TravelCenters of America (TCA) is in the fuel, food, and relaxation business for the long haul. The company's network of nearly 250 interstate highway travel centers in more than 40 US states and Ontario, Canada, is one of the largest of its kind in North America. Its TCA and Petro locations provide fuel, fast-food and sit-down restaurants (Country Pride, Buckhorn Family), convenience stores, and lodging. With professional truck drivers as its main customers, some outlets also offer "trucker-only" services, such as laundry and shower facilities, TV rooms, and truck repair. TCA leases 185 of its locations from Hospitality Properties Trust (HPT), its largest shareholder.
Sales and Marketing
TCA caters to professional truck drivers and travelers who rely on gas stations and convenience stores while on the road. Customers include trucking fleets and their drivers, independent truck drivers, and motorists.
As part of its business, TCA operates and franchises travel centers under two brands: TravelCenters of America with more than 170 locations and Petro Stopping Centers (acquired in 2007) with more than 70 locations, about 50 of which are company-operated. TCA also operates "RoadSquad," the largest nationwide emergency roadside service network, with more than 400 heavy-duty emergency vehicles.
After losing money every year since it was acquired by HPT in 2007, TravelCenters of America (TCA) finally turned a profit in 2011 and in fiscal 2012 the company's profits increased by about 37% due to a well-timed revenue boost.
TCA logged $7.9 billion in revenue in fiscal 2012, representing a 1% increase from 2011 due to a 6% rise in non-fuel sales. It saw most of the gains among the company-operated stores its has run continuously since 2011. It attributes its increase in non-fuel revenue to a spike in customer traffic, price increases it passed to consumers, and the effects of capital investments and marketing initiatives. Travel centers it opened or acquired during 2011 and 2012 also contributed to non-fuel revenues. Meanwhile, fuel sales rose less than 1% due to increasing fuel prices and fuel sales at travel centers acquired during 2011 and 2012, partially offset by slips in same-site fuel sales volume and decreases in gallons sold to franchisees. The company's rent and royalty segment posted increases of less than 2% due to increased non-fuel sales at its franchisee locations, the addition of four franchisee locations since the beginning of 2011, and increased rents at half a dozen sites currently subleased to franchisees that became effective during the second half of 2012. These gains were offset by TCA's acquisition of five franchisee travel centers and four travel centers that had been subleased from the company.
The company is building its cross-country network of travel centers through acquisitions by opportunistically buying up smaller competitors who are struggling as a result of the recession. To that end, the company acquired eight travel centers for an aggregate price of $37 million in 2011 and in 2012 purchased eight more for about $32 million.
With fuel accounting for such a large portion of its total sales (83% in 2012 vs. 80% in 2010), TCA is vulnerable to wild swings in prices. (About 90% of TCA's historical fuel sales are diesel, while 10% are gasoline. The company is looking into expanding into natural gas as a motor fuel.)
Another wildcard for the company is the 2010 merger of its two largest rivals: Pilot Travel Centers and Flying J to form Pilot Flying J, an operator of more than 650 travel centers across North America. The merger created a more formidable competitor and could hinder TCA's sales and new-found profitability.
In mid-2012 TCA entered into a memorandum of understanding with Shell Oil Products US for the construction by Shell of a network of natural gas refueling lanes at some its travel centers located along the national interstate highway system. It's still negotiating a possible agreement.
The real estate investment firm Hospitality Properties Trust owns nearly 9% of TCA's shares.