Vanderhoof-based Four Rivers Co-op has bought 10 corporate-owned gas stations in northern B.C. along with the fuelling contracts for an additional six Husky dealer-owned franchises.
The acquisition is part of a larger deal that saw Co-op parent company, Federation Co-operative, acquire 171 Husky outlets in Ontario and Western Canada from Cenovus Energy, which amalgamated with Husky in 2021.
Three corporate Husky gas bars in Prince George, two in Williams Lake and single gas bars in 100 Mile House, Quesnel, Burns Lake, Terrace and Kitimat will re-brand as Co-op outlets starting in January.
“That conversion is scheduled to happen throughout the early part of 2023. We’re going to do one site a week once we get started,” said Allan Bieganski, general manager at Four Rivers Co-op, adding that Kitimat and Williams Lake are first-time markets for the Co-op brand of gas bars.
“In all of the other communities we have some sort of operation already, mainly card-lock or petroleum, but in Kitimat and Williams Lake we didn’t have any facilities so we’re really excited about that.”
Bieganski said the Williams Lake fuel station is an important point between 100 Mile and Quesnel.
Co-op members in Terrace, where there is a card-lock, but no gas bar, will once again be able to collect points on convenience store purchases, gas and propane at what is now the Husky station at 4760 Lakelse Ave.
But that won’t necessarily translate to lower gas prices, as Bieganski didn’t express any plans to undercut the competition.
“We don’t have any strategy to be the lowest or the highest we just want to make sure that we’re competitive and offering fair value for the money,” said Bieganski.
“Terrace is the one community where there seems to be prices all over versus every other community, where they always seem to be at the same price.”
While Prince George is a competitive market, it’s also a large one that’s spread over a wide area, Bieganski said. So, new Co-op stations on Central St. West, on Range Road and along the John Hart Highway will mean more options to gas up.
Co-op plans to onboard all the current Husky employees at those locations and will seek to hire more as business grows to offer a full suite of services.
“We’ve had a team going out meeting the dealers, meeting the employees, meeting the managers. There’s been a lot of positive vibes from what I’ve heard so far,” Bieganski said.
“Right now we have about 225 employees and when we finish the conversion we should be well over 300.”
Husky rewards and gift cards will continue until these stations get converted to the Co-op look, at which point Co-op members with $10 investment shares will be able to accumulate toward annual rebates on purchases.
“In the meantime, if it looks like a Husky it will continue to act like a Husky,” Bieganski said.
Four Rivers’ return rates for purchases vary year-to-year depending on profitability, but last year’s allocation rate for petroleum fuels was 4.35 per cent compared to 5 per cent for oil and lubricants.
Convenience store items were at 3.15 per cent with fertilizer at 1.25 per cent return.
Four Rivers recovered from 2020 pandemic losses, up to $258.9 million in 2021, Bieganski noted, and returns for members should grow along with revenues that he expects to approach $320 million.
“With adding these profitable locations to our mix, it should keep our Co-op with strong healthy profits.
“We believe it’s a good long-term strategic move.”
There have been questions about the impacts on business of an increase in electric vehicles and charging stations, but Bieganski said that was accounted for in their feasibility model and demand forecasts.
“There’s still going to be good long-term demand for gas and diesel for the next 40 years. These stations will pay for themselves and the Co-op will get our return back on our investment,” he said.
“With opening up these new Co-op sites we know we’re going to sell a lot more memberships so we expect to grow significantly.”
Dealer-owned franchises include two in Prince George, two in Williams Lake, one in Quesnel and the Keith Ave. Husky in Terrace. Those will continue as independent brands with gas being supplied by Co-op.