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Family-owned Belle Vernon company fuels a history of growth

| Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
John Durkin of Monessen a tank wagon driver for Source One Transportation through the Guttman Group in Belle Vernon, performs a pre-trip inspection on Friday, October 12, 2012. 
Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
John Durkin of Monessen a tank wagon driver for Source One Transportation through the Guttman Group in Belle Vernon, performs a pre-trip inspection on Friday, October 12, 2012. Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
John Durkin of Monessen a tank wagon driver for Source One Transportation through the Guttman Group in Belle Vernon, performs a pre-trip inspection on Friday, October 12, 2012. 
Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
John Durkin of Monessen a tank wagon driver for Source One Transportation through the Guttman Group in Belle Vernon, performs a pre-trip inspection on Friday, October 12, 2012. Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
Gary D. Smelko, executive vice president of marketing for Guttman Oil in Belle Vernon speaks to a Trib reporter on Friday, October 12, 2012. 
Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
Gary D. Smelko, executive vice president of marketing for Guttman Oil in Belle Vernon speaks to a Trib reporter on Friday, October 12, 2012. Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
Richard M. Guttman, president of Guttman Oil in Belle Vernon speaks to a Trib reporter on Friday, October 12, 2012. 
Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
Richard M. Guttman, president of Guttman Oil in Belle Vernon speaks to a Trib reporter on Friday, October 12, 2012. Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
John Durkin of Monessen a tank wagon driver for Source One Transportation through the Guttman Group in Belle Vernon, performs a pre-trip inspection on Friday, October 12, 2012. 
Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
John Durkin of Monessen a tank wagon driver for Source One Transportation through the Guttman Group in Belle Vernon, performs a pre-trip inspection on Friday, October 12, 2012. Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review

A Belle Vernon-based petroleum distributor has come a long way from a single gas station in McKeesport in 1931.

The family-owned Guttman Group — parent to three companies involved in sales, delivery and storage of gasoline, diesel and other petroleum products — grew to more than $3 billion in annual sales last year.

It did so by paying attention to industry trends and not hesitating to quit a business for a better opportunity, said Richard Guttman, president of oil distribution and transportation and one of three grandsons of founder Jacob Guttman who run the company.

Over the years, Guttman Group moved in and out of several businesses, including auto parts and welding supply, river towing and barge transportation. Its chain of gas stations and convenience stores, begun in the 1980s as Crossroads Food Marts, became GetGo in 2002 in a joint venture with Giant Eagle Inc. Guttman later sold its share to Giant Eagle.

“We're not married to one industry,” Richard Guttman said. “It's about looking forward to see where the trends are.”

Today, opportunity lies with serving companies drilling for natural gas in Western Pennsylvania's Marcellus shale. Guttman counts more than 100 customers in the industry, spokesman David Robinson said.

“All these customers are coming into our backyard, and they need diesel fuel,” said Gary Smelko, executive vice president of marketing. Drillers use the fuel in drilling rigs and trucks, and need a company that can safely deliver it so that operations don't halt, he said.

Guttman Oil Co., the fuel sales and management arm, has customers in 13 states. It's a largely unseen business to the average person but an essential link in the supply chain that keeps big rigs and cars on roads.

The company buys 25,000 barrels or more of fuel at a time from refining markets in Chicago, New York and the Gulf Coast, and stores it for delivery in leased terminals around the eastern United States or in one of three terminals that Guttman's Bulk Terminal Storage subsidiary owns. The terminals are in Belle Vernon, Star City, W.Va., and Aurora, Ohio.

Guttman's Source One Transportation subsidiary delivers fuel. Its fleet of gasoline tanker trucks deliver to GetGo, Citgo and other retailers.

By purchasing in large quantities, Guttman gets a better price, Smelko said.

Its commercial customers primarily are trucking, mining and construction companies. The company becomes “the in-house fuel department” for many customers by managing their inventory and providing a credit card for use at a national network of fueling stations, Guttman said.

Guttman supplies other distributors, or wholesalers, who sell gasoline and diesel to service stations. And it sells directly to gas stations, including its biggest customer — Giant Eagle and its more than 170 GetGo stations.

“We value Guttman's commitment to working with us to ensure a steady fuel supply and competitive prices for our customers,” Giant Eagle spokesman Dick Roberts said.

Though any company in the petroleum business must consider a shrinking market, as vehicles become more fuel efficient and Americans drive less to save money, Guttman is determined to continue growing. About 160 of its 296 workers live in Western Pennsylvania.

“We have invested and continue to invest in hiring really good people and training them,” Guttman said. “... To grow, you have to have talent.”

Alex Nixon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7928 or anixon@tribweb.com.

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