Living Large

By on May 1, 2009
RoadKing Mag

Talk to most people and they’ve likely never heard of Walcott, Iowa. Talk to a truck driver and, even if they’ve never stopped by, they know the tiny town that is home to the world’s largest truckstop.

And that’s just how the Iowa 80 TA wants it. “We think it’s great that travelers stop in and tour buses come through. But that’s not who built us,” says Heather DeBaillie, marketing manager for the Iowa 80 Group. “Truck drivers are the reason we exist and serving the professional driver is at the core of all we do, to the point that it’s in our mission statement that we will make trucker satisfaction our number one priority.”

That was the rallying cry of the late Bill Moon, who began running the truckstop a year after it opened. He saw the possibilities of this “perfect spot” — midway on the East/West route through I-80 and a good stopping point for long-haulers. He was right. Moon made it a habit to sit down and talk with the drivers. He loved to hear their stories, and he learned just what they needed and wanted from those conversations. The Moon family and Iowa 80 managers still make a point to  mingle  and chat with the truckers, so, while the place is huge, it is never impersonal. The result: Iowa 80 TA is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year.

History on view
Last year, the Iowa 80 Trucking Museum opened to the public. Bill Moon hated to see a good truck go to the scrapyard, and started buying and restoring old rigs. The museum was a dream of his that the family followed up on, and now his historic collection is on display.

Take a left at the Pete
The Iowa 80 Chrome Shop, known as the Super Truck Showroom has every sparkly doodad a driver can imagine. Sprawled out over 30,000 square feet, the chrome shop even has a way to let drivers see how the accessories look on a truck. A Pete 379, a Kenworth W900 and a Freightliner Classic are decked out and parked on the showroom floor.

Greeting a friend
Regulars love to banter with longtime Iowa 80 waitress Mary Hensen, who can give as good as she gets. “We have fun here,” says DeBaillie. “So it really doesn’t feel like work.” Every summer, the staff joins in celebrating the annual Truckers Jamboree, a fun-filled event for drivers and their families. This year it takes place July 9-10.

Cleaning up
Plenty of drivers bring their dogs on the road with them, so the Iowa 80 TA came up with a great plan. Right next to the 3-bay truck wash, sits the Dog-o-Mat. While the truck gets clean, owners can step on over and give Rover a shampoo, too.

The Basics
Iowa 80 TA
Where: I-80, Exit 284
Phone: (563) 284-6961
Fax: (563) 284-6630
Truck Parking:  800
Showers: 24
Service Bays: 7
Restaurants: Iowa 80 Kitchen, Wendy’s, Dairy Queen, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Blimpie’s, Orange Julius
   


TA Is There For You
By Tom O’Brien, President and CEO
I’ve spent a great deal of time traveling the roads and stopping at TA’s sites. I listen to what the drivers are saying. I watch how they interact with their servers. Sometimes I introduce myself, sometimes not. I always walk away with an idea of something we can do better for our customers.

Many times I come to a site late at night to talk with our employees. I get to talk to our managers all the time, but there is nothing like taking the time to speak directly with someone who serves you, the customer. Many TA employees have been with the company for 25 years or more. These veteran employees have and share ideas about what works, what customers like and what they don’t.

Ideas are valuable. They can change “the way things are” and they can change perceptions of “the way things have to be.” Ideas from customers and employees who interact with those customers are the most valuable of all. Here are a few we’ve put into action:

A DRIVER TOLD ME: Double Points are a wonderful reward for customers. AND TA RESPONDED: Double Points were extended through April, and TA will bring back Double Points at least once more before the end of 2009!  TA is committed to making this tough economic time a little easier on its customers.  
A VETERAN TA EMPLOYEE TOLD ME: Some fleets make their drivers fuel at competitor locations with inadequate parking, few amenities and poor showers. The shower is a necessity and, when forced to fill up at a competitor location, a driver has a hard time getting the nice, hot, clean shower available at TA and still making ends meet.
AND TA RESPONDED: Did you know you can use your Road King points towards a free shower? Sure, TA will give you a free shower with a 50 gallon fill-up, just like the “Fuel-and-Get-Lost Guys” you’ve seen in our advertising. But your Road King points also can be used. It’s a little known benefit, but if you are a Road King Club member, only 900 points will get you a shower at TA!
A RELATIVELY NEW TA EMPLOYEE TOLD ME: In the rare location where TA doesn’t run a truck repair shop, drivers still look for truck parts in the store, but we don’t have them. AND TA RESPONDED: Doh! How come we haven’t thought of that in 35 years of business!? The products you need most will soon be on their way to those stores to make sure we’ve got what you need, everywhere we are.

These are just three of the hundreds of ideas we’ve heard and implemented to make your customer experience better. I hope they are helpful, and I hope they keep coming. Call our “Tell Us About Us” line to give your suggestions — 1-888-982-5528. I also sincerely hope I get to meet you over a nice, comforting meal at a TA restaurant one day!


Hooray, Denmark TA
Forty years ago, the Wilhite family opened a truckstop off
I-40 at Exit 68 in West Tennessee. On May 14 they will mark their anniversary with a big party for their driver customers. Starting at  7 a.m. and going on through the evening the Denmark TA will offer food, music, door prizes and more. “It’s our way of saying thank you to the drivers who have kept us in business for 40 years,” says co-owner Peggy Wilhite.


Atlanta South 75 Celebrates
Bob and Susan Ryan of Atlanta South TA in Jackson, Ga., celebrated 25 years of business on Jan. 6. The travel center was the first business to open at the interchange of Highway 36 and Interstate 75, and Atlanta South 75 has not closed its doors once since the day it opened in 1984. The location is widely known for its warm atmosphere and community involvement.
Happy Anniversary, Atlanta South 75!


Summer Fun at the Albert Lea TA
The albert lea, Minn. TA ( I-90 and I-35, Exit 11)  will throw a customer appreciation bash June 23-25. The event features lots of food, an ice cream eating contest, entertainment and drawings for great prizes. “The Trail family who run this site have been in the business for more than 24 years and have a very rich tradition of taking care of the highway traveler in Albert Lea,” says GM Steve Klingman. “They started this annual customer appreciation event when they came to this location 11 years ago and it’s always popular with our customers.”

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