New owners, old-fashioned service

Aug. 1, 2003
IN 1929, John and Mary Baran were operating a local bus service in Beaver Meadows, Pennsylvania. Almost 50 years later, in 1965, the bus service had given

IN 1929, John and Mary Baran were operating a local bus service in Beaver Meadows, Pennsylvania. Almost 50 years later, in 1965, the bus service had given way to petroleum product distribution under the direction of their sons, Roman, Victor, and Carl.

The sons ran the company, then called Lehigh Gas & Oil, through the next three decades, gradually growing the services and changing the operation to fuel oil, kerosene and diesel delivery, and related services.

Today, the founders' grandsons, Roman Baran Jr and Richard Baran, are the new owners of the company, and oversee deliveries of about 15 million gallons annually to approximately 8,000 customers. They purchased the company in March 2002.

“We really want to concentrate on heating oil, and the service that goes with it,” says the junior Roman, who directs distribution. “But, we also supply some diesel and kerosene.”

R&R Baran Inc reaches out through three companies from Beaver Meadows to Blakeslee, Pennsylvania, about 40 miles away, and to nearby Hazleton, Pennsylvania.

In Beaver Meadows, the brothers operate under Frame Oil, purchased in 1976. The company handling the Blakeslee area is Toby Oil, acquired in 1993, and the Hazleton operation, Barletta Oil, also was acquired in 1993.

“It's difficult to grow a fuel oil company without buying other companies,” says Richard, who handles the customer service end of the business.

Storage tanks

The company operation is a combination of sophisticated marketing strategy based on monitoring the daily product prices and purchasing 75 percent of the fuel by contract and 25 percent at rack price — and a down-home personalized service that sometimes means drawers full of keys that unlock the doors in customers' houses.

The brothers stay away from historical data for pricing, preferring instead to gather information from a DTN Energy Services pricing program, talking to suppliers, and relying heavily on contract purchases.

“The DTN data is one of the most important tools for measuring the market,” says Roman. “It gives us pricing forecasts, daily prices, and weather trends. We know what our margin has to be. That's pretty much the way we determine our pricing structure.”

Frame Oil in Beaver Meadows also supplies commercial accounts that include fuel for generators and other uses in hospitals, utility companies, and one nuclear plant.

Summer residents

A significant number of residential customers in Blakeslee are summer residents, which explains the need for drawers full of keys at the company office.

“A lot of the time, we never see these customers,” says Richard. “They make prior arrangements to pay their bills with a credit card. At some of the homes, we monitor the tanks with a Scully Signal Company Scul-Tell automatic reorder system.”

The Scully system monitors tank level, and can detect and report temperature drops and burner lockout. The software operates with a dedicated call receiver unit. When the Scul-Tel calls into its dedicated computer, it provides unit serial number, customer name, account number, and reorder status of that tank.

Other tanks are filled based on the Vancor Fuel 95 degree-day software system designed for fuel oil distribution. In addition, customers receive service on a will-call basis.

Snow-covered roads

Providing service in Blakeslee requires a good deal of effort since many of the homes are in the Pocono Mountains hidden away on narrow, uphill, winding, and narrow snow-covered roads that can be a challenge to both driver and vehicle. Winter conditions in other service areas aren't much better.

“Around here, we say we have two months of summer,” says Roman, laughing. “It's not unusual to have 10-14 days of zero temperatures during the winter.”

To ameliorate the situation, tankwagons have been specified with ONSPOT of North America automatic tire chain systems. The system allows the driver to automatically apply tire chains by using a switch mounted in the cab. Chains can be applied without stopping the truck — while either going forward or reversing. The system is mounted on the truck suspension.

Although new hires usually are familiar with the weather conditions, they still undergo extensive training under the eye of a veteran. “There's no substitute for experience driving a truck in this area,” says Richard.

Training includes a minimum of two weeks in the cab in addition to standard classroom instruction. They learn about company policies, Department of Transportation regulations, defensive driving, and hazardous materials handling.

In order to keep up with the circuitous routes and various customers, new drivers keep a log with customer names, address locations, and special equipment that may be needed.

All driver schedules are dispatched from the Beaver Meadows office. Motorola cell phones that also provide two-way radio communication are issued to each driver. Seven full-time and four part-time drivers make more than 19,000 deliveries per year. They are assigned to specific tankwagons, and a driver is dedicated to the one company-owned tractor and tank trailer.

R&R has 11 tank trucks that it uses to supply customers. The tankwagons come from various suppliers, including KME Fuel Trucks and Boston Steel and Manufacturing. Volvo and Peterbilt chassis have 2,800-gallon, two- or three-compartment tanks equipped with Scully overfill protection and Scully and EBW Inc vapor control systems. Bottom-loading adapters are from EBW and Civacon. Liquid Controls Inc and Neptune supply meters and registers.

A Freightliner tractor with a Detroit Diesel 470-horsepower engine and Fruehauf 9,200-gallon tank trailer are used to haul almost all of the product supply for the company. The trailer is equipped with Scully vapor control and overfill protection systems and Civacon bottom-loading adapters.

Product is loaded at terminals in Dupont, Macungie, and Sinking Springs, Pennsylvania, and hauled to the locations in Hazleton and Blakeslee where it is stored. Barletta storage capacity totals 60,000 gallons for fuel oil, 10,000 gallons for diesel, and 8,000 gallons for kerosene. At Blakeslee, storage tanks have capacity for 20,000 gallons of fuel oil and 10,000 gallons for kerosene.

A shop in Beaver Meadows handles vehicle repairs. Jim Smith, maintenance supervisor, performs almost all of the preventive maintenance and repairs, excluding work on vessels.

In addition to the operation that supports product delivery is the section that provides repairs services for furnaces, water heaters, and other related residential and commercial customers.

Richard received recognition recently from the National Association of Oil Heating Service Managers for a residential boiler construction project.

All the business sectors today are successful as a result of the company's roots that were planted many years ago by the current owners' grandparents, and the efforts of their father and uncles.

In addition, the grandsons note that their father was always interested in expanding the business and using whatever technology proved beneficial in achieving that objective.

They've taken their forbearers' lessons to heart — and are keeping an eye open for future acquisitions. They plan to continue to push hard for oil heat in new homes going up in the area, and are studying the possibilities for moving into biodiesel distribution. “We have equipment in place that can handle biodiesel, and we've made some contacts,” says Richard. “We're ready.”

About the Author

Mary Davis