Carrying on the Benson family business
Sixty-eight years and three generations later, B A Benson & Son Ltd. is still being driven by its strong customer relationships
As the newly appointed president of B A Benson & Son Ltd./Benson Oil Inc., Albert Benson Jr. has a lot on his shoulders. The fuel distribution company his grandfather started 68 years ago has a reputation in the West Kootenay region for delivering quality products and outstanding service.
But Benson is no stranger to the petroleum business.
Growing up, he spent much of his time at the family’s bulk plant, which was a Shell Canada station at the time. It would seem only natural for Benson to take over the reins, but according to him, it wasn’t until he left Trail and went to school in Vancouver that he saw the potential.
“I was taking business at school and I found myself relating everything back to things I had learned or stuff my parents had talked about,” said Benson, “and after a while, I started to realize that maybe that’s the opportunity I was looking for.”
That, and the Kootenay lifestyle, was enough to bring him back.
“I like to get out on my snowmobile in the wintertime and spend time at Christina Lake in the summertime,” said Benson. “I feel the Kootenays are geared more towards my lifestyle and the way I was brought up.”
Working alongside his father, Benson has, for the past nine years, been the operations manager of B A Benson & Son Ltd./Benson Oil Inc., but with the recent title change, he will not only be responsible for the day-to-day operations but for the company’s most valued assets—its customers and employees—as well.
B A Benson & Son Ltd./Benson Oil Inc. is based in Trail but it also serves Castlegar, Nelson, Kaslo, the Slocan Valley, Grand Forks and Salmo. The company has gone from a Shell Canada agent to an independent supplier of fuel, lubricants, pumps, tanks and other equipment. Benson Oil Plus, a full-service fuel station in downtown Castlegar, is also attached to the Benson brand; it has been owned and managed, though, for the past 30 years by another West Kootenay family.
Moving with the times
Although there have been ups and downs in the industry, Benson said the company has adapted well.
“We’ve gotten larger when we’ve had to get larger and we’ve gotten smaller when we’ve had to get smaller,” said Benson, “but it’s a family-run business and we’ve been lucky enough to have some longer-term employees. They become like family.”
And just like a family unit, Benson works to keep the lines of communication with employees wide open.
“If someone has a problem, they come right into the office and tell me,” he said.
It’s the same with customers.
“We’re really relationship driven,” said Benson. “We’ve got some customers that have dealt with my dad for years and years. And there are people I meet along the way who used to deal with my grandfather.”
Benson never knew his grandfather, and hearing customers share the occasional story about him is a way of bringing back the past.
“It’s kind of neat there’s a relationship that started with him and that has lasted all this time,” he said, “and it kind of brings us all together in a way.”
Organic business growth
Like any businessman, Benson is looking for areas in which the company can grow. His philosophy, however, is based more on building the company’s current assets rather than obtaining new ones.
“We want it to grow organically,” said Benson. “We’re not looking for the next opportunity to expand into a 100-person (company). We’re looking for consistency and sustainability.”
It’s a simple philosophy, but one that probably originated with his grandfather.
“Everybody is driven, and sometimes you are not satisfied with the status quo, but the first thing is to maintain the level of service we have and grow from that,” said Benson. "I definitely think the temptation is there to jump at every opportunity—grow, grow, grow and worry about the fallout later—but it’s definitely not what my dad was about and not what I envision either. Just carry on the way we have and use that to generate growth in itself.”