Friday, February 10, 2012

Estes Oil Celebrates Fifty Years

By Larry Favinger

Staff Columnist


Fifty years ago, the late Clarence Estes worked out a deal with two local oil companies to handle their burner repair work, thus establishing Estes Oil Burner Service.

“That’s how Estes Oil Company started,” Michael Estes, Clarence’s son and now president of the businesses, said early this week, sitting in his office at its Route 1 building.

Now, 50 years later, the business is in its third generation, employs 17 fulltime people, has five oil delivery trucks, two propane trucks and covers an area that includes the Seacoast of New Hampshire to Kennebunk and Sanford.

Michael Estes, flanked by his daughter, Kate (Estes) Cavanagh, the company’s service manager, said the company now services approximately 5,000 people.

Company growth has been steady over the years. Estes Oil bought their first oil truck in 1981 and its initial propane truck in 2005.

Michael said the business has grown from about $50,000 at the start to over $10 million at its high point. “When we took this company on I probably had a base of 50 or 60 customers that signed on for oil with us.”

As a teenager Michael worked with his father, but decided it was “not something I’d be interested in” once out of school. Upon graduating from York High School he went to work for Watts Regulator.

But in January of 1987 he joined his Dad and six months later they bought their first truck.

Two years later they hired their first employee and the rest, as they say, is history.

Kate’s entry into the business was a bit like her Dad’s, in that she wasn’t interested when graduating from York High School. She went to the University of Vermont to study to be a physical therapist.

“Two years into school I realized I didn’t like blood and I didn’t want to be a doctor and changed my major,” Kate said. She graduated from UVM with a major in mathematics and a minor in business.

Upon graduation, she said, “I was still on the fence” and went to work for a catering company for about six months. But when her Dad came to her and said he had a place for her, she thought she’d “give it a whirl.” She’s been with the company since 2009.

Over the years, Michael said, “We’ve tried to stay a full service oil company. I like to tell people I built this company from the basement. I mean I went in and fixed your burner, put in your heat.”

The business was also built on one-on-one service.

“There was a time when I could answer the phone and 90 percent of the people would tell me their name and I could drive to their house,” he said.

Kate said there’s a lot of training involved in the business and it, unlike many others, is really a generational business. “It’s really a family affair here,” she said, noting her mother, Terry, is a secretary/treasurer.

Over the years Michael has been active in town affairs, having served with many civic groups including the School Committee, Board of Selectmen, Planning Board, Recreation Committee, and Budget Committee.

Looking down the road as the company moves into its second 50 years, Michael sees more changes in the business with the continued improvement in burners, the inclusion of the bio-fuels and other moves to make burning oil a greener proposition.

“I think our future is strong,” he concluded.