- Pilot Flying J
Billionaire investor Warren Buffett is betting big on a chain of truck stops.
On Tuesday, Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway announced it had agreed to acquire 38.6% of Pilot Travel Centers, the owner of the Pilot Flying J truck stop chain. By 2023, Berkshire will become the majority shareholder.
Pilot Flying J is the largest operator of travel centers in North America, making more than $20 billion in annual revenue.
Here’s a closer look at what exactly sets the chain of truck stops apart from the competition, and has made it a trucker staple across the US.
James A. “Jim” Haslam II opened first Pilot station opened in Gate City, Virginia
By 1981, Pilot had reached 100 convenience stores and $175 million in annual sales.
This was also the year that Pilot opened its first “travel center,” or truck stop.
Truck stops are crucial for truckers and other travelers on long trips because, in addition to restrooms and gas, they provide food options and a significant amount of parking.
Some Pilot stops even feature laundry machines and showers.
In 2009, Pilot acquired 250 Flying J travel centers, after the other truck stop chain filed for bankruptcy. Two years later, the two formally merged, with the new “Pilot Flying J” encompassing 550 travel centers across North America.
Today, the chain has more than 750 locations and 27,000 employees across the US and Canada.
Pilot Flying J attempts to attract both professional truckers and more casual travelers to the chain.
Travel centers host restaurants including Subway, Cinnabon, and Arby’s.
They also feature “PJ Fresh” food, which the company describes as quality fast-casual options that you can’t find at most trucks stops.
Pilot Flying J has a number of "PJ Fresh" locations, and they are phenomenal. I stopped at the one in Mt Pleasant, IA, and they even sell broccoli and cheddar soup! Tons of fresh fruit, great salads, and a huge selection of healthy snacks. Check their website if you want to see where they're located. #30daysofgasstationfood #pilotflyingj #pilottravelcenter #pjfresh #healthyliving #mtpleasant #iowa @pilotflyingj
Of course, there are also more traditional gas station options like Icees and coffee.
Perhaps Flying Pilot J’s most important feature is its dedication to cleanliness — especially in the restrooms.
“It varies by store, but maintenance is supposed to check every 30 minutes to make sure the restrooms are clean,” founder Jim Haslam II told Fortune. “In the past other managers and I would go into the stores and get a feel for what was going on. Friends would tell us if they ran into a dirty restroom somewhere. Now we do spot checks through mystery shoppers.”
The Haslam family has maintained majority stake in the company over the last 59 years.
Jimmy Haslam — who is also the owner of the Cleveland Browns — will remain on as CEO of the company following the Berkshire Hathaway acquisition.