Thousands of restaurants and hotels along U.S. interstate highways closed during the pandemic, but most truck stops remained open to fuel the 18-wheelers that keep supply lines moving.
That has been good news for TravelCenters of America Inc., the largest publicly traded truck-stop owner. The company’s shares are up more than 50% since reporting quarterly results on Aug. 5, which showed a nearly 80% increase in net income over the year-earlier period. Other truck-stop owners have also benefited from rising e-commerce and delivery demand during the pandemic.
Truck stops, which cater primarily to 18-wheelers on long hauls, are emerging as one of the brighter spots for commercial real estate during the pandemic, along with better-known categories like warehouses and life-science buildings. These businesses have been able to profit even as demand for hotels, shopping malls, senior housing and other more-traditional property types has eroded severely.
Truck-stop real estate may be the most niche of all the property types doing relatively well now. The industry started with mom-and-pop operators but consolidated over the past half-century as scale became increasingly important for cutting deals with the country’s largest truck fleets. It is now dominated by three companies including TravelCenters, based in Westlake, Ohio.