Three generations of exceptional leadership and a keen focus on employees help the family business reach this distinctive milestone.
By: John Lofstock, Editor.
To understand the history of the convenience store and petroleum industry is to understand the individual success stories that helped build our great nation. Each company has a unique story, but their achievements can often be defined by the characteristics that bind them: hard work, perseverance, courage and compassion.
Englefield Oil Co. fits that mold underscoring yet again that despite the growth of big box chains, drug stores and supermarkets, family-owned businesses remain the backbone of the convenience store industry.
This year marks a special milestone for the Heath, Ohio-based oil company as it proudly celebrates its 50th anniversary. As you might expect, there were some lean years in the beginning, but outstanding leadership—and catching a few breaks along the way—helped the company establish itself as one the leading fuel marketers in Ohio.
Chairman F. W. “Bill” Englefield III founded the company in 1961 with three service stations and an office operating out of his basement. His wife Janet and banking partner Jim Kennedy formed a trio that served as the foundation during those early years.
“I have to admit, I can’t believe it’s been 50 years,” Englefield III said. “When I look back, I can’t believe we got here.”
Today, Englefield operates 126 Duke/Duchess Shoppes throughout Ohio and West Virginia with annual sales of more than $500 million. In addition to the c-stores, Englefield distributes BP, Marathon and Valero fuels and flies the BP banner at 124 of its company-owned stores.
Inside the stores, Englefield has a strong foodservice presence. The company operates four Taco Bell’s, two Subway sandwich shops and one Long John Silver’s. Fresh sandwiches are also prepared onsite and offered at 104 locations. The coffee program is branded under the Crown Café banner and featured at all 126 stores. A 4,000-square-foot prototype store introduced in 2008 serves as the model for all future stores, said Ashley Englefield, division manager of convenience stores.
While it focused on organic growth throughout much of its history, Englefield caught a break in 2008 when it landed its biggest acquisition to date. The turnover of BP’s company-owned locations to regional retailers and jobbers allowed Englefield Oil to swoop in and purchase 43 sites in Columbus, Ohio. The deal provided the company access to a metropolitan market for the first time.
“The BP acquisition changed the convenience store business for us,” said Ben Englefield, president of Englefield Oil with his brother F.W. “Bill” Englefield IV. “The opportunity presented to us was great, but it required us to rebrand some of the Duchess stores.”
The rebranding was a small price to pay for entry to a bigger market. Until 2008 Englefield was primarily a rural chain. BP, like other major oil companies, had kept bigger markets in Ohio like Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus to themselves.
“BP had great locations throughout Ohio and they kept giving us terrific smaller markets, but we always had our eyes on Columbus,” Englefield IV said. “It took 10 years and our patience paid off. They didn’t even make us bid for them. They came to us and said, ‘We want you to have Columbus.’”
Incidentally, Englefield family leadership appears to be set for another generation as F.W. Englefield VI was born earlier this year. The baby’s father, F.W. Englefield V, currently serves as the company’s division manager of freight sales.
To appreciate Englefield Oil’s success, you need to first understand the lean years. While Englefield Oil has solidified its position in the marketplace, its mettle was tested right from those very first days in 1961.
Englefield III learned how to create his own breaks. He met Janet, his wife of 60 years, on a blind date in college. “I had a friend who was dating a nurse in training so another buddy and I asked him to set us up with a couple of nursing students,” he said. “On my way to the date I knew my friend was going to pick the best-looking girl and run right up to her so I said, ‘Look, why don’t we flip a coin to see who gets the tallest girl.’ I flipped the coin and I won. Now Janet is only 5’3, but fortunately for me her friend was only 5’1.”
The couple was married in 1951. “We had a nice honeymoon, but we were both eager to come back and go right to work,” Janet Englefield said.
Bill went to work designing gas stations for a friend whose father owned Bonded Oil Co. After about 10 years, Phillips 66 moved into Ohio.
“I always wanted to be in business for myself, but I thought I would probably have an engineering firm,” Englefield III said. “I started to like the oil business back then, so I went to see Phillips 66 and they said they had a spot for me in Newark, Ohio, if I wanted to become a jobber.”
Englefield III needed $6,000 to start the business, but could only muster about half. He reached out to his brother-in-law—Janet’s sister’s husband—and asked him if he wanted to be a partner in this business.
“Fortunately, he liked the idea. But just a week before we were going to sign the papers, he called me and backed out of the deal. I had to call Phillips and tell them that I haven’t got enough money,” Englefield III said. “They were so anxious to get somebody in the Ohio market they said, ‘That’s OK. We’ll make it work.’”
Englefield Oil was launched with three leased stations, one pickup truck and three kids in tow as the family relocated from Springfield, Ohio, to Newark in 1961.
“My mom and dad would crowd into the basement to work, which is also where we played as kids, so we played on one side and dad was trying to manage his business on the other,” Ben Englefield said.
The business was very different in those days, recalled Charlie Moore, one of Englefield’s first truckstop managers. For starters, the price of gas was around 28 cents a gallon.
“We were a service industry back then,” Moore said. “We cleaned the windows, checked the tires, put oil in when someone needed it. It was full service and we did everything we could to satisfy the customers.”
As a new brand to the market, Englefield Oil struggled to attract new customers. One of its first breaks was landing a contract with Coca-Cola to provide fuel to its local trucking fleet.
Even with the Coke deal, business was sluggish. “After a short time, I got a call from Phillips 66 and they said I had to come in and meet with them. I knew they were concerned because we owed them $32,000 in back payments,” Englefield III said. “I called up Jim (Kennedy), a good friend and a member of the Englefield board and said, ‘Jim, you have to go over there with me. They are going to kick me out.’”
Englefield’s fears were confirmed when Phillips moved to terminate his contracts. “They told us they didn’t think we could survive,” he said. “I sat their listening to all of this when Jim finally spoke up and said, ‘Let me get this straight, if he pays you the $32,000, he can stay in business?’ They said, ‘Sure.’”
That was all Kennedy needed to hear. “I stood up and told them, ‘Fine, we’ll take care of it,’” he said.
“As we walked to the door, I turned to Jim and asked, ‘How on earth are we going to get that money?’” Englefield III said. “He looked me in the eyes and said, ‘I’ll be damned if I know.’”
Kennedy, who was also a local banker, helped secure a loan for Englefield Oil simply on the strength of Englefield’s signature. The loan was enough to sustain the company until business stabilized.
Building the Brand
The Duke and Duchess brands, while well-known today, weren’t in Englefield Oil’s original plans. The first company sign featuring the distinctive red and yellow crown was created for King Oil Co.
“We had to come up with a name for the business, and we liked King Oil,” Englefield III said. “I went to our local sign company with the name and they created the image with the crown. I loved it.”
But the company’s attorney learned that the King Oil name already existed.
“The sign and materials were too expensive to just throw away so it became a debate about what else we could call the company utilizing the crown beside King Oil,” Englefield IV said.
It was Cindi Englefield, Bill and Janet’s daughter, who came up with the name. “We were sitting at a table and my dad was really upset because he had already paid for the signage so I said, ‘What about Duke?’ My dad loves John Wayne so it was a pretty natural transition,” Cindi Englefield said.
As the Duke fuel brand began to flourish—the first Duchess c-store didn’t open until 1975—the oil embargo of 1973 hit. “Those were certainly some tough times,” Englefield III said.
In fact, Ed Stephens, Englefield’s vice president of operations, described the two-year period from 1975-1976 as “a long drawn out battle.”
Supplies were tight and Englefield Oil was put on allocations based on what it had sold historically four or five years before. “We were able to buy product on the open market, but sometimes we had to drive to Pennsylvania or Cincinnati to pick it up,” said Frank McManus, Englefield’s vice president of real estate. “It was really difficult, but it had to be done.”
Displaying the kind of leadership that earned him praise from his dealers, Englefield III would pick up the fuel and sell it to his branded marketers at less than what he bought it for to help keep their stores open, Stephens said.
While he was taking care of the branded network, Englefield was forced to close its company-owned Duke stores on Sundays and at night simply because they would run out of fuel. “Times were tough for everyone, but we survived,” Englefield IV said.
Showing Some Fight
Another event that helped define Englefield Oil was the independent truckers’ strike in 1979. Upset over high fuel prices, truckers would target gas stations by parking their rigs and personal vehicles in front of the entryways or right at the pumps to deny other customers an opportunity to get fuel.
“These truckers would come onto your lot and announce they were going to shut you down, block off your entrances so nobody could get in,” said Moore, the former truckstop manager.
Moore would have none of it. He told the local newspapers he was packing a pistol and intended to keep the striking truckers away.“I had been working so hard for so long to make the site successful that I wasn’t going to let them come in and take away what we had accomplished,” Moore said. “I told a number of truckers that we have been your friends and very good to you for years. I can’t allow you to do this.”
The truckers were determined and ignored Moore causing the situation to become extremely tense. “I gave them one last warning to leave and they responded by saying, ‘You’re not going to shoot anybody,’ so I pulled the gun out and shot through one of their radiators. Fluids came flying out and I think they were kind of surprised. I asked them once again to please leave. They got the message and they left.”
Transition of Power
After Bill IV and Ben got out of college, Englefield III turned to Stephens to teach them the industry. “We all knew that was the natural progression,” Stephens said. “The one special thing about this company is that while you are working for a family business, you are also treated and trusted as a part of the family. They are super people.”
Bill IV and Ben learned the business from the ground up, literally. “We dug ditches, hauled gasoline, scraped tanks, painted stores, whatever needed to be done,” Ben said.
Nothing, Englefield III and Stephens agreed, was handed to them. “At that time, I did not make the decision that they would become presidents. They really had to earn it,” Englefield III said.
By the early 1990s, Bill IV and Ben worked their way through the ranks to a point where the employees trusted them. “We also started taking on some of the risk in terms borrowing money to grow the business,” Ben said. “It was dad’s ultimate decision, but he was confident that we knew the business.”
Around this time, Kennedy approached the elder Englefield and asked if Bill and Ben were ready to take over the company. “I said, ‘Yea, I suppose they are,’” Englefield III said. “He said, ‘Great. I want out.’”
In discussing Kennedy’s role in Englefield Oil there is a palpable sense of respect for Kennedy’s leadership and friendship with Bill IV and Ben. “Jim Kennedy is a great individual. Ben and I have great respect for him. How he helped dad and the way he stepped back and graciously moved out of the way for Ben and I is something that not a lot of men would have done,” Englefield IV said.
The respect is mutual. “I’m very pleased that Bill and Ben met the challenge and grabbed control of the company,” Kennedy said. “I think they are ready to do it all.”
As Englefield Oil prepares for its next 50 years, the man who started it all remains in awe of what he has achieved. “We always wanted to grow. My goal was to be the biggest and best marketer in the State of Ohio,” Englefield III said. “Granted, we didn’t do it real fast. Fifty years is a long time. I never even considered the possibility of having my sons running the business, that we would have 126 stores and 1,500 employees. It’s unbelievable and I’m proud of the work we have all accomplished together.”
Englefield Oil Co. at a glance
F.W. Englefield III started Englefield Oil Co. in 1961 with three service stations and an office in the basement of his home. Today, Englefield Oil operates 126 stores, has annual sales of more than $500 million and employs 1,500 people.
C-Store Brand: Duke/Duchess Shoppes
Fuel Brands: Operates and distributes BP,
Marathon and Valero fuels. Also distributes Shell and Pennzoil motor oils and lubricants.
Foodservice: Four Taco Bells, two Subways and one Long John Silver’s. Fresh sandwiches are also prepared onsite daily at 104 stores.
F. W. Englefield III, Chairman of the Board
F. W. Englefield IV, President
Benjamin B. Englefield, President
Edward L. Stephens, Vice President, Operations
Fred J. Kaseman, Vice President, Accounting
Edward L. Canter, Vice President, Lube Division
John S. Gordon, Vice President, Maintenance & Construction
Frank McManus, Vice President, Real Estate