Homes Away from Home

How Pilot Flying J’s common purpose is making its way into the built environment

Jerrod Herron, Pilot Flying J

Jerrod Herron began working on construction projects as a teenager in Alabama, where his grandfather was a general contractor in their community. “That was where I initially started to learn that trade and form that passion for seeing things being built and completed—the idea of a project coming full circle,” he says.

Now, Herron is a project manager at Pilot Flying J, an operator of travel centers and plazas with over 750 locations across 43 states and in 6 Canadian providences. The projects he works on have grown in scale since his teenage years, but his focus is the same. “We want to make a better day for everyone, whether that’s someone coming into our store, someone working in our store, or someone working in our support center,” he says. “We want to make a better day for them with genuine care.”

Here, Herron shares five rollouts that make that goal a reality.

Facility Enhancement Projects

Much of Herron’s role is dedicated to completing facility enhancement projects to update older buildings, some of which are over two decades old, with the current technologies and designs.

For professional drivers, who spend much of their time on the road, rest stops like Pilot Flying J become more than just fueling stations. “The way that we think about it, our locations are basically the professional driver’s home away from home,” Herron says.

To make their locations comfortable for over-the-road drivers, Herron updates older locations with all of the amenities of a home, such as remodeled showers, lounges with large-screen TVs, and a variety of food offerings including a proprietary brand of made-to-order sandwiches and other meal options called PJ Fresh. “It’s an area for professional drivers to decompress, get out of their trucks, and unwind,” Herron says.

Diesel Exhaust Fluid

In 2010, the EPA mandated that all diesel engine trucks must use an additional product called diesel exhaust fluid (DEF). DEF breaks down the truck’s harmful emissions and converts them into water and nitrogen emissions, which are harmless. To accommodate this, Herron embarked on one of his most complex projects: the diesel exhaust fluid rollout.

At the time, Pilot Flying J was selling DEF in totes inside the store, which meant that customers had to enter the store and complete an additional transaction when fueling their trucks. To streamline the process, Herron and his colleagues worked with a diesel fuel dispenser manufacturer to create a new piece of equipment that attached to the existing diesel fuel dispenser to dispense DEF and diesel fuel in a single transaction, at a discounted price compared to buying it in a tote.

Herron and his team installed the DEF dispenser at 5,000 fueling lanes in over 550 stores. Creating new systems and technologies is one of the most challenging parts of Herron’s role, but it’s also the most exciting. “At Pilot Flying J, we’re definitely leading this charge in our industry for thinking outside the box,” he says.

Wi-Fi

In 2015, Herron installed Wi-Fi in 200 Pilot Flying J locations. He collaborated with the internal networking team, who developed the technology and hardware needed to bring internet to every Pilot Flying J customer.

Because the internet signal must extend across the parking lots, which can span acres, Herron’s team built towers to mount the hardware and ran wiring both within and around the buildings. “It was a challenging project as far as rollout goes,” he says, “because of all the coordination with all of the technology and networking and any infrastructure that we had to put in place.”

Biodiesel Systems

Pilot Flying J blends a biodiesel product called B99 onsite to offer its customers a more environmentally friendly, competitively priced fuel. Herron has installed these systems at 120 locations, and plans to roll out the biodiesel capability in 32 more locations in 2018.

Herron works across the network to roll out new technologies, such as the biodiesel systems. “On a rollout, I would work in every state to complete each project on time and under budget,” he says.

Although he typically works independently, Herron has collaborated on many rollouts with Landon Lane, another project manager. They complete every step of the process together, from designing the project, to vetting contractors, to executing the rollout. “We make a great team,” Herron says.

Pilot Truck Care Centers

In 2017, Pilot Flying J began rolling out Pilot Truck Care Centers, which are truck maintenance shops that do small maintenance and repair work. Herron and his colleagues build these facilities on both existing locations and alongside ground-up builds. These offer an additional benefit to professional drivers. “If you’re at our location and something goes wrong with your truck—you need new tires, you need an oil change to keep you running—what better place to get that done than the place where you’re staying?” he says.

For many projects, Herron works with smaller regional contractors and installers. He forms close relationships with these companies, who often work exclusively for Pilot Flying J. “We want them to feel valued, we want them to be treated well, and in return, I think that they’re able to take care of us,” he says. “We’re in a highly competitive industry, but at the end of the day, you have to take care of people.”

Photos: Peggy Pfeifer