Furnace oil sales catching on

Ryan Cooke comment@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on February 6, 2013

Attendant Chris Williams fills a fuel can with furnace oil, a common occurrence at Lockhart’s Auto Service during the recent cold streak. Ryan Cooke – Journal Pioneer

Ryan Cooke - Journal Pioneer

SUMMERSIDE - Dwight Lockhart looks out the window of the garage door, and waits for a customer to come by.

“How many have you seen in the last hour?” he calls out to a co-worker, working the cash.

“Thirty…at least,” he replies.

Despite the bitter cold and whipping wind, these are the days on which Lockhart’s Auto Service Ltd. thrives.

Lockhart has been seeing an increase in business ever since he began selling furnace oil at the pumps five years ago. During cold streaks such as the last few weeks, his business goes up even more, he said.

Sure enough, it’s only a matter of seconds before a car pulls up to the pumps. An attendant scrambles out into the cold to take the orange 20-litre can from the woman’s hands, and begins to fill it with home heating oil.

“Every year we seem to sell a little more,” Lockhart said.

For a small station, it’s difficult to contend with the bigger stations located just up the street, he said. Having a product like furnace oil handy at the pumps draws in customers who wouldn’t find it elsewhere.

“It’s been a substantial difference (in business). It’s something new to sell in the winter that we didn’t always have, so anytime you bring in a new product it helps.”

Selling furnace oil at the pumps doesn’t just help the gas stations though. It’s also a cost-effective option for people who don’t want to spend the money to fill a large tank, Lockhart said.

Since home delivery carries a half-tank minimum amount, filling up at the pumps ensures you only get as much as you need, or can afford, Lockhart said.

“The difference is the cost. To have it delivered, it’s a minimum of 100 gallons I guess, so that’s close on $500. With us, you don’t have that. You can take as much or as little as you want.”

A little further west, Troy Thibideau has noticed the business Lockhart’s has been drawing in since they started selling furnace oil.

“I wish we sold it here,” said Thibideau, who manages Thibideau’s Ultramar, his father’s gas station in Miscouche.

“Every time you drive by Lockhart’s, you see the people lined up to buy it. They come with their jerry cans and take a bit here and there. With the cost of it these days, it adds up.”

Being able to buy small amounts brings a lot of different customers, Lockhart said.

“For some people, their tanks have expired and they can’t get them filled anymore, or can’t afford to get a new one put in. Some people burn wood but want a little bit of oil, and don’t want to pay for a half-tank. And then I guess there’s some people who just can’t afford the half-tank minimum.”

Thibideau agrees.

“That’s just the thing. It’s $400 or $500 just to get the minimum. A lot of people can’t afford that.”

The rising price of home heating fuel has been problematic of late.

Earlier this week, the Salvation Army reported running out of money for their program to provide home heating fuel to those in need. With the amount of demand, the $40,000 allotment from the provincial government ran dry in two days.

After serving 80 homes in the Prince County area, it now has more than 20 families in need of oil on a waiting list.

On a day when temperatures hit -11 Celsius, with the wind chill ducking even lower, Lockhart estimated he’d seen close on 100 people come to his shop for furnace oil alone.

“We don’t sell a lot of gas here in comparison (to the bigger gas stations in town),” he said. “So being able to sell something like furnace oil brings more people around.”

With the temperature plunging and fuel prices hiking, Lockhart doesn’t expect his sales to go anywhere but up.