Western Oil Services Ltd.
In 1950 H.D. Haywood and three partners founded Western Oil Services Ltd. (WOS). For more than 60 years, the business has grown, providing increasingly diversified services to a wide range of clients across Canada. WOS provides products, installation and services for fuel dispensing and handling operations. The team operates primarily in retail and commercial sectors, but clients also include municipalities, transportation organizations and health care institutions.
Robin Bateman, current president and CEO of WOS, purchased the business in 2004. “I was a banker for 25 years,” he recounts. “I retired from banking and started doing consultant work. I was actually hired to sell this business, but I ended up buying it. I saw a lot of potential that was not being realized and the rest is history.”
Today, Bateman employs 37 people among three locations. The company headquarters is in Langley, British Columbia, with the other two offices being Vancouver Island and the newest branch in Ontario.
A Broad Customer Base
“We put in fuel systems,” Bateman explains. “We are not in the oil business; we don’t pump it, search for it or process it. We install and service fuel systems for retail operations such as gas stations or commercial operations, which is anyone with a fleet. We have also done municipal work yards, airports and facilities for float plane operators. We also put in fuel systems so generators can kick in with backup power when needed.”
Bateman goes on to explain that WOS’ customers include telecommunication companies, such as Telus, Rogers, Tesat and Bell. “At their central offices, they use generators to keep power up so all systems are go,” he details. “We work for hospitals, ensuring fuel supply systems for generators, too. We serve marinas that dispense and store fuel. We do some service station work and work for anyone who has fuel systems for bus or truck fleets, hoists, lube systems and washes. We also install and service fuel management and monitoring systems. Our team has worked in remote communities for the Department of Native Affairs and Department of Northern Affairs. Sometimes it’s for main power systems, putting in and upgrading fuel systems. We have worked for airports, the Department of National Defense, Fisheries and Oceans, the Coast Guard; there are 35 government departments with fuel storage tanks and we deal with a lot of them. Anywhere they store or dispense fuel, we sell, service and install equipment.”
The WOS team has been involved in a number of unique projects in recent years. Currently, the company has a crew working in Hay River, Northwest Territories. “We are doing a project for the municipality up there,” Bateman elaborates. “We’ve been working in Fort Providence, Klemtu and other locations for native facilities. Many of these locations have generators that provide power if they don’t have direct electrical coming into those communities. Those systems rely on fuel. We have done a lot of update work to meet new environmental standards, such as upgrading to double walled fuel storage tanks and constructing containment systems.” According to Bateman, there are a lot of upgrades needed in these areas.
“Working in remote communities is rewarding,” he adds. “It’s a beautiful region and these are services that people really need.” The region comes with additional challenges, as well. On top of the difficulties of transporting equipment and supplies, moving people can be tough, too. “Sometimes we are working on mountain tops for telecommunication facilities” Bateman explains. “Our guys can get stuck there if the weather turns, because helicopters won’t make it in to get them out.”
Nonetheless, there is not an uninteresting day in Bateman’s sights. “I find it all interesting, though,” he continues. “We had to bid on a project that required two 42-foot-long specialty tanks that would have had incredible transportation issues but in the end the project was shelved.”
Bateman goes on to explain that the company’s work in data centers and banks can also be challenging. “These projects are very time sensitive during cut-over, which means that they cannot be without power for very long,” he details. “It requires precision timing that only experienced technicians and job supervisors can achieve. You could say every project is specialized and they tend to have similar issues but unique circumstances that only the very best can take on. With over 63 years in the business and having technicians with anywhere from five to 43 years with the company, WOS is the best at solving project problems.”
According to Bateman, the fuel system installation and service business has remained, for the most part, unaffected by recent economic conditions. “Still, the sector’s growth has presented its own challenges,” he details. “Many companies in the industry have faced severe employee shortages, having a hard time attracting capable and dedicated manpower to replace retiring technicians.”
Seven years ago Bateman assembled a group of his colleagues in the marketplace and put together an application to the Provincial Government to have the trade certified. The group believed that having a trade designation for the industry would attract better trainees who would be looking for a long term career. It would also lead to more respect for the industry by its clients and possibly better charge out rates thereby helping to sustain their businesses. The application required the creation of a training program for both installers and service technicians.
“It was approved in 2008 and many of the experienced technicians have received their trade certification by having challenged a Provincial exam,” Bateman explains. “We don’t have the critical mass to have a trade school carry our program here but we are working with other Provincial organizations to realize this goal.”
Bateman and his team participate in a number of industry organizations, including the British Columbia Petroleum Contractors Organization, the Ontario Petroleum Contractors Association and related organizations falling under the Canadian Petroleum Contractors Association. Working through these partnerships, all involved are working to establish standards for the industry. These qualifications will promote a higher standard of performance and safety across the industry, which needs a common program nationally.
Bateman’s certification concept is based largely on the standards his business upholds. Even with subcontractors, WOS requires strong qualifications. “We tend to go with people who understand our business,” he notes. “We are very particular. We deal with the same people on a fairly regular basis, because petroleum-based fuel is combustible and it can contaminate the environment. In a water system when things go wrong, you have just spilled water. With fuel, there is no margin for error.”
Despite the challenges of his industry, Bateman is optimistic about the company’s future. “The economy runs on energy,” he explains. “Energy has to come from somewhere and the world is consuming more every day. We have plenty of opportunities for growth. It’s a matter of manpower and innovation. Given the fragmentation of our industry, consolidation will likely be the avenue to achieve the economies of scale that we need to grow but that’s another story.”
Bateman’s commitment to the improvement of the industry continues to drive the business forward. Whether taking innovative approaches to challenging contracts or improving the standards for companies across the country, his drive is leaving an impression on the market. With a proactive attitude and a strong performance record, Western Oil Services Ltd. continues to take the industry to the next level year after year.