With the shadow of high unemployment rates permeating news reports, it’s hard to imagine that there is an area of the country with more jobs than people to fill them. At least, that is the impression John Phillips, owner of Regal Oil Inc., has of the economic situation in the region. “It’s strange to see how high the unemployment rate is everywhere, and here in West Texas it’s hard to find employees,” Phillips says.
Good employees are in short supply because of the area’s booming oil and windmill industries. “The problem we have down here is that the oil activity is picking up and people are going to work in the oil fields,” Phillips explains.
The areas around San Angelo, Eldorado and Odessa, Texas, are experiencing an oil boom similar to the one in the Bakken area in North Dakota. Rising oil prices has justified the use of fracking techniques that can access oil and gas reservoirs that once were too difficult or expensive to extract.
Phillips is not complaining. “All the drilling activity in West Texas in the last couple of years has been great for us,” he admits. “Drilling will help our wholesale business. We have some retail locations in the areas where they are drilling and we are poised to benefit from that.”
The company is also benefiting from the installation of windmills to produce electricity. “This is windmill country nowadays,” he claims. “We are supplying diesel fuel to the contractors that are building the windmills, so it’s great business for us, too.”
Phillips has been in the oil business for most of his life, starting as an Exxon distributor in the ’50s. In 1981, when the owner of Regal Oil was getting ready to retire, Phillips offered to buy the service stations, eventually bringing in his son and son-in-law to help him run the business, making it a family affair.
In 1985, Regal Oil decided to give its business a new direction. “We started remodeling a couple of gas stations, turning them into convenience stores,” Phillips remembers. “We either bought existing convenience stores or we built new ones.” The company, which had six service stations at the time, now has 14 Star Stop Food Marts.
Each Star Stop Food Mart between has two to eight pumps, depending on the size of the store. Phillips can’t help but comment on how much the business has changed since he started in the ’50s. “In the old service stations, you’d drive in and every employee would jump out and wash your windshield, sweep out the floor boards and fill up your tank,” he recalls. “Today, people drive up, get their product and leave.”
The biggest change is not only on the service offered. Long gone are the glass-top fuel pumps of the old days, which had to be operated by the service station employees. “The pumps are fully automated nowadays and they are very expensive,” Phillips says. “It’s amazing what automation can do.”
What has not changed for the company is its customer service. “I grew up in Eldorado, Texas, where we have stores. When I go down there everybody knows me and I know everybody,” Phillips explains. “We want to make folks feel at home, making sure our employees talk to the customers when they come in the store.”
Phillips knows that having a quality product keeps people coming back to fill up. “We’re Shell-branded, and that is one of the best brands,” he says.
The convenience stores also are located in convenient spots with easy access from the roads and highways. “Having a good location is always an important factor and we have great locations,” he notes.
Although the company is not planning on opening more locations in the near future, Phillips is optimistic about the economic growth in the area. “I think that being in this part of West Texas means that we will continue to do well,” he says. “I think the economic situation in our area is better than in most regions of the United States, with the windmill production and the oil drilling.”