Ken Parent, EVP Operations Pilot Flying J
1. Tell us a little bit about your job at Pilot Flying J.
I oversee Pilot Flying J’s field operations of our 650 travel center locations spread across the United States and Canada. I’m also responsible for our Human Resources, Technology, and Marketing departments. The main goal of all our departments is to deliver service in an extraordinary way to our customers. We all try to go above and beyond what is expected.
2. What are some of the projects you are currently working on at Pilot Flying J?
We are working on a number of exciting new projects. One of my main focuses recently has been on technological advances to make life more convenient for our customers. For example, we are developing several different options for customers to checkout. One of these options is a mobile checkout system, a quick and easy way to checkout customers through a handheld device. Since it is card based, customers don’t even have to get in the checkout line. We can check them out wherever they may be in the travel center.
In addition, we are testing an assisted checkout program to eliminate lines. Initial customer feedback has been very positive, and we have plans to roll out these devices to more than 100 locations over the next year.
We are also in the process of leveraging technology to eliminate managerial back office and administrative duties to allow our managers to spend more time with our customers.
In short, we are focused on giving our customers choices to make their experience with us more convenient. If they want to get in line and checkout at the counter, they certainly can. If they want to get in and out quickly, they can be checked out on a mobile device, and if they want an assisted self-serve checkout, we will give them that option, too.
From an HR perspective, we continue to grow and open new stores. This year alone, we have already opened 16 new stores. By the end of the year, we will open stores in two more locations (Odessa, Texas and Belmont, Ohio).
We are also continuously training and developing our team members to ensure our customers will have the very best experience. We are committed to recruiting highly talented team members to best position our company for continued success in the future.
Around thirty percent of my time is focused on marketing and merchandising and working on ways to increase our sales at the travel centers. One of the biggest opportunities we have right now is finding alternative food choices and healthier options for our drivers. Whether it’s adding completely new concepts, such as our PJ Fresh Marketplace, or adding a new product to shelves in our stores, we want to make sure our customers have plenty of choices when they visit us.
3. Pilot Flying J is a large company. What are some of the techniques you use to manage all the team members?
We have more than 20,000 employees at Pilot Flying J. Our in-store training program is first-class. At the beginning of 2012, we installed a Myboard communication device in every travel center. These digital screens allow us to quickly reach out to anyone in the company to communicate and train through the use of video. We put our operations and field team members through multiple classes and weeks of training. We want them to understand what professional drivers go through on a daily basis so that when drivers come into our stores our team members give them the fast, friendly service they deserve.
4. Has your life changed much since the federal investigation?
The focus of the investigation has been on rebates for diesel fuel sales, but that's a very small portion of Pilot Flying J. As I oversee the day-to-day operations of the company, my goal and one of my key roles is to make sure that our team members and our core business are not impacted by what is going on. We are 100% focused on doing the right thing for our customers and our team members.
5. How has the investigation affected other operations of the company?
The departments I oversee are highly focused on delivering quality service to our customers, and developing and training our team members. Overall there has been little effect. I am very proud that our team has remained focused on our day-to-day operations and ways we can continue to serve our customers better.
Externally, we immediately reached out to all of our vendors. We have been very open with everyone. They know we are taking this matter seriously and that we will continue to keep them informed.
6. How has the investigation affected morale of the overall workforce?
The first 60 days were particularly tough on everyone. Mr. Haslam and I traveled to stores all across the country and conducted town hall meetings. We answered questions from our team members and listened to their concerns. We continue to stress the importance of following our company's principles and policies.
Because our team members are spread out across the country, our rebate education website has also played an important role for them to get updated information. Overall, the morale is pretty good right now and continues to get better on a daily basis.
7. When the investigation is all over, how do you expect the company to come out the other end?
We will come out a much better, stronger company. We are tightening our processes and procedures, increasing training and evaluating the company as a whole. We are all focused on moving forward in the right direction. We hope that our customers recognize our efforts in the travel centers to provide a fast, friendly and clean atmosphere.