Dowler-Karn wins Masters Award for local success

Reprinted from St. Thomas Times Journal

Dowler-Karn is the picture-perfect small business success story, built from the ground up and growing into a regional fuel behemoth — without losing sight of who it is.

Now the company is being recognized for it.

The regional propane, fuels, and lubricant company has been announced the sole winner of this year’s Free Enterprise Masters Award, one of the most prestigious business awards in St. Thomas and a testament to their work in the community and across much of Southwestern Ontario.

The award coincides with the company’s 75th anniversary.

The Master’s Award recognizes longstanding community involvement and excellence. As many as three companies can win the award each year.

“It’s an honour,” said Barb Molinaro, vice-president of Dowler-Karn and granddaughter of founder George Dowler. “We have got long-time employees who’ve been with us for years — started here, retired here. That’s really nice to see.

“It gets harder as we go, definitely,” she added. “But we’re passionate about the business, and we try to reward them and thank them for what they do.”

It’s been a slow, steady rise for the company, which started in a small building at the rail yards at the end of Flora Street in St. Thomas. George Dowler eventually enlisted his daughter Joyce and son-in-law Jack Karn to help with the business, one they officially took over in 1970.

The once-small company now employs more than 170 people in 13 locations across Southwestern Ontario, including Windsor, Chatham, Sarnia, and Tillsonburg. Their home office is in St. Thomas, just past Centennial Avenue on Talbot Line.

Jack Karn died in 2006, then 75 years old. Joyce Karn remained active with the company until her death in 2013, at which point their children took over as president and vice-presidents.

“We’ve been so busy growing,” said Molinaro

The company is currently expanding its St. Thomas location, a project expected to be completed in 2019. The company is also working on existing locations, making strides in tech support this year and marketing propane as a low-emission solution to a green-conscious province.

And one day, current owners Molinaro, John Karn, and David Karn hope to pass the business down to their children — some of which are already working at the company

The award was handed out at a ceremony held on May 9.