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Petro West. Inc.

When we think of petroleum, most of us visualize gas stations, places to fill up our cars, drive away and continue with our lives. Things like tuna, eyewash or antidepressants don’t come to mind immediately. That was the problem Robin González, founder of Petro West, faced for 11 years when he worked for Shell Petroleum in Puerto Rico. He wanted the petroleum giants to serve the industrial community in the island and could not convince anyone to take that route.

González knew there was a market serving the industrial community of Puerto Rico that wasn’t being addressed by the petroleum companies. Fortunately, he wasn’t able to convince Shell to deviate from its gas station focus, which forced him to quit his job and take care of business himself.

In 1980, González founded Petro West, focusing on serving the demands for fuel and lubricants from the industrial community in Puerto Rico. His clients range from construction companies and pharmaceuticals manufacturers like Pfizer and Bausch & Lomb, to tuna canning factories and electricity providers.

Personal Touch

According to González, Petro West owes its success to personal attention. “I personally went and visited every client regularly and helped them solve any problem they had,” González remembers. “That personal attention garnered me the trust of the industrial community. I am available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If a client calls on a Sunday at 3 in the afternoon, I take care of him or her without hesitation.”

The wholesale petroleum company strives to solve its clients’ problems as quickly and efficiently as possible, but it also tries to figure out ways to reduce its customer’s expenses with high-quality, low fuel cost alternatives.

“We do a thorough study of the needs of the client and the way they utilize the fuel,” González explains. “We then submit a proposal, giving them the best quality at the lowest possible price.”

Another way Petro West saves its clients money is by extending any savings in fuel the company is able to secure. “We are always looking to see what is going on in the global oil markets,” González explains. “Sometimes we find boats in the area wanting to sell 100,000 barrels of crude for a good price. We buy the entire contents and secure a low price for the next three months,” he explains, “those savings are automatically extended to our clients, always.”

Puerto Rico Electrical Authority, the island’s major electrical provider, is one of Petro West’s main clients. Petro West serves this customer directly by boat at its facilities in San Juan and Ponce. The company also serves 70 percent of the pharmaceuticals industry in the area, several construction companies and many other companies in need of fuel and lubricants.

Growth and Expansion

Petro West’s success has required it to expand its facilities to a new location in Hormigueros, Puerto Rico, a half-hour southeast of its current headquarters in Mayagüez. Petro West expects to occupy its new 400,000-square-foot facility, which includes 98,000 square feet of office space, by October 2012.

“We have invested $5 million dollars in a large facility where we will be able to host our offices, warehouse and fuel tanks in one location,” González explains.

Getting to this point was not easy. “It was tough to secure financing to start the company,” González says. “Shell helped me the first couple of years, but then we had to go to the banks.

“The problem with the banks was that their board of directors didn’t understand how the fuel industry worked,” he says. “We were lucky to be able to convince them to back us up and today we are in a very strong, solid position.”

Petro West has used its strong financial position to help out its clients. “With the recession, we had a lot of clients that found themselves in difficult financial situations and came to us  asking for longer lead times to settle their debt with us,” González explains. “Our solvent situation enable us to look at each case individually and adjust the payments for those clients that we knew had a solid financial strategy.”

Petro West appears to be in a solid position. After starting operations out of a small wooden house and earning $15 million in revenue the first year, the company is currently one of the top-400 Puerto Rican companies, according to an article published in 2011 by the island newspaper Caribbean Business.

González is optimistic about the future of his company “We are looking at the future with tremendous enthusiasm,” he says. “We were able to overcome the world economic crisis. We have made the necessary adjustments to keep growing and we are ready for the future.” 

Since it was founded, Petro West’s revenue is $1.6 billion and it plans to continue growing and expanding its services, going full circle with plans to go into, of all things, full-service gas stations.

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