BRIDGEWATER, Mass. - Paul DeLaiarro is a proud man. He knows these are tough times for people who depend on oil for their home heating systems. The cost of home heating oil is stretching many customers to the outer limits of their monthly budgets. But he is loyal to the industry he serves and does what he can to serve his customers in anyway he can - be it by keeping their equipment in top-notch condition or suggesting ways to cope with the high cost of energy.
The owner of Johnny’s Oil Company/Paul’s Heating Service, located 30 miles south of Boston, has been servicing oil heat equipment for 20 years and last year began selling oil to supplement his business. He recently spoke withThe NEWSand expressed his empathy for customers facing uncertain oil prices.
“With the price of oil at an all-time high, we have been advising our customers to get smaller deliveries, instead of 150 gallons, go with 100 gallons,” DeLaiarro said. “Eventually, if the oil is not selling, the price should come down, based upon supply and demand; although it has not acted that way this spring and summer. As an oil dealer, we are a transportation company for our customers, but we only have control of our margin of profit less our expenses, not the actual price of the product at the wholesale level.”
To get to his current position as owner of the oil service and retail business, DeLaiarro started out as a part-time worker, using his pick-up truck as his traveling office.
HUMBLE BEGINNINGS“I began a small heating and service company called Paul’s Heating Service shortly after I received my oil burner license from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1987,” he said. “I began performing service calls for oil companies in the Boston area after 5 p.m., after my regular work day in a heating supply house. I found that most people come home from work and required someone to fix their heating systems, and we were filling a void at that time in the oil industry because of the lack of people doing the work back then.
“I started out small, working for myself and one or two larger oil companies who needed someone to perform night service. I worked out of my Ford Ranger with a toolbox, a burner, and controls - and I made a nice niche. I would work all night if necessary and could usually get to work the next day without being late.”
DeLaiarro continued to work in the oil heat trade because of his loyalty to the profession that gave him his education and his experience. After asking for and not receiving a raise at his day job, he lined up two weeks of service and gave his notice. His career as a full-time business owner had officially begun in 2000.
“We worked tirelessly at promoting Paul’s Heating Service to many oil companies and our customers, and we gained a honest reputation for quality work at a moment’s notice, which we still perform every day,” he said. His entrepreneurial spirit took him in another direction last year.
SELLING OIL“We were approached by my cousins, John and Paul Coluntuoni, in August of 2006,” said DeLaiarro. “They had been utilizing our heating services for their small family oil company - Johnny’s Oil - that my Uncle John started in 1973. They operate a large construction company and a remediation company. Oil sales were their winter business, which was difficult to run because their construction operation was growing fast.”
DeLaiarro and his wife, Liz, were exploring options of various retirement programs around that time and hadn’t given a lot of thought to staying in the oil heat business. Some of their options included investing in real estate and stock. But when their cousins called them with an offer to purchase their small oil business, they looked at each other and said, “We can do this.” It helped that the DeLaiarros knew what they were getting themselves into, which made the risk a little more comfortable.
“Fortunately, our cousins gave us help and guidance with the operations and the sale of their business, otherwise we would not be where we are today,” DeLaiarro said.
“We have taken a small service company and through long hours and years of work, we were given an opportunity to purchase this oil company. We still look forward to retirement but we also look forward to many more years of hard work.”
STAYING COMPETITIVEDeLaiarro said there are many oil companies in his area and the ratio of homes heated by oil versus other fuels is about 50-50. He knows he could market the business and grow it bigger but he prefers to keep his customer base at a manageable level so he can provide the best customer service possible.
“We have a certain margin to make money and we are not excessive because we are a discount fuel company,” DeLaiarro said. “We believe in giving consumers a choice. If we are not a good deal, then we have to give great service - which we do. We don’t want to be a huge company - maybe 200-300 automatic delivery customers. That is a lot of people to service and deliver to with pride and consistency.”
Part of DeLaiarro’s service includes ways to save his customers money in their monthly fuel budgets. He has been installing an oil tank monitoring system called Visi-tank, which allows his company to monitor a customer’s fuel usage in real time.
Their tanks are monitored every day by DeLaiarro or his wife to ensure delivery when the customer needs it; instead of the “degree-day system” which he said, “is somewhat accurate but does not account for pool heaters, odd usage, etc. This saves us time and money delivering to our customers because we know where we need to be. Our entire automatic customer base is on this monitoring system. We think it is the way to bring our industry into the computer age.”
DeLaiarro knows that the image of oil heat is dirty, and he does what he can to change that perception. “We encourage our people to wear clean uniforms, which reflects our philosophy and that of the manufacturers of equipment we service, like Buderus and Viessman boilers, Kerr furnaces, and Riello oil burners. These are products and companies that are pushing the cleanliness of our industry.
“Better combustion means cleaner equipment and less time to service and repair. In addition, we do our best to ensure that our trucks and equipment are well-maintained to look well and perform well.”
DeLaiarro believes the oil heat trade should use television commercials to promote itself and hopes to soon have a Web page to promote his own business. He acknowledged that business has been up and down in 2007 but the phones began ringing in September and he thinks he has “found the answer to the slow summer.”