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CSV aviation refuels customer relationships for the long haul

Due north of the sterling sapphire Flathead Lake, where soaring bald eagles dine on native cutthroat trout, there is another local notable that is feeding the thirst for flight across the West.

With a fleet of yellow transport trucks fed by the nation's largest network of aviation supply terminals and refineries, CSV Aviation is fueling aviation operations across 17 states – from the Rockies to the Pacific Northwest, along the California coast, across Texas, through the Corn Belt and Northern Plains. That this Kalispell-homegrown fuel marketer has spread its wings across a third of the country is testament to a belief in building relationships, not just the bottom line.

"With credit to our team, we've taken an approach where we want to be the aviation fuel supplier for the life of a customer's business," explains Ed Croymans, aviation manager for CityServiceValcon, the parent company of CSV Aviation. "We don't look at it as if we're bidding for five years or one. We're bidding for the lifetime of that business."

Some 82 Phillips 66® Aviation-branded dealers rely on CSV for fuel, as do a host of corporate flight departments, aerial applicators, air ambulances, helicopters, regional airlines and airborne firefighters. The range of clients, and its success at extending its reach, is something CSV credits to customer testimonials.

"When you believe, like CSV does, that reputation is the most precious commodity in your business, then you accomplish great things," says Bryan Faria, manager - general aviation, Phillips 66. "They've made it a mission to perform throughout the life of a customer's relationship, whether delivering fuel, leasing refuelers, selling fuel farm parts or teaching quality assurance."

Croymans says CSV lives and dies by its word.

"If we make a mistake, which of course we do, we do backflips to make it right," he says.

And if they don't, then CSV Aviation offers an exit clause that may be unique in the aviation industry.

"Our typical sales agreement for supply is differentiating because the customer has the ability to leave us if we can't satisfy them," states Croymans. "There's a provision where they can exit the contract simply by paying us back a prorated share of any investment we made. We really don't lose customers on that basis."

Leveraging the supply chain

The wholesale aviation landscape has changed dramatically during the past decade. Four major aviation fuel brands have left the market, while consolidation has left its mark. Fuel marketers used to cover territories they worked and represented.

"In the last several years the fences have come down and there's more of a caveman marketing philosophy, where if you can kill it you can eat it, which has been good for us," says Croymans.

CSV signed on with Phillips 66 Aviation in 2002 after representing just about every major oil company. The two companies just extended their contract for 10 years.

"It's a good fit," he says. "The relationship we have with Phillips 66 and the tools we have in the tool chest are better than any we've had in our history."

With some 120 terminals nationwide, the Phillips 66 supply chain gives CSV a logistical advantage no matter where it goes, explains Croymans. CSV also leverages Phillips 66 Aviation's customer management programs, such as credit card point-of-sale systems and co-op funds.

"I really feel like Phillips 66 is behind us, we consider them our friends, and I appreciate their commitment to the industry, to us and to our customers," he says. "From there it's all about CSV's relationships and performance with our customers."

Faria says you just have to ask their FBOs to understand the value CSV places on building relationships.

"CityServiceValcon is good at communications, which I think is important," says Dwight Holman, president of Holman Aviation, a fixed base operator at Montana's Great Falls International Airport (GTF), which has been with CSV for many years. "They are responsive to the needs of FBOs."

Transporting a competitive difference

Owned by two local Kalispell families with roots that go back to the early 1930s, CSV's game has always been petroleum products, selling gasoline, diesel and propane to both residential and industrial users. These days you can find bright yellow CSV Aviation tankers plying the roadways across Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota, the Northern Plains, the Northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest.

"One of the things that make us unique in certain markets is that we operate a common carrier fleet that moves aviation fuel from supply points directly to customers," he says. "We try to bring a competitive advantage with our fleet, in terms of service and fuel quality."

CSV's transport trucks go anywhere, be it a grass airstrip, seaport, a helipad halfway up a mountain – or deep inside a national park fueling firefighting missions.

"Firefighting season can get crazy, and you can't really staff from an equipment and manpower standpoint to cover it off," says Croymans. "We've become known for our ability to shift trucks and resources around a focus on fire support, and then perform where others haven't been able to."

Its drivers, no matter how much transport experience they have, must complete in-house training. That's important, says Croymans, because CSV sells aviation fuel to a variety of customers that don't have the luxury of basing at an FBO, where fuel safety is more ingrained.

"They could have 20 years' experience in trucking fuels, but unless they have aviation fuels experience, they can't transport for us until they've completed our in-house training," explains Croymans.

Technical Ninjas

In addition to offering its own refueler fleet with creative financing for FBOs that want to buy, sell, trade in or lease their trucks, CSV also supplies fuel farm parts, valves, nozzles, hoses and more. But what really makes CSV different, says Croymans, is being a resource where customers can turn for technical know-how and quality assurance best practices.

"We try to shine in the area of technical expertise for fuel farms or refueler trucks," he says. "One of our guys is a technical ninja."

The marketer regularly hosts quality-assurance field training for FBOs – even if they're not customers – with hands-on experience at a fuel farm or refueler operation.

"Quality assurance and safety are crucial to us," Croymans says. "It's one of the things that we believe differentiates us."

Faria says the real difference is CSV's people, whether it's their experienced field reps – who share over 100 years of aviation fuel experience – or their Kalispell team simplifying the complexities of logistics and fuel billing.

"Put simply, CSV walks the talk," he says. "These are people you want to do business with. For as long as you can."

To Croymans and CSV, it comes down to the basics.

"Aviation shrinks geography," he explains. "A guy 1,500 miles away will have a friend that knows you. In this business, you have to work hard to keep your reputation. We just believe throughout the life of our relationship we have to earn their business, day in and day out. That's the bottom line."

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