The history of American business is littered with the names of extinct companies that were founded on a good idea with worthwhile products and services on offer. When these companies failed, it was usually because either the right people weren’t put in place to execute the corporate plan, adjustments were not made to shifting market dynamics, or the commitment to the customer was lost somewhere along the way.
As it approaches 75 years of faithfully serving the Boston home-heating market, James Devaney Fuel Co. has continued to grow and meet the needs of its customers by adhering to these bedrock principles of business success that can often get lost in the shuffle.
‘One thing that sets us apart is that we’ve grown this business and we have great employees, and without all of their hard work and energy we wouldn’t have been able to grow this business to where it is today. We really have a great team here,” said James W. Devaney, owner and president of James Devaney Fuel Co.
A History of Service
Devaney would know. He is the grandson of Joseph Devaney, who founded the company in 1934 as a range oil (kerosene similar to No. 1 heating oil used for space heating), coal, coke, kerosene and ice supplier to the Boston market. Since those humble beginnings, Devaney Fuel has evolved into a full-service oilheat, air-conditioning and equipment services provider to more than 21,000 residential and commercial customers spread over 130 different communities throughout metropolitan Boston, as far west as Worcester, Mass., and down into Rhode Island.
After having as few as two delivery/service trucks on the road in the 1960s, Devaney Fuel now has a rolling fleet of 37 delivery trucks ‘ which delivered in excess of 35 million gallons in 2007 ‘ and more than 60 service/installation vans.
But in the midst of this seven-plus decades of growth, one thing has remained constant: the Devaney name at the top of the corporate structure. Joseph Devaney operated the company until 1945, when he handed the reins over to his son, James Devaney. He operated the company until his retirement in 1988 when his son, James W. Devaney, who had joined the company in 1965, took command.
The Centrist View
As the company continued to grow over the years, Devaney knew that creating a business model that continued to put the utmost importance on the needs of the customer base would be the top priority, so a plan was put into motion to centralize the operations, no matter how much the business would expand. With that in mind, Devaney Fuel, which lists its corporate headquarters as Newton, Mass., a suburb just west of Boston, operates a bulk-fuel terminal in nearby Dedham, Mass., from where the daily delivery operations are run. The company also has two maintenance garages in Dedham where all equipment repair is done in-house.
‘At the terminal in Dedham, we park the trucks and store the fuel,” explained Devaney. ‘We have two garages with four full-time mechanics that service all of the equipment. We have supply connections with every fuel terminal in the area.”
Centralizing the operations like this helps eliminate all of the potential snafus that can arise if the facilities were spread over a wider area.
‘We do have the benefit of having everything dispatched out of Dedham with everything computerized and no satellite offices,” said Bob Duffy, sales manager for Devaney Fuel. ‘With four mechanics in place, they make sure that everything is ready to go every morning. That’s been a real benefit and that’s why the company has been able to grow as it has.”
Of course, the lifeblood of any fuel-delivery company is its rolling stock, specifically its reliability in getting product to customers in a timely manner. The importance of reliability is increased tenfold when the area of operation is New England, which is prone to harsh winters that can feature many days of sub-zero temperatures and traffic-crippling snowfalls.
‘In cold-weather operations, we need products that are reliable, not something that’s sitting in the shop when it needs to be on the road,” said Duffy.
To that end, the management at Devaney Fuel tends to be loyal to the products that keep its business rolling. That means that most of the fuel-delivery truck chassis are Peterbilt or Volvo, while Boston Steel and Mfg. Co manufactured 36 of the 37 oil tanks currently in use. When it comes to pumping components on the trucks, Devaney Fuel has turned to Blackmer, Grand Rapids, Mich., for the past 20 years, through its longtime supplier, Hall-Trask Equipment Co. of Braintree, Mass.
In fact, Devaney Fuel just bought two new Peterbilts, a six-wheeler for residential deliveries and a 10-wheeler for its commercial business, both of which are outfitted with Blackmer pumps. (As an aside, while all of Devaney Fuel’s delivery trucks and service vans are painted in the company’s eye-catching green-and-gold color scheme, the new six-wheeler is in the process of being painted pink and white in support of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation. A portion of the truck’s fuel sales will be donated to the fight against breast cancer; Devaney expects the truck to be on the road in March.)
Equipped to Succeed
The majority of Devaney Fuel’s delivery trucks are equipped with Blackmer’s TXD2.5A Series (2.5-inch) sliding vane transport pumps, while some of the trucks used for commercial deliveries have the larger TXD3E (3-inch) pump. TXD Series pumps have been specifically designed for use in truck-mounted applications for the delivery of petroleum-based products, including fuel oil and diesel.
With flow rates from 26 to 157 gallons per minute and pressures up to 125 psi, TXD2.5A pumps offer fast, quiet, trouble-free operation thanks to Blackmer’s renowned sliding vane operating technology, which compensates for normal wear in the pumping chamber, ensuring like-new performance throughout the life of the product, while the higher pumping capacities at lower speeds (up to 780 rpm for the TXD2.5A) also increase service life.
‘We like the TXD because the motor doesn’t rev when you want to increase the pumping speed, making it smoother and quieter to operate,” said Bob Saulnier, a mechanic at Devaney Fuel’s Dedham garage. ‘Serviceability is also very easy. They’re very easy to rebuild, very simple to operate; as long as you keep them lubricated, they work fine.”
In addition, the pumps can run dry for self-priming and line-stripping duties, critical features for pumping equipment that is used in severe weather conditions. Adjustable relief valves also protect the pumps from excessive pressure, while the optional air-operated relief valve offers easy hose and nozzle handling.
‘We have no problem at all with cold weather as long as you put alcohol in with the oil when it goes below 20 degrees so the pump won’t freeze,” added Steve Burt, another Devaney Fuel mechanic.
Moving On Up
With its corporate business plan honed to a fine edge, Devaney Fuel continues to grow through a series of well-thought-out acquisitions ‘ ‘We pursue the ones that fit our needs,” Devaney said.
Over the years, that has meant a total of 32 acquisitions, with the biggest one coming in late 2006. Hughes Oil was once one of Devaney Fuel’s biggest competitors, but in October of that year, the two former combatants completed merger, in the process greatly expanding Devaney Fuel’s customer base.
‘Hughes Oil is almost like a sister company to us,” said Devaney. ‘What they did well, we did well. They used the same accounting firm, the same computer firm, had the same commitment to the customer in terms of going to all lengths to make sure the customer is happy, had a similar customer base, dependable service and reliability.”
Devaney Fuel prepared for the eventual merger with Hughes Oil by moving into a new 27,000-square-foot corporate headquarters in April 2005, which is complete with a state-of-the-art training facility for service technicians. The service part of the business has grown to be able to handle any size installation, whether a small residential or huge commercial job. Even the service end of things has been refined to remove as many moving parts as possible with Devaney Fuel now supplying its own in-house electricians and welders for installations, eliminating the need for subcontractors.
The company has also started a natural gas and electricity division and has looked into the possibility of offering biodiesel. But, true to its roots, Devaney Fuel will not begin to deliver biodiesel until it is sure that adequate supply exists for the company to offer it to all of its customers, not just small pockets.
This commitment to honoring its past while looking forward to a bright future has helped Devaney Fuel avoid the pitfalls that have plagued so many other companies.
Scott Jackson is a Product Manager for Blackmer, Grand Rapids, Mich. He can be reached at (616) 248-9218 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on Blackmer’s full line of sliding vane pumps, please go to www.blackmer.com or call (616) 241-1611.