How To Get Into Pilot
Now known as FJ Management Inc, is a privately held U.S. corporation which operates convenience stores, oil & refining, banking, and insurance businesses. Along with Pilot Corporation and Berkshire Hathaway, it is a joint-owner of Pilot Flying J, the largest truck stop chain in the United States.
Doing business as Pilot Flying J, the company opened doors in 1981. Pilot Flying J is a North American chain of truck stops in the United States and Canada. The company is based in Knoxville, Tennessee where Pilot Corporation, the majority owner, is based.
The company was ranked 13th on Forbes’ 2009 list of the largest privately held companies in the U.S. This is with the 2008 revenues totally approximately $18.00 billion. Pilot Flying J is cited by the Terror-Free Oil Initiative as a company that does not purchase oil from terrorism-sponsoring nations. The company’s plans for travel plazas have occasionally met opposition from local residents concerned about traffic safety and other issues. In 2006 Flying J associated with Shell Canada to improve highway services in Canada.
Presently, Pilot Flying J is the largest purveyor of over-the-road diesel fuel in the United States. Pilot Flying J also is known as the largest Travel Center chain in the country with over 550 locations under the Pilot, Flying J, & Mr. Fuel brands. Pilot Flying J is also the third largest franchiser of quick service restaurants in the nation, offering one to three different concepts at each location, making it the largest franchisee of Subway in the world with over 200 locations. Unlike many travel centers and truck stops, the majority of locations with the Pilot Travel Centers brand do not utilize full-service dining.
Pilot Flying J operates over 650 travel centers in 43 states and Canada. Located along interstates, the travel centers cater to both professional drivers and motorists selling gas, diesel, convenience store goods and fast food. Headquartered in Knoxville, Tennessee, the company was formed in 2010 when Pilot Travel Centers merged with Flying J to create a new company.
The world basically thrives on energy. From automobiles, to machineries, to plants, and even household appliances, there has to be something to ignite the fuse and propel some drive. This is where the work of energy companies comes in. The energy companies are looking at ways of getting their customers the best and efficient value in energy they can buy. This is what Flying J does. They produce highly efficient energy products that make your engines last longer. They go into a lot of research on how to offer more than energy to their customers. People are looking at buying solutions – Flying J offers it in a well rounded way.
The company’s stride in convenience stores is quite impressive. It offers local and foreign products to those within and outside the community. The importance of retail outlets cannot be overemphasized to travelers. They need to get supplies and the convenience store is the fitting place to stock up. Flying J offers this to its several customers and has always given value in the package.
How to get your product into Pilot Flying J
- Understand you client: Before you spend a lot of time and money creating a product, you should know if anyone will want to buy it. Learn more about Market Research
- Learn if it’s protectable: Know if you can defend your product against cheap copies if it gets knocked off. Learn more about Copyright and Patent your product
- Test your product: Make sure that there’s a demand for your product and the customer understands what you are selling when it’s on the shelf and nobody is there to explain it. Learn more about Product Testing
- Perfect your pitch: Before you speak to decision makers, know your numbers, know your retailer and know your logistics in and out. Learn more about Pitching Your Product
- Don’t do it alone: If you haven’t been successful in retail before, a secret of success is that you can’t do it alone. Having great sales staff, customer support and marketing partners can take you from zero to success faster than if you tried on your own. Learn more about Retail Partnerships
Contact Pilot Flying J Buyer
Do not trust any “list” of buyers.
Typically retail buyers change either companies or positions every few years. This strategy helps retailers know that their buyers are not taking “kick-backs” and are selecting the very best product for the very best position each time.
Buyers are typically held to a very rigorous standard of sell-through volume that they must hit and because of this they are risk averse. Your job as a supplier or vendor is to convince them that the buyers going into the stores not only know about what you’re selling but are actively seeking the product in the store currently.
Sometimes easier said than done, however you must get on Pilot Flying J radar.
Call the Pilot Flying J corporate phone number and ask for the names of the buyer and assistant buyers in your category.
Always leave voicemail with whomever the dispatch will connect you.
Use that information to connect with them on LinkedIn, RangeMe and any other professional social platform.
Ask your representative at your trade bureau to connect you to the Pilot Flying J buyers as they will potentially have a better history.
Use advertising, public relations and marketing to make your brand known to Pilot Flying J buyer through 3rd party websites & industry media sources.
Be everywhere that they look, the key is to position your brand as the obvious choice when Pilot Flying J is looking to either refill a slot or create a new category.
Latch on to the news of the day and any trend that will make your product fill that niche whether that be Non-GMO or Vegan Leather for example.
Investing in your brand can only benefit your opportunities in the future. As being “top of mind” will have a ripple effect when you physically present your product at a Pilot Flying J buyers meeting or trade show in the future.
Pilot Flying J buyers typically got to their position by picking “winners” and know how to see through the fluff.
Focus on the numbers, know your bottom dollar during a negotiation and how fees and chargebacks may cut into your position.
Know that long term success may outweigh short term sales, however financing large purchase orders from Pilot Flying J when the net result is negative is not sustainable.
Understand the playing field and the other brands that are in your space, what they are offering as promotion and pricing and how you can stand out against them.
By knowing that each buyer at Pilot Flying J probably knows more than you do, take an active listening approach to sales and understand that no is a perfectly acceptable answer that may have saved you millions of dollars on the backend.
How to Submit a Product to Pilot Flying J
There are several ways to get a product placed in Pilot Flying J. However, most entrepreneurs only dream about getting their product distributed to major retailers, few actually do it. We have experienced a significant rise in interest since the show Shark Tank started airing on NBC. Mr. Checkout has had the pleasure of working with a few Shark Tank success stories such as KISStixx and 180 Party Cups which are now currently being distributed around the country to stores like Walmart, Target, Kroger, 7-Eleven and more.
If you envision your product would be a good fit for Pilot Flying J, we have a few steps to help you get your product on their shelves.
Here are the 6 steps you need to take to have your product placed in Pilot Flying J.
1. Start with the right questions.) Before you try distributing your product to Pilot Flying J, you need to ask yourself a few basic questions. Do you need to build demand for your product, or is there already a demand for it? Do you know that Pilot Flying J would be interested in selling your product? If you can strike a deal with Pilot Flying J, can you handle the production volume? Do you want to sell directly to Pilot Flying J, or do you want to license your product to a manufacturer that will handle distribution?
2. Be prepared to profit.) Does your product offer enough of a profit margin for Pilot Flying J? Can you sell your product at a reasonable enough profit to cover the packaging, shipping, commissions, marketing and wholesale distribution? Check Pilot Flying J guidelines for other fees that you will have to build into the cost of your product in order for you to be able to turn enough of a profit to make the effort worth your while. If you work with a discount retailer, they will try to strip your profits down to zero in order to keep their prices as low as possible.
The typical breakdown of margins are: If a products costs $1 to produce, that product will retail for $4. That product that retails for $4 will wholesale for $2 to distributors and stores that purchase direct. Big box retailers like Pilot Flying J may offer to pay $1.25 to the manufacturer if the product costs $1 to produce. That is the typical profit margin.
3. Determine if Pilot Flying J is the right store for your product.) The relationship between you and Pilot Flying J starts with you browsing their store for competing products. If Pilot Flying J already has a similar product, it is going to be very difficult to get your product picked up. Spend some time at your local Pilot Flying J to see what kind of products they are selling, speak to the manager and see if he thinks your product will sell well in their store. Picture in which zone your product would best fit on the shelf and keep in mind that the most precious asset that these big box stores value are their shelf space. Keep this information in mind when you are preparing your presentation to Pilot Flying J.
If your company is minority or women owned, check Pilot Flying J website and see if they offer specific opportunities for those designations.
4. Pitch your product to Pilot Flying J.) Decide whether it will be you or a representative to present your product to Pilot Flying J. Your presentation depends heavily on your strengths as a businessperson as they will most likely ask financial questions and logistics questions.
It’s common for companies to hire a broker to pitch their product to Pilot Flying J, as it will be more likely that your product will make it to the next stage if the individual pitching your product has industry knowledge or a personal relationship with Pilot Flying J. The percentage of commission verses, however generally a broker will take around 5% to represent your product to Pilot Flying J.
We at Mr. Checkout have experience dealing with brokers and know that there are several retail brokers that have poor business practices that can potentially damage your brand. If you are seeking a legitimate Pilot Flying J broker, please give us a call for a recommendation. It could save you a huge headache and a lot of money.
5. Complete the required Pilot Flying J paperwork.) Often Pilot Flying J will have you go through an application process. However, before submitting the paperwork required by Pilot Flying J, you should contact a buyer at Pilot Flying J and let them know your intentions. Having a contact inside of the company will potentially move your application more smoothly through the process.
6. Anticipate the need for increased volume.) Having Pilot Flying J agree to stock your product will most likely mean a significant increase in volume. You should be prepared to ramp up your production and informing your manufacturer of this opportunity.
Having production, logistics and distribution to sync is not only difficult, it requires a significant amount of time invested in customer relations. Also, Pilot Flying J may have stipulations in the contract that may penalize you for delays in shipping and production. Have an attorney explain all contracts to you if you don’t understand the terms.
If you’re looking to sell your product to Pilot Flying J, be sure to thoroughly assess the marketplace, carefully prepare for production growth, and take full advantage of resources available to help you grow your business.
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