By Scott Meacham
Entrepreneurs are wired in a special way
If there had been a collegiate business plan competition in Oklahoma back when OSU graduate Ed Rogers was inventing the Altair 8800 or when Wiley Post was creating the pressurized flight suit, it is a good bet that they would have been two loud voices in encouraging students to participate.
I believe that because I haven’t met an entrepreneur who didn’t, in ways both large and small, support and believe in other entrepreneurs.
Tom and Judy Love, founders of Love’s Travel Stops and Country Stores, are entrepreneurs like that. They have been a persistent force in educating Oklahoma students in entrepreneurship as a career in so many ways — from their leadership gift to OU’s Price College of Business, to Love’s Travel Stops signature sponsorship of the Entrepreneur’s Cup, which just completed its 17th year.
Building Love’s Travel Stops
The story of Love’s Travel Stops is a classic. Tom Love had knowledge of the oil and gas industry through summer work around pipe yards, pump jacks and refineries. With $5,000 in borrowed capital and a vision of the opportunity in retail gas sales, the Loves found their first location, an abandoned filling station in Watonga. In keeping with their vision, the idle pumps sat in the path of both locals and travelers.
Tom Love purchased gasoline directly from a local refinery with 10-day terms. His 1960s version of “just-in-time inventory” provided fuel at the best price around. Expanding, he showed an instinct for choosing strong locations and for hiring the right people. He built an enterprise that started with fuel that was two pennies cheaper than the competition and grew to today’s premier travel stop network in the country with more than 550 locations in 41 states.
Tom Love shows that entrepreneurs are wired in a special way. The lessons that aspiring entrepreneurs can learn from Love’s would fill the tanks of a thousand semi-tractor-trailer trucks. Here are three of the many:
Like Love’s, remain poised to pivot. In the early ‘70s, Love’s network was expanding when the OPEC oil embargo hit. Faced with price and supply constraints, Tom Love came up with the marriage of fuel and food. It is perfectly routine, even expected today to stop for gas and enjoy the one-stop convenience of grabbing a fresh deli sandwich or a breakfast burrito, picking up a lotto ticket, or buying a gift or novelty item, but it didn’t used to be that way, not until Tom came up with a scalable business model for gas stations that sold much more than gas.
Tom Love showed by example that entrepreneurs are wired in a special way.
As Love’s proved, there’s more to new technology than just improvements in efficiency. As larger operators nibbled into the food and fuel model, Love’s branched out into interstate locations and introduced self-service truck fuel. This saved truckers time — time they could spend picking up a hot sandwich inside the travel stop.
True to the Brand
Love’s stays true to brand. Clean Places, Friendly Faces. During the pandemic, “We were built for this” became a rallying cry. An essential business, Love’s continued to be there for customers, especially for professional drivers working to deliver essential goods, with stores that are clean and safe. Love’s continued to open new stores, truck shops and tire retread plants and distribution centers, creating jobs and convenience.
Love’s most recent announcement is a joint venture called Heartwell Renewables with major food producer Cargill to begin producing renewable diesel from a plant in Nebraska. Renewable diesel is a green fuel, packed with environmental benefits and rising demand.
Entrepreneurs are wired in a special way. It is at the core and woven through the fabric of their lives. There’s no better example of this than the founders and family of Love’s. It is not just aspiring entrepreneurs who are lucky to have them in our state.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state support from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology and is an integral part of Oklahoma’s Innovation Model. Contact Meacham at [email protected].