Killdeer cooperative adapts to change
The oil surge in western North Dakota has spurred an unprecedented amount of growth for the Killdeer Farmers Union Oil Company. According to new general manager Jim Oswalt, it is the opportunity of a lifetime.
Oswalt joined the 77-year-old cooperative last October, moving from Gilette Wy. His past work experience has taught him all about the boom and bust, so common with oil country. He knows the opportunities that await the company in the next few years and is ready to capitalize on it.
“It didn’t take long to know I had the tiger by the tail up here. There is a huge amount of opportunity to service the wells, reach our customers and make this co-op better for our patrons,” Oswalt said.
One of the first things Oswalt did after taking the job was to evaluate products that were currently offered through the cooperative. “We really needed to penetrate the needs of the oil economy right now. We need a bigger, better- located store. It will double our business,” he predicted.
Future plans are already underway with the purchase of land on the corner of Highway 22 and 200, just south of Killdeer. A new building, gas station, hardware store and shop will be built there. New office space is also a priority. In nearby Manning, the local EZ Stop was recently purchased in June. This facility was renamed as “22 Fuel & Repairs” and will be rebranded next spring.
“I couldn’t ask for a better board of directors to work with,” Oswalt said. “They have been very supportive and looking for ways we can improve and expand.”
The customer base has also shifted dramatically, going from mainly farm and ranch customers to industrial and commercial accounts.
However, Oswalt said that customer service would continue to be a focal point for the cooperative. “We need to continue to focus on our customers and what they need. Whether they are a rancher or a commercial business, we want to serve them. This is an exciting time.”
Hiring trained staff and finding housing for employees are two big issues for the Killdeer location, typical problems in oil country. “It’s a huge adjustment when you’re looking at 30 to 40 percent growth every year for the last three years,” Oswalt added. “It’s not easy finding qualified people to work. We have a strong need for people with a commercial driver’s license, hazardous material endorsements and experience hauling propane, gas and sales.”
To help with the sudden sales spikes, accounting software was updated and a controller was hired to help with financial management.
The new store acquisition in Manning should also be a boon for business. “We took over from the previous owner and we were lucky to keep all the employees and the same product lines. We want to keep the autonomy in the same location but bring the resources along to make it a Cenex brand store. We want to bring added services to our customers in Killdeer and now in Manning,” Oswalt concluded.