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Business Spotlight: Energy Empire

Ozark Mountain Energy reaches $1 billion in revenue, stretching its footprint across the United States

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The beginnings of the Wilmoth family companies date back to 1953 when Dwight Wilmoth opened a two-pump gas station in small-town Mount Vernon.

Since then, the Wilmoth empire has expanded into a $1.5 billion operation with nine companies, including Ozark Mountain Energy Inc., trucking company Petroleum Express Inc., convenience stores and TravelCenters of the Ozarks Inc.

But Ozark Mountain Energy, a wholesale fuel supplier, generates most of the annual revenue. From its headquarters in Mount Vernon, owner Brent Wilmoth says the company operates in 17 states from Nevada to Kentucky, selling gasoline, propane and diesel fuels to retail outlets, trucking companies and other end users.

In the last five years, operations and revenue have grown fivefold, says Brent, son of the late Dwight Wilmoth. He points to a marketing expansion spearheaded by his son, Eric, that has proven successful in the tumultuous oil industry.

“There’s been a lot of expansion in the last five years,” Brent says. “We’re generating an excess of $1 billion in annual revenue.”

Expansion mode
A key to Ozark Mountain Energy’s expansion has been the established relationships with suppliers, which Brent says helped open doors to new markets and client opportunities.

The company works with suppliers such as Phillips 66 Co. (NYSE: PSX), Valero Energy Corp. (NYSE: VLO) and Magellan Midstream Partners LP (NYSE: MMP) and then distributes fuel to retail companies, such as convenience stores, trucking companies and other petroleum distributors.

“We’ve developed strategic alliances with different vendors in our industry,” Brent says, declining to disclose client names.

Eric, who oversees sales and marketing for Ozark Mountain Energy, says he hopes to grow the company’s footprint by another 25% in 2020 with the target on new markets in the Midwest.

“It’s been more of a westward growth – Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Colorado,” Eric says. “We’re just now getting started in St. Louis and the Illinois side of St. Louis, and we’re probably going to expand further into the southeast part of Missouri, and Kentucky, too.”

The company’s most popular product is diesel fuel, Brent says, which comprises 50% of sales. Gasoline is close behind at 45%, and propane is the remainder. Ozark Mountain Energy also sells a small amount of diesel exhaust fluid, which Brent says the 50-employee company recently began exploring.

Though revenue is tied to fluctuating oil prices, Eric says the company is planning another 15% in revenue growth this year.

The aggressive plans come as the industry has been consistently slipping in annual revenue, according to data from research firm IBISWorld. At the same time, the price of crude oil has trended up, according to data tracked by research analyst Macrotrends LLC.

Market uncertainty
Industry revenue dropped between 2015 and 2019 by 31.5%, according to IBISWorld. Meanwhile, the number of competitors in the marketplace grew slightly.

“It’s an extremely competitive environment,” Brent says, declining to cite Ozark Mountain Energy’s direct competitors. “We try to hold ourselves accountable, and we’re accessible 24/7 for our customers.”

Ronald Leone, executive director of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, says Missouri is different from other states because there are no major oil brands – such as Phillips 66 or Shell – with corporate-owned retail locations in the state.

“Because they’re franchisee-based, there’s a high degree of competition at the retail level, which is why you typically see similar prices in a particular market area,” Leone says. “Companies in the industry are working hard to bring the best price to the consumer.”

Fuel prices are determined by the costs of crude oil and refining, as well as state and federal taxes, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Leone says Missouri’s low tax rate and high competition means the in-state prices are generally 10-15 cents below the national average.

Aside from market competition, Eric says the company is directly impacted by supply, demand and international relations.

“In 2019, we traded a range of $45 a barrel to $65 a barrel. Five years ago, crude oil was upwards of $89, and it dropped pretty significantly to the upper $20s,” he says.

In 2015, the global oil supply was 2.8 million barrels per day higher than the year prior, according to International Energy Agency data reported by Reuters. The oversupply was cited to relations and oil production in Libya, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

“The news makes a difference,” Leone says. “A gallon of refined fuel is impacted by the same market forces as stocks on a daily basis, which quickly translates down the food chain to the pump.”

In 2020, crude oil is expected to trade between $59 and $65 a barrel, according to the EIA.

“We try to adapt to the market environment,” Brent says, “and we adapt to our customers’ needs. We’re attentive to that on a daily basis.”

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