Judy Love played a pivotal role in helping build Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores into a company currently ranked 13th on the Forbes List of America’s Largest Private Companies. For the first ten years of the company’s existence, Judy performed all bookkeeping duties for the company and stood side-by-side with husband Tom as the couple implemented a positive vision of growth for their business. Today, the company that Judy helped build is at the forefront of America’s convenience store and travel center industry.
By David Althouse
Judy and Tom Love built Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores into a national business empire the old fashioned way: They owned a grand vision, started small, and worked tirelessly to turn dreams into reality.
Judy recalls those early days when the couple owned little more than a dream.
“We were young and Tom needed a job,” Love said. “We had two babies; Tom had left school, and we needed to do something. Tom went on a nine-month training program with Kerr McGee to learn how to run a service station. At that time, Kerr McGee had stations all over the place.”
Four months into the training program, Love explains, Tom decided he had learned all he needed to know about running service stations. He also learned something else.
“He wasn’t going to work for anyone,” Love said. “He was going to work for himself.”
On January 6, 1964, the couple opened a humble service station in an abandoned building located at 304 West C Street in Watonga. “Tom leased the building for $150 per month,” Love said.
Judy says putting food on the table for a growing family was a chief goal in those days, but the young couple owned a business vision for something far greater. That’s why they began looking for another abandoned building to use as their second service station immediately after opening their first.
“Standing still was never an option.” Love said.
The couple concentrated their attention on western Oklahoma towns located on state and U.S. highways. Their second station opened in Sayre in an abandoned station on Route 66. Using the same formula – finding abandoned buildings and using used equipment – the Loves’ plan for rapid expansion proceeded apace with new stations opening in Elk City, Minco, Kingfisher, Cordell and Clinton.
Ambitious expansion and innovation became the hallmark for Love’s success.
“Then Kerr McGee decided we could obviously handle the business, so they leased us three of their stations,” Love said. “Tom continued, and we just went and went and went. After so many years, he decided we needed to reinvent things a bit, and so we integrated self-service gas into the business; and then we started bringing in convenience stores.”
For the first ten years of the business, co-owner Judy performed the bookkeeping duties. Her accounting jobs included keeping the books, paying invoices and preparing profit and loss statements, all by hand in ledgers, a monumental feat when one considers the company’s rapid-fire pace of grand openings and overall business growth in those days.
The company that Judy helped start in 1964 has set many milestones since then. Today, Love’s has more than 350 locations in 40 states, employs nearly 14,000 people across the country, 1,200 of which work in corporate offices in Oklahoma City. The company currently operates three hotels – Microtels in Pecos and Sweetwater, Texas and a Sleep Inn in Mossy Head, Florida. More hotels are expected to open before the end of this year, and more are planned for openings in 2016.
Always looking to better serve customers through innovations in business, Love’s opened Love’s Truck Tire Care in 2008 to offer tire care and roadside assistance, ensuring that trucks stay up and running. Love’s currently operates 222 truck tire care centers at travel stops in 35 states, with plans to have 237 such centers open by the end of 2015.
Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores is currently ranked 13th on the Forbes List of America’s Largest Private Companies with $22.6 billion in revenue, and is the fastest growing chain of fueling stations in the nation.
When it comes to philanthropic work, Love is among the first to lead the pack and assume responsibility. Further, her work in the corporate world has endowed her with the necessary business acumen to raise money for worthwhile causes. She takes pride in successfully raising money for charitable causes while also saving money in the process.
“All the money saved in fundraising efforts goes toward the cause,” Love said.
One of her most fulfilling philanthropic accomplishments, Love says, is helping to raise money for the Catholic Charities Building in Oklahoma City. Catholic Charities launched the Crossbeams Capital Campaign in February 2014 with a goal of raising $9.5 million toward that project.
Catholic Charities serves thousands of people at offices throughout western Oklahoma as part of the Oklahoma City Catholic Archdiocese. Recipients of that help range from homeless women to victims of natural disasters.
“Bob Ross, president of the Inasmuch Foundation, and I chaired that effort, and we raised approximately $11 million in eight or nine months,” Love said. “It was phenomenal, and one of the things of which I feel most proud when it comes to charitable initiatives.”
Her enthusiasm, motivation and generosity have left a trail of philanthropic success across Oklahoma City and central Oklahoma. Love has either chaired or co-chaired major fundraising events for such organizations as March of Dimes, St. Anthony Hospital, Symphony Showhouse, Susan Komen Race for the Cure, University of Central Oklahoma, Oklahoma City University, Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School Building Fund and St. Anthony Foundation’s Building Fund.
Love currently serves on the boards of the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, St. Anthony’s Foundation, Allied Arts, United Way and Mercy Hospital.
“I feel like I should be involved in the community,” Love said. “I can do it, I like doing it, and I am good at doing it. I’ve been given so much, and I feel like I need to give back.”
Currently, Love is a co-chair, along with former Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Turpen, for the 2015 United Way of Central Oklahoma campaign.
Love’s many honors include induction into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame; the Distinguished Woman Award from Oklahoma City University; the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oklahoma Commerce and Industry Hall of Fame; the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Central Oklahoma; and the Governor’s Arts Award from the Oklahoma Arts Council.
In 2014, Judy, along with husband Tom, received the Gold Medal Award by His Holiness the Pope, the highest medal that can be awarded to the laity.
Love’s most recent accolade came this year when she was named seventh on the list of America’s Most Successful, Self-Made Women by Forbes Magazine.
While Love expresses pride in all her business and philanthropic successes, she especially lights up when discussing the involvement of the growing Love family in the family business.
“I find it most satisfying that three of our four children are actively working in the company – two sons and one daughter,” Love said. “And last fall, our grandson, Thomas Love, started working for us. He’s interested in the business, and that’s what Tom wants.
“Our children have done a great job, and our employees have done a great job; but none of this would have happened without Tom’s drive.”
Judy Love sets the standard for hard work and leadership in both business and philanthropy, and also for steadfast commitment to both family and community; and she proves that author Louis L'Amour was right when he wrote, “… it’s not streets and buildings that make a town, but men and women.”
For a fascinating look at Judy and Tom Love, and the business they built from the ground up into a nationally-recognized business empire, read “Love's: Fifty Years of a Family Enterprise,” by Oklahoma author Dr. Bob L. Blackburn, available from Amazon.