Manufacturing

Crystal Flash buys Monroe fuel business

It’s the sixth and largest deal for CF in the past 18 months.

August 9, 2013
| By Pete Daly |
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Grand Rapids-based fuel distribution company Crystal Flash has expanded again, this time farther into southeast Michigan, with its largest acquisition to date: C. Barron & Sons Inc. in Monroe.

The deal will bring more than 2,000 new customers, 28 new employees and four new locations to Crystal Flash. The transaction, which closed in late July, is the sixth acquisition for Crystal Flash in the past 18 months and will allow the company to expand its product lines, customer base and geographic reach.

The acquisition is a direct result of a targeted growth strategy supported by The Charter Group, a Grand Rapids firm that serves as merger and acquisition advisor to Crystal Flash.

Dave Montgomery, CF vice president of operations, said the company is now “probably the largest independent (fuel distributor) in the state of Michigan, and that would be on the retail end-user side of the business.”

Family owned and operated for more than 60 years, Barron provides fuel transportation services to retail and commercial customers throughout Michigan and in northern Ohio. Barron carries a full line of fuel products, lubricants and diesel exhaust fluids, or DEFs, which are used to help remove emissions in the exhaust.

The transaction is expected to be immediately accretive to earnings. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

“We are delighted to welcome C. Barron & Sons to the Crystal Flash family,” said Crystal Flash President Tom Fehsenfeld. “Tom, Paul and Patty have done an exceptional job of growing the business that their family started in 1949. Their commitment to customers and strong focus on providing excellent service dovetails extremely well with our business philosophy.

“The addition of Barron not only strengthens our footprint in Michigan, it gives us an entrée into northern Ohio and allows us to better serve several new areas in the Great Lakes states. We continue to look for opportunities to add new companies and to grow Crystal Flash,” added Fehsenfeld.

Headquartered at 87 Jerome St. in Monroe, Barron also has facilities in Ypsilanti and Toledo. A significant player in the Michigan/Ohio fuel market, Barron annually distributes 6 million gallons from its transports, 5 million gallons via its tanker fleet, and 1.5 million gallons through seven Pacific Pride fuel locations. Additionally, the company hauls 40 million gallons under contract each year.

Barron distributes a wide variety of products, including engine and hydraulic oils, transmission fluids, grease and gear lubricants, anti-freeze and industrial oils.

Brothers Tom and Paul Barron, who have led the company, will move into senior consulting roles with Crystal Flash to ensure a smooth transition. Their sister, Patty Arnold, will retire from her role in human resources when the transition takes place.

“Barron is extremely pleased to join Crystal Flash,” said Paul Barron, president of Barron. “Over the past three generations, our family has worked to build a strong company committed to providing the best products and services to our customers. We are convinced that this tradition will continue under our new ownership, which was critical to me and my family.”

Since January 2012, with the support of The Charter Group M&A advisors, Crystal Flash has also acquired the following Michigan companies: Drakes Fuel Service in Schoolcraft, Elliott Gas & Oil in Gladwin, Leelanau Propane in Northport, Heartland Propane in Hart and C.A. Murphy in Sturgis.

Montgomery said The Charter Group “has been really good at helping us with this.”

Crystal Flash is a third-generation family-owned energy distribution company focused on commercial and residential customers in Michigan. Established in 1932, Crystal Flash has grown as the demand for energy has evolved, and concentrates on the sale and distribution of propane, diesel and other fuels. The company is one of the largest independently owned energy suppliers in the state with more than 250 employees in 14 locations.

Montgomery said it has a fleet of about 120 tank wagons and transport trucks.

When asked about gasoline supply and prices at the pump, Montgomery declined to make any predictions, noting that it is “awful tough to tell what the future is going to bring.”

“Supply is in pretty decent shape right now, but that can turn on a dime,” he said.

The big increase in horizontal or “directional” drilling in shale formations has produced a lot of fuel — so the U.S. is now a net exporter of propane products.

In January, Crystal Flash entered the propane market in a major way as  the exclusive Michigan dealer for Alliance AutoGas, which is active throughout North America. Alliance markets liquified petroleum gas, also known as liquid propane, for vehicles. Also called autogas by the industry, the fuel has been growing in popularity in Europe as a “greener” engine fuel that burns much cleaner and costs less than gasoline.

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