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.
The Esso 3 Star recognition programs – one for excellence in sales and the other in operations – exist to celebrate the accomplishments of branded reseller businesses and specific individuals within those organizations. After Tuesday’s dinner, Colin Cochran took the opportunity to highlight several recent 3 Star winners.
Two 2018 sales winners recognized
The 3 Star Sales program salutes individuals who develop and apply their sales skills in a consistent and ongoing fashion. Colin first recognized Jason Cooper from Dowler-Karn: “Jason is super-passionate about growing the business and pushing the boundaries,” he said. “His use of our sales training and tools has helped make him an excellent salesperson.”
Colin also recognized the performance of Craig Bannister with McDougall Energy. “Craig’s disciplined focus helped him grow his annual sales by 10 percent in one year,” Colin said. Craig joins five other McDougall sales professionals – Rob Ambeau, Glen Johnston, Barb McCormick, Sean Meghen, and Dexter Outridge – who have previously earned 3 Star Sales recognition. (Sheldon Brannen and Owen Johnsen from Pepco Atlantic are also earlier 3 Star Sales recipients.)
Colin concluded by saying: “The 3 Star programs are truly important in acknowledging the standout behaviour of those who help our business lead the way in the industry.”
From April 30-May 2, 2018, nearly 40 Esso Branded Reseller business leaders from across Canada, plus more than a dozen managers from Imperial and ExxonMobil, got together to learn about new industry trends, share ideas and network at the 2018 Branded Reseller Leadership Conference in Calgary.
The theme of the conference was ‘Leading the way,’ and over the two days participants heard from Imperial presenters as well outside experts – all of whom shared strategies and best practices to help branded reseller businesses win in their local markets. The resellers who replied to the closing survey all indicated the event exceeded expectations.
The conference was kicked off with an interview with legendary Formula One racing car driver David Coulthard. Click here for the complete interview The remaining Tuesday morning presentations featured the future of Canada’s fuels industry and an overview of Imperial’s innovative approaches to managing product supply in order to better serve customers and win in the marketplace.
Just before heading off to lunch, First Nation spiritual leader Hal Eagletail delivered a traditional blessing, setting the stage for the afternoon.
Focused Indigenous Relations
The entire afternoon on Tuesday was devoted to the topic of Indigenous Relations. The first presentation, by Imperial’s Jezelle Zatorski, touched on the history of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples in Canada, and the opportunity to establish more respectful and mutually beneficial relationships in the future. Then, the CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, JP Gladu, spoke about the growing importance of the Indigenous marketplace in Canada, and the fact that incorporating Aboriginal businesses in supply-chain decisions can lead to winning outcomes for all. Third on the program was Imperial’s Jordan Nail, who shared some best practices for engaging with Indigenous businesses, and highlighted how two Esso Branded Resellers – Doak’s Bulk Fuels in northern Manitoba, and Fort McMurray’s Chinook Fuels – have successfully partnered with local Indigenous organizations. The three speakers then fielded questions from the audience. (View the Indigenous Relations toolkit here.)
Rich Kruger dinner remarks a highlight
As usual, the conference provided various opportunities for networking and socializing, with the highlight being the Tuesday dinner at the Calgary Petroleum Club that featured opening comments from Imperial Chairman, President and CEO Rich Kruger (click here for the complete article).
Best Managed Lab Experience
Wednesday morning began with an insight-filled workshop called Best Managed Lab Experience offered by senior consultants from Deloitte. During the session, conference participants were divided into groups that took turns brainstorming best practice ideas in each of the four categories used in assessing Canadian businesses for the ‘Best Managed Companies’ program. (View the workshop report here.)
Safety leadership session
Calgary-based safety consultant Glyn Jones shared insights and practices for developing a leadership culture related to safety and operations. (View presentation highlights here.)
Commercial Marketing and Innovation
Wednesday afternoon began with a session on business-to-business marketing, led by ExxonMobil manager David Lunsford. The second part of this presentation featured Imperial’s Luis Victoria, who delivered a lively case study on the marketing strategy driving the success of Esso Diesel Efficient fuel. The day’s final presentation also came from ExxonMobil and showcased how the company is adopting leading-edge practices to transform the business for the digital age.
According to the closing survey, resellers all agreed the conference met expectations, was worth the investment to attend and provided good opportunities to network and connect. One participant wrote: “Thank you for an informative, educating, entertaining and motivating agenda. Happy to have attended.”
We win together, says branded reseller manager Colin Cochran
After thanking the 19 Esso Branded Reseller businesses represented at the conference for their contribution to Imperial’s fuel sales performance and for being ambassadors for the brand, Colin Cochran spent a significant share of his presentation recognizing a number of important milestones across the network.
Reseller milestones saluted
First, he saluted Dowler-Karn Ltd. – headquartered in St. Thomas in southwestern Ontario – which is celebrating its 75th year of association with the Esso brand. Similarly, he highlighted Harnois Groupe pétrolier from St. Thomas, Quebec, which celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2018.
How resellers contribute to the community
Colin then gave examples of the many ways that branded resellers are making a difference in the community through their contributions to local hospitals, sponsorships of local sports, and by taking the Stop, Think and Act message to customers and the general public. He also cited examples of the investments various businesses are making to expand and improve their facilities and equipment to better serve customers and represent the Esso brand, and in particular, the new Esso Diesel Efficient fuel.
Finally, he explained his aggressive goal for the business – to significantly increase the network’s fuel volume and earnings by 2025 – and outlined the steps required to make this happen, together with the ways that Imperial is committed to helping branded resellers win.
“When [branded resellers] are successful and win in your marketplace, we win. The support that Imperial has given us to help grow your businesses is tremendous,” he said later. “We have a wonderful opportunity to win – together.”