By Chris Blasinsky
Tiger Fuel Company, which is historically a petroleum distributorship serving Central Virginia and neighboring states, is diversifying its energy offer.
In 2021, the Charlottesville, Virginia-based company acquired a solar company, Altenergy.
The acquisition follows an ongoing collaboration between the two companies that began in 2018, when Tiger Fuel partnered with Altenergy to solar-power two of its gourmet-to-go convenience stores, The Market, to supply more than half of each facility’s electrical needs.
“We founded Tiger on the principle that we would be malleable, welcome change and improve the communities that we serve,” Gordon Sutton, president of Tiger Fuel, said in an interview with NACS. “Our fuel business isn’t going away any time soon, but there is no doubt that the energy landscape is changing.”
So why solar? For Sutton, it as a no-brainer. “We are spending so much money keeping all these wonderful products cool during the summer. And we have the canopy space that’s not doing much, so it just made sense to put that space to work and start providing clean energy that will save us money down the road,” he said.
The idea to invest in solar had been percolating for years, and every six months Sutton would check with friends in the solar business to discuss whether the timing was right for a big move.
“They said if you’re only interested in hugging trees, then you could do it right now. But financially it just doesn’t make sense yet. And about two years ago, I had that same conversation. They said now is your chance and it makes financial sense. With the income tax credit, the efficiency of the panels and the cost of the panels, it made sense to look into it,” he said.
Sutton reached out to Altenergy and received a thorough proforma and projection on what the system would cost Tiger down the road. “The buyback period for the first store was about six or seven years. So, within six or seven years that system will pay for itself and then for the next 25 years and more, that will be free energy."
A Bright Combo
Historically perceived as gasoline providers, convenience stores aren’t often in conversations around solar, but times are changing.
“Solar is a beautiful fit for convenience stores. Utilities are one of the top three costs that convenience stores have all over the country, so generating solar energy helps address that issue,” said Russ Edwards, president of Altenergy, which is being rebranded Tiger Solar.
Edwards echoed Sutton’s thoughts on why solar makes sense for c-stores. “The best thing about solar is there’s a very quick payback for your investment. …Why wouldn’t you want to take advantage of generating electricity on your own property while producing it in a clean and environmentally friendly way?” he said.
For Sutton, finding a solar partner was more than an exercise in financials and operations. It was important to find a company that was a right fit for Tiger’s culture.
“As I worked with Altenergy it was clear that cultural alignment was there, and I felt good about taking a leap into the solar space,” said Sutton, adding that a lot of conversations and initial reactions were expected.
“I think some people were like, ‘We’re being bought by this petroleum-slaying dragon that’s causing the problem we’re trying to solve.’ But after spending time with them and sharing where we are coming from as a company, and that we want to participate in steering folks in this direction, those concerns were addressed comfortably and quickly,” said Sutton.
Edwards agreed that the acquisition of Altenergy by Tiger Fuel was an initial head scratcher, but it also made a lot of sense from a company culture perspective. “The DNA of Altenergy and the DNA of Tiger Fuel and its teams are very similar—extremely people oriented and customer service oriented,” he said.
Tiger Fuel Company was established in August of 1982 with the purchase of an Exxon-branded petroleum distributor in Charlottesville, Virginia. Since then, the company has expanded to convenience stores and car washes and provides home heating oil and propane gas products.
Today, Tiger is Central Virginia’s one of the largest distributors of home heating fuels, which creates an opportunity for solar.
“We’ve been taking care of folks, keeping them warm, helping them cook and heat their water for 40 years. We’ve got that history and track record. Being a trusted provider of energy already, I think we have a unique opportunity to have a conversation with our customer and say solar could be something they could do alongside the things they’re already doing to save money and give them a clean energy source they can be proud of,” said Sutton.
Now that Altenergy—now Tiger Solar—is 100% a part of the Tiger portfolio, the combined teams will focus long term on reducing the company’s carbon footprint. Solar panels will be installed at Tiger’s Markets convenience stores, at four bulk heating plants and on all future real-estate projects."
“I think of us as 100% an energy provider. We have been trusted for years to provide the energy of the past, and now we’re excited about providing the energy of the future,” said Sutton.
Tiger Fuel Company will be featured in the 2021 Ideas 2 Go series, which will make its debut at the NACS Show October 5-8, at McCormick Place in Chicago. Register today to save your spot!
Chris Blasinksy is the content communications strategist at NACS and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.