Maybe Not Today Maybe Not Tomorrow But Soon

June 5, 2002
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NORTON SHORES — Of all the gas pumps, in all the towns, in all the world — they chose Tom Thompson’s.

Now, after providing the fuel pumps last summer for a first-of-its-kind turnkey station at the Casablanca International Airport in Morocco, Thompson’s Norton Shores firm is about to do significantly more business in North Africa, as it expands its global reach even further.

Bennett Pump Co., a subsidiary of the Hines Corp. in Muskegon, has formed a joint venture with the Somepi Group, a Moroccan energy distribution company, to build and refurbish gas stations in North Africa. Bennett Pump Co. will provide fuel pumps to the joint venture, known as Petro-Environ, that comply with new environmental regulations.

The Moroccan venture holds enormous potential for Bennett in the French-speaking North African market. Bennett, which already generates 70 percent of its annual revenues through offshore sales, now builds and sells more than 5,000 mechanical and electronic fuel pumps a year worldwide. Through Petro-Environ, it stands to sell between 3,000 and 5,000 pumps in the North African region alone over the next five to seven years.

“It could grow the business for us nicely,” said Thompson, the company’s president.

Petro-Environ will develop additional turnkey stations in North Africa for use by fuel distributors, then work with existing gas stations that need to comply with current environmental standards.

Founded in 1919, Bennett Pump Co. produces complete fuel pumps, pump units and related components.

The deal with the Somepi Group is one of two major foreign ventures that Bennett Pump Co. is launching this year.

The company last week signed a deal with a Chinese firm, Zhejiang Datian Machine Co., to produce fuel meters and pump units, and eventually complete fuel pumps tailored to the Asian market. Under terms of the Chinese joint venture, the new Bennett Shanghai Machine Co. will open a manufacturing plant in Shanghai, China, to produce pumps for sale throughout Asia, Thompson said.

The two joint ventures potentially could double Bennett Pump’s business and together will enable the company to better compete in fiercely competitive markets, said Tom Doyal, vice president of business development at Hines Corp. Producing pumps in Morocco and China dramatically reduces the cost of manufacturing pumps and shipping them to customers in the North African and Asian markets, Doyal said.

“All of a sudden our cost structure lines up with the cost structure of our competitors in those markets,” he said.

Producing fuel pumps for markets all over the world does have its challenges. In North Africa, for example, pumps need to withstand the hot desert temperatures and blowing sand that gets into everything. In Siberia, pumps need to stand up to temperatures that fall to 40 degrees below zero.

There’s also the varying fuel standards in the countries in which Bennett does business, Thompson said.

“Gasoline isn’t gasoline all over the world,” he said.

Despite those challenges, Thompson wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We just don’t think about borders,” Thompson said. “I just couldn’t imagine doing business anymore in a small area.”

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