's had 2,000 employees and 130 stores in six states. Tom Love told the Journal Record that the chain's managers and employees were the reason for its success. "The greatest thing we have is that we were lucky enough to get some good employees with an entrepreneurial spirit who would work hard to implement some of the things we want to do."
The company was trying a new business concept: the "Cowboy's Restaurant Trading Post." The 7,000-square-foot location on the Oklahoma/Texas border featured a 4,500-square-foot Western-themed gift shop and was situated adjacent to an existing Love's Travel Stop. Love's also operated two stand-alone trading posts.
In 1997, Love's had sales of $500 million, reported the Journal Record, with 80 percent of sales from fuel. The company was expanding quickly, though the cost of opening a store had risen to $3 million.
New Technology After 2000
The company was renamed Love's Travel Stops and Country Stores, Inc. in January 2001. That year, it began appearing on Forbes magazine's list of the 500 largest private companies in the United States. Its expansion was going strong, in spite of a lackluster economy.
As the company grew, it invested in information technology to link and manage its stores. After a trial run in late 2003, it also began offering high-speed WiFi wireless Internet access to customers--a vital attraction for those spending extended stretches on the road. Love's had previously provided web access via landlines. The new wireless service was supplied by Truckstop.net and Sprint.
Love's began providing drivers access to TransCore's freight-matching network in 2003. The next year, it started offering the TRANSFLO scanning service from Pegasus TransTech, which allowed truckers to electronically transmit their documentation to payroll departments at the time of fuel purchase.
Revenues approached $2 billion in 2003. Love's had 3,500 employees and about 150 Travel Stops and Country Stores--67 in Oklahoma alone. The company's operations were split into two units in the fall of the year: Love's Development Companies and Love's Operating Companies.
In 2004 company founder Tom Love gave Oklahoma City University $1 million to start an Entrepreneurship Center. Love himself did not graduate college. Love was a vocal advocate for Oklahoma business and was involved in several civic groups. He was named chairman of the Oklahoma Business Roundtable in 2001. Around that time, Love's plastered a promotional billboard for Oklahoma tourism on one of its trucks.
Love's was first to sign up for a statewide e-mail list developed by the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety as an enhancement to the Amber Alert. The chain's 67 locations blanketed Oklahoma's interstates, making them strategic lookouts in the event of child abduction. According to Convenience Store News, Love's Country Stores each had up to 350 customers a day, and the interstate-based Travel Stops saw ten times as many people.
In 2005, Love's was in preliminary negotiations to retail the biodiesel fuel sponsored by famed country singer Willie Nelson. Biodiesel was made from vegetable oils rather than petroleum.
Principal Divisions: Love's Development Companies; Love's Operating Companies.
Principal Competitors: Flying J Inc.; Petro Stopping Centers, L.P.; Pilot Travel Centers LLC; TravelCenters of America, Inc.
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