Energy North Group

08 Energy North Tewksbury ASchirmer

Energy North Group is ready to expand its reach beyond New England.

By Alan Dorich

All employees have a voice in the decisions at Energy North Group (ENG), Executive Vice President Pat O’Connell says. “Whether it’s an associate that is out at the stores or somebody in the corporate office, we ask for everyone’s opinion,” he says. “It’s important that we listen.”

That philosophy has been constant for the firm as it has grown over the past 35 years. Based in Tewksbury, Mass., ENG specializes in the wholesale distribution of gasoline, oil and propane as well as operates multiple retail locations.

The company began operations in 1981 as a sub-jobber with a modest staff. In 1997, it started its retail division and began acquiring other distributor-based companies. “That put us in a position of growth and tripled our revenue stream,” O’Connell notes.

ENG also took a major step when it became a Mobil Brand Fee Agreement (BFA) distributor. “That allowed us to supply the other Mobil distributors as sub-jobbers throughout the New England marketplace,” O’Connell recalls.

 

Today, ENG maintains a strong balance between several businesses, which include 43 company-operated stores and 14 car washes. The company also provides wholesale distribution to more than 250 dealer and distributor locations.

ENG supplies more than 40,000 oil and propane customers with its fleet of 65 transports. “We do just over 300 million gallons a year,” he says, noting that it is still privately held and family oriented.

That status, O’Connell notes, has been important for ENG. Without a major corporate structure, “We can implement changes quickly,” he says. “We can invest now and look at a return over the next three to five years. That’s an advantage to us being privately held.”

In the Valley (Merrimack Valley)

ENG recently acquired Haffner’s, a gas retail chain with locations in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. “[It’s] given us the opportunity to be more outward facing to our customers and consumers,” O’Connell says, noting that oil and propane customers are new to ENG’s business model.

The purchase also has positioned ENG for future acquisitions. This February, the company acquired Victory Fuel Inc., a Newton, N.H.-based oil and propane distributor that serves Southern New Hampshire. “Our goal is to [keep acquiring] distributor-based companies,” he says.

“The Haffner’s side has gotten us into more of the valley,” he says. ENG also takes part in the charities Haffner’s was involved in, such as the Citizen League for Adult Special Services and Lazarus House.

The company also created its new Kicksmart Store concept, which will put all of its brands together, including Haffner’s, into a single store. “The Haffner’s brand in this marketplace is very strong in oil, propane, car wash and gasoline,” he says.

ENG’s New Digs

The acquisition of Haffner’s also will allow ENG to move into a new location, O’Connell says. The company is rebuilding a Haffner’s location in Lawrence, Mass., into a 32,000-square-foot building. It will consolidate three offices and be its new headquarters.

“It will be state-of-the-art with the latest technology,” he says, noting that its features also include huddle rooms where people can work together, a gym, a cafeteria and a driver’s area with lockers and showers. This gives the drivers “a sense of community before they get their call list of where to go.

“We’re spending a lot of money to renovate this building so we can attract better employees,” O’Connell says. “We want them to walk into this space and have the ‘wow’ factor.”

ENG also will offer its space to the local community so that city officials, local businesses and charities can hold meetings in its building. “Our feeling is that the closer we can get to the community then the better off we’re going to be,” he says, noting that ENG plans to be finished with the building by December.

Strong Support

ENG is making the move to become completely virtual, O’Connell says. “We went from a 35-year-old company with one computer to a complete virtual network,” he says. “Our IT director, with the guidance from each business manager, put together an IT roadmap together for all the lines of business.”

This led ENG to implement a hyper-converge platform, “which allows us to create, maintain, back-up and restore multiple machines on one virtual host,” O’Connell explains, noting that it will be finished by December. “It adds value to our business efforts, which support our employees, customers and consumers.”

This extra value includes giving ENG’s staff the ability to access information from any system. With most of our employees out in the field, “They need to be able to access data at any time,” O’Connell says.

The Next Generation

ENG is bringing new blood to all of its departments, O’Connell says. “[President] Ken Black and I are the stewards of the company and we are very excited about our younger team members,” he says.

This includes Black’s son, Manager of Supply and Trade Jeffrey Black. “[He previously] interned at Citgo, the Amerex Trading Group and got his MBA from Tulane,” O’Connell says. “Over the past few years he has brought us new ideas and different ways of looking at things. He challenges us every day in many areas, which [is] great.”

The company also has hired new talent from outside and promoted from within in its finance, wholesale, retail, oil, propane, trucking and maintenance groups. “We want to continue to encourage our new leadership to challenge our ways to come up with the best approach,” O’Connell says.

Well Positioned

ENG wants to expand its reach, O’Connell says. “Our footprint today is in New England,” he says. “We’re looking at New York and other regions as well because our growth has been so substantial.”

The company also plans to continue growing the Haffner’s brand, “whether it’s on the oil side, the car wash side or the gasoline side,” O’Connell says. “We’re working on something that in the coming months will help us with the Haffner’s brand.

“We’re positioned with the right people, the right infrastructure and the right finances going forward,” he says. “We’re in a very good position.”

The Right Staff

ENG's success is thanks to its strong staff, O’Connell says. “Our employees matter,” he says, noting that the company is careful when it is hiring.

“[It’s about] making sure you find the right person who can fit with the team,” he says, noting that the company also emphasizes strong values. “A work/life balance and having those family oriented values is really important to us.”

ENG also is willing to supplement its employees’ skills with additional training, which it conducts through an intercompany web site. Its senior management meets regularly “to ensure we’re doing the right things and they have the right tools going forward,” O’Connell says.

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