Truck stop business sputters

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

At least 16 trucks hauling Lexus cars from Toyota Logistics used to pull into the Baker Truck Corral each week, heading for Denver, Colo. That’s a drastic difference from the few that now arrive at the Baker City truck stop. And it’s the same story at other truck stops around the state: Traffic is down, so business is, too.

Kurt Miller, owner of Baker Truck Corral, says traffic through his stop is off by 30%. Miller’s strategy for keeping business up is to concentrate on serving the locals instead of “just relying on truckers.” So far his method seems to be working. Miller says revenue for the Corral has been consistent from 2008 to 2009, and although diesel sales have dropped about 40%, gasoline sales rose in June.

It’s a different story for the Flying J in Troutdale, where revenue has sunk by about 30% in the last six months. General manager Glen Mackey says the reason is the lower demand for products trucked into Oregon. The amount of diesel pumped also dropped, down about 400,000 gallons from May 2008. The Flying J, a national chain of truck stops that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December, faces stiff competition from Travel Centers of America (which is at the same exit off I-84).

Business at other Oregon truck stops falls between that of Baker Truck Corral and the Flying J. The Seven Feathers Truck & Travel in Canyonville reports diesel sales are down but gasoline sales are up. Truck ’N Travel in Coburg has seen a 20% drop in diesel sales and a 10% drop in gas sales in the past year.

Truck stop managers blamed the economy for most of their financial troubles. Truck ’N Travel president John Anderson says business started slowing about 18 months ago. “We’re going to precede the economy in either upswings or downswings,” he says. “Freight seems to slow down faster or pick up prior to the economic indicator.”

Most truck stops rely on a variety of services to make up for dwindling fuel profits. The Seven Feathers truck stop abuts a tribal casino and offers discounts to casino guests. Jubitz supplements its fuel service by providing everything from a restaurant and shoe repair shop to a theater and medical clinic.

Executives at Jubitz, located at exit 305 off I-5 in Portland, at first estimated fuel sales to be down about 20%, but when VP Victor Stibolt checked the books, he found that from January 2008 to January 2009 there was a 13% decrease, and from June 2008 to June 2009 an 8% decrease in sales. “We do feel that things have bottomed out and that we’re beginning to see some upticks,” says Stibolt.

ALLISON BRANDOW
 

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