British Empire Fuels
British Empire Fuels has been providing a range of home heating solutions to customers in Ontario since 1964. The company first began delivering home heating fuel in the form of coal more than 50 years ago. The original founder served customers in Toronto. When his son became involved in the business, the company purchased its first oil truck and moved to Bobcaygeon, Ontario.
In the 1980s, the business changed hands. Again family-owned and operated, British Empire Fuels has added new services to provide customers with a full-service operation, including heating oil, gasoline and diesel delivery as well as residential and commercial HVAC installations and services.
Robert Whyte, owner and president of British Empire Fuels, has been with the business since 1985. He started out working for his father, who purchased the company from the founding family. “I actually studied computer science in school and worked in information technology for eight years,” Robert explains. “When the economy went south, my wife and our child moved back to the area and I came to work at the family business.”
Shortly thereafter, Robert’s brother, Greg joined the business and serves as vice president of logistics and health and safety. Robert’s wife, Sheila, is also involved with the business as vice president of office management and marketing.
The business’ local connections have played a major role in the growth of British Empire Fuels over the years. Robert grew up in the area and so did his father. “My dad was a local guy who worked the summers farming and delivered oil in the winters,” he elaborates. “He knew a lot of people in the community; when he purchased the business more than 30 years ago, many people switched companies to buy from him.”
Catering to customers
From the company’s headquarters in Bobcaygeon, British Empire Fuels serves primarily customers in town. “This is cottage country, so the number of people living here almost quadruples in the summertime,” Robert notes. “Most of our business is here, but we do serve customers within a 50-kilometer radius.”
The team’s main business is delivering home heating oil, propane, gasoline, diesel and colored diesel. Home heating oil made up the largest portion of the market in the beginning but now propane is the largest portion. British Empire Fuels has on-site bulk storage for each of these main products. Because of the local customer base, the company’s target market is largely residential customers with the exception of a few commercial projects and contracts.
Aside from fuel delivery, the crew also provides in-house HVAC installation and maintenance services. “We have a full-service installation crew that can install furnaces, heat pumps, full-duct systems and other HVAC components,” Robert says. “As with fuel delivery, that segment of our business is mainly residential, although we have done a few good-sized commercial projects.”
HVAC service has been integrated into British Empire Fuels for more than 20 years. When Robert’s parents first started providing these services, the company relied on subcontractors. The family decided to bring installation and service in-house in order to better maintain quality control, project management and logistics. Robert recently acquired The Climate Controllers, a service center in nearby Lindsay, Ontario, in order to accommodate expansion of the division.
One of the company’s larger HVAC projects has been work on a local church. “That was pretty big for us,” Robert states. “We normally stick to residential work. All of our projects are different and we enjoy them all, but working in newer custom homes has been very interesting. We get to learn as we build, helping people create comfortable homes for the summer and winter.”
Keeping up with the market
British Empire Fuels thrives on relationships with customers and community members. As these partnerships continue to grow, Robert and his team are looking ahead to significant expansion over the coming years. The propane business has spiked in recent years and he expects the company will have to double bulk storage in order to keep up.
As the business’ volume increases, so do expenses. In the fuel distribution industry, safety is a major factor in the company’s ability to operate. “The regulations are always changing,” Robert explains. “We have seen a surge in new legislation since the Sunrise Propane explosion a few years ago. There are certain guidelines we have to meet as a business and we are working constantly to meet and exceed safety requirements.”
Through proper maintenance of facilities and margins, British Empire Fuels continues to grow. As they have for the last 50 years, customers rely on the business for efficient, friendly service, safe operations, and honest pricing. After more than half a century, British Empire Fuels remains a family-owned, community-oriented business serving Bobcaygeon, Ontario, and the surrounding areas.