It’s a Sunday morning at the Winston Trex Mart and the dining area is filling up quickly. Breakfast is a favorite. Young and old, singles and families, old customers and first timers, about 200 people all together, will be served during the course of the day.
Truckers recommend the tenderloin sandwiches and hot roast beef — an open-faced sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy that’s hearty and sticks to the ribs.
The food is home cooked and requires a bit of a wait. But just about everything else on this sprawling 11-acre complex at the intersection of Hwy. 69 and Interstate 35 west of Winston is designed to get the customer in, out, and on their way.
Word-of-mouth is the best advertisement to pull travelers off the highways. “Truckers talk among themselves,” says Trey Mullikin, manager. ”If they hear of a good diner, with a good staff, that’s how they know we’re here.”
The truck stop gets about an equal number of passenger cars as truckers, Mr. Mullikin says. But the dynamics reflect a different impact on sales.
“Individuals may buy $40 in fuel and $20 in food,” he says. “While a trucker will buy $400 in fuel and buy enough food for the whole day, plus cigarettes, drinks and snacks.”
According to Lowell Hartell, sales have been on an upward swing since he took over the business in 2017. “Our sales have almost doubled in the past six months,” Mr. Hartell says, “We believe the business will continue to gain.” He expects to build a completely new facility in a few years.
In the convenience store area, the cash registers ring up sales, while construction workers measure, hammer, saw, and drill all around them.
Mr. Hartell, who lives in Camden Point, is having the truck stop extensively remodeled, including a new ceiling with more services and products added. The bathrooms are completely redone. Something, he says, was sorely needed.
The truck stop has had several owners and many name changes. At one time it was a Skelly Station, a Shell Station and a GK Fuel Mart. The restaurant has been called Good Times and Red Bird Diner and Viking Truck Stop. It’s been a convenience store and a car shop and tire repair shop.
Mr. Mullikin wouldn’t describe Trex Mart as a ‘mom and pop store,’ but he says it isn’t a big national chain either. “We’re a chain, but we’re not a huge chain,” he says. “We’re privately owned.”
Mr. Hartell owns 13 Trex Marts in Missouri. He got started when he partnered with two others to buy an old Stuckeys store. Eventually, he quit his job as a banker, bought out his partners, and expanded. The original name Travel Express was shortened to Trex. Today he employs over 200 people.
Mr. Mullikin says 21 people work at the Winston Trex Mart, 10 in the diner and 11 in the truck stop. All the help is hired locally. Mr. Mullikin’s family farm is five miles away. He lives in Winston, where his son goes to school. He is active in the school and was a strong advocate to build the new Winston School building.
The family environment and local ties make a difference in customer service.
“We’ve all been in the checkout line with the kid at the cash register with a cell phone in his hand,” he says. “I teach all my people to say thank you and you’re welcome, and also mean it. If you take care of people, they’ll take care of you. This is the first place I’ve worked where the company’s core values are actually kept, from the owner to the cashiers to the guy who mows the grass.”
Mr. Mullikin says the biggest lift to the business would be more local fleet accounts. “Truckers come here from all over the country and it’s great that they buy their fuel here, but they don’t reinvest in the local economy. Local truckers don’t just buy fuel, they live here. They buy homes, cars, groceries and pay local taxes.”
He notes that Trex Mart is one of the county’s largest employers and he thinks maybe one day it will be the largest. “It’s great to have that kind of impact,” he says.
— written by T.L. Huffman for the Gallatin North Missourian