There’s a lot of things farmers can do without, or make due with less of, in their day to day operations, but the one thing they cannot do without is fuel for their machines.
B & A Petroleum has been in operation since 1995, but current owner Darryl Meyer has been the fuel business for far longer than that.
“I have been in the bulk fuel business basically all my life,” confirms Meyer. “My dad Leo was a Shell bulk dealer who started in 1968 when I was 10-years-old. I worked there as a young boy.
“When I got out of high school, I worked there for three years. And then I moved on, and thought there had to be something better in the world than that, so I went and worked at a credit union in Medicine Hat for three years.
“By that time my dad had sold his (Shell) business and ended up in Maple Creek as a Gulf bulk dealer in 1981. I knew I wanted to come back.”
Meyer remembers calling up his dad quite tentatively to ask if he could be part of his new enterprise. Fortunately Leo said yes, and Meyer has been in it ever since.
Meyer admits the business has had its ups and downs over the years, but, on the whole, he is happy with his time in it.
“It is a sales job,” says Meyer. “You have got to enjoy the people and the thrill of helping people out. Our business is vital to anybody who is farming, ranching or drilling. At one point I was thinking of getting out of it again, but I happened to be talking to one of my customers of what I was thinking.
“He just looked at me and said: ‘Darryl you just have to remember one thing. We might complain about the price of things sometimes, but we just have to it. There is no alternative.’ That stuck with me.”
While its roots may have started out as a small town family enterprise, today B & A Petroleum has 11 branches, mainly in southwest Saskatchewan, and a fleet of 14 farm delivery trucks serving a huge territory.
“It is so much different,” confirms Meyer. “When we started we went 15 miles south, 15 miles north, seven miles west and about 15 or 20 miles east. That was our territory. I thought when we made those 15 mile trips as a young guy we were going to the end of the world.
“Now, we drive hundreds of miles in all different directions every day. There are way fewer farmers, and bigger farmers, and they are very much watching their bottom line. It has become very competitive as far as the pricing goes.”
Meyer says what sets his company apart is great customer service, and a true understanding of the needs and timetables of the agriculture industry.
“You don’t have the big peaks and valleys. It’s more flat, but our agriculture customers are there, and they always will be.
“We have somebody on call every night and every weekend, especially in seeding and harvest time, and we are prepared to go the extra mile to make sure they get their product when they need it.”
That deep commitment to agriculture has definitely paid off in recent years since the oil downturn.
“Agriculture has always been our mainstay,” confirms Meyer, “and we are lucky because a few years ago we never got a lot of support for us guys who had a lot of agriculture (from the refineries).
“Back then they sold every drop of diesel they made easily. Big oil was gobbling that up, and you could sell at a pretty high margin.
“When the oil prices crashed, we had big emergency meetings (with Suncor) and they were worried about how we would get along. Those of us who had a lot of agriculture as part of our business, we just seemed to keep getting on.
“They were shocked to see how well we did. It gave them a new appreciation for how important agriculture was to the fuel business.”
Meyer says when dealing with agriculture you have to accept there is a seasonality to the fuel market, and he has diversified his business into cattle mineral, and other product lines like twine and net-wrapping, to get through the quiet times.
He has also become the local Flaman Rentals dealer in Swift Current to add even more diversity to his operations. But, at heart, his business is about ensuring his agricultural customers are reliably getting their fuel when and where they need it.
“I am almost 60-years-old, and I still never complain about going to work in the morning,” says Meyer with a good-natured laugh.
“I still enjoy it; that’s why I am still here. And I enjoy my customers. I love when they walk out the door with a smile on their face.”