After Selling Retail Side, Baltus Oil Company Reaches for 100 Year Milestone
Marshfield, WI (OnFocus) Locally owned Baltus Oil Company has come full circle and is still going strong after a rapid series of changes in the past year.
Last fall, the over 90-year-old business announced it was selling its eight Central Wisconsin convenience stores to Riiser Fuels Holdings and its automotive service business, Baltus Express Lube, to Schierl Tire and Service.
Company president John Baltus continues to operate the company’s wholesale oil distributorship, which still supplies to its former Bread & Butter Shops and its commercial, industrial and agriculture customers.
After transitioning from 130 employees in multiple communities to just 4 — three drivers and an office manager — the pace of everyday operations has changed considerably.
“That’s the biggest change, not having the retail side of the business,” Baltus said, who represents the third generation of the family-owned business.
One year ago, Baltus was looking forward to the grand re-opening of a newly remodeled, state-of-the-art car wash in Marshfield and turned down Riiser several times when approached about selling the convenience store arm of the business.
“I was just going full steam ahead, doing what I was doing, and continuing to grow,” he said. “We were actually looking at more stores to acquire.”
While the business now focuses on fuel distribution, this direction isn’t new but treads on the path laid by his father Vern, who began delivering home heating and bulk drum oil to customers in the 1960s.
“The company basically has reverted back to that of a small fuel wholesale oil distributorship. Even though we have way more volume than he did, what we’re doing now is basically what he did back then,” Baltus said.
The company’s survival over nine decades can be attributed to a willingness to adapt to changes in the industry. Baltus Oil Company began in 1927 with Baltus’s grandfather Frank, who operated a service station and a car wash on the corner of 1st St., and Chestnut Ave, which was later relocated in 1961 to the corner of 5th Street and Chestnut Ave., where the company office is now.
“We were full service stations that would pump the fuel for the customers and do the windshield, check the oil and tires on every vehicle — and that’s how the operation ran,” Baltus said.
At that location, Vern added the first full-service car wash in Marshfield. In 1969, he opened Baltus Tire and Service Center on 2nd Street and Chestnut Ave, later building one of the first self-service stations on that site.
The auto service industry experienced a metamorphosis with the rapid popularity of convenience stores. Baltus joined the company with his brothers in the early 1980s and managed its growth in the direction of retail.
“Corners that had automotive service station now had motors basically boarding up the service bays in a service station with brick and mortar and putting in shelving and loaves of bread, coffee, and milk,” he said.
In the early 1980s, Baltus Oil Company built five convenience stores in Marshfield, Stratford, and Wisconsin Rapids. The next few decades were marked by rapid growth. Three additional convenience stores opened in the 1990s, a decade which saw a new trend of leasing out space to franchisees like Subway. Baltus became president of the company in 1993.
The business would add additional car washes, laundromats, and Marshfield’s first pet wash. In 2011, it acquired a BP station in Nekoosa, which included a McDonald’s restaurant and car wash.
While the company is no longer in the retail business, Baltus remains heavily involved involved in the Wisconsin Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association and serves as a board member representing Wisconsin in the Petroleum Marketers Association of America.
With his remaining free time, he plans to do more world traveling, which wasn’t feasible during the busy day-to-day of operating multiple convenience stores. He knows his small staff, with its decades of experience in the company, are able to manage things whenever he’s away.
“The staff I have here does a wonderful job,” he said. “We’ve got a very seasoned staff that who knows how to operate things so I can leave and feel comfortable that the customer is being taken care of.”
Despite the changes in the operation, Baltus doesn’t have any intention of doing anything major with the company, and hopes to reach another milestone.
“I’d like to see us hit 100 years,” he said. “God willing, that’s where we’ll be.”