By Maura Keller
When you start a business from scratch, you are on your own. Your survival in the business world depends solely on your persistence, organization and know-how. Dennis K. Burke, Inc. (“D.K. Burke”) was founded in South Boston in 1961 by Dennis Burke. His brother, Ed Burke, joined him in running the business several years later.
As Ted Burke—Ed’s son and current President of the company—explains, the business initially focused on steam cleaning meat trailers and providing diesel fuel to long-haul and local trucking companies. As time went on, they purchased a truck to supply diesel fuel to the boxcar and refrigerated trailer markets, which marked the beginning of the company’s commercial fuel business.
In 1980, Ed and Dennis entered the lubricant business and moved the operation from South Boston to Chelsea, Massachusetts.
“The operation continued to grow based upon the service levels they were able to provide, expanding from a local distributor to a large distributor operating across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region,” Burke explained.
Today, the company’s operations are far-reaching. D.K. Burke offers a complete line of services designed to meet the needs of customers, ranging from single truck operators to multi-site organizations with thousands of units. The company currently operates in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland.
With nearly six decades of fuel industry experience, D.K. Burke’s team understands the complexity of fuel marketing and distribution services. As a result of their extensive history and experience, the company is able to offer a wealth of services to the petroleum industry, including:
- Bulk Fuel Delivery: D.K. Burke operates a fleet of 85 power units, with a mix of equipment ranging from 4,500-gallon straight trucks to 12,000-gallon tractor-trailers. “The company’s fleet is 100% company-owned-and-operated, providing direct control of the delivery and enabling us to provide the best service levels in the industry,” Burke said.
- Mobile Refueling: D.K. Burke’s straight trucks are equipped with barcode reading technology to provide specific delivery information by unit to those customers who do not have bulk fuel storage on-site.
- Fleet Cards: D.K. Burke is a member of the Commercial Fuel Network (CFN)/Fuelman Fleet Card Network, enabling the company to provide a solution for customers without bulk storage on-site, and whose operational requirements do not facilitate a scheduled on-site refueling operation.
- Risk Management Programs: The company provides customers with price risk management options to eliminate market volatility and provide budget protection. “We work individually with customers to understand their businesses and identify programs that may be worth evaluating,” Burke said.
- Tank Monitoring: D.K. Burke provides remote tank monitoring for customer fuel, gasoline, lubricant and diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) tanks. Their tank monitoring system is integrated with the company’s dispatch function and systems to streamline the order fulfillment process.
- Marine: D.K. Burke is Coast Guard certified for over-the-water deliveries to vessels from the Canadian border down to Long Island Sound. “D.K. Burke has supplied diesel fuel to marine customers since our inception. We also supply branded marine lubricants on behalf of major oil companies to ports across our network,” Burke noted.
- Emergency Support Services: The company also offers contractual support services to mission-critical facilities or operational components of businesses in the form of their Emergency Generator Program. “We provide guaranteed fuel supply and defined response times in the event of a power outage, natural disaster or other event,” Burke said.
- Commercial and Industrial Lubricants: For more than 35 years, D.K. Burke has supplied lubricants and chemicals to the commercial market. The company offers a complete line of products—ranging from traditional engine and hydraulic oils to full synthetic lubricants—in all traditional packaging components. Currently they offer CITGO, PEAK and Fleetline branded products, as well as multiple equipment lines.
- Diesel Exhaust Fluid: D.K. Burke is a leading supplier of DEF in the Northeast market. The company supplies customers with products ranging from case good quantities to tractor-trailer transport loads.
“We have made significant investments in this line of business in terms of our bulk storage facilities, our fleet and the required delivery equipment,” Burke said. “We’ve also been at the forefront of alternative fuels. In 2002, D.K. Burke became the first retailer in Massachusetts to market biodiesel blends at the pump, and in 2008, we became the first retailer in Massachusetts to market E85 at the pump.”
D.K. Burke is a member of the FleetWide CFN, which provides an extensive network of over-the-road fueling locations. They operate a truck stop in Chelsea, Massachusetts, and the company also provides the card to a growing number of commercial accounts that purchase fuel at locations other than their home facility.
Road to Continued Success
Ted Burke strives to keep the history and the family-oriented aspect of the business at the forefront.
“The success we have experienced at D.K. Burke is based almost entirely on our consistent focus on providing the best levels of service in the industry, and doing so with a constant focus on professional, safe operations,” Burke noted. “We are fortunate that we have been able to build a team of dedicated, hard-working people that work together to accomplish these goals. We invest heavily in developing our people and building our culture, and the results continue to support this focus.”
So, what are some of the best practices that Burke, his father and his uncle have incorporated into the company’s operations to help it succeed throughout an ever-evolving history?
First, they belong to a number of industry organizations and trade groups, and have strong relationships with a large number of extremely well-run customers. As Burke commented, “Through these groups and relationships, we are introduced to many best practices. We have been able to implement a number of them that have resulted in meaningful impacts on our business.”
For example, D.K. Burke has a full-time safety director who keeps the focus on safe, efficient operations across all levels of the company.
“We run monthly safety meetings—10 per year—where all the drivers meet to go over a specific safety topic, which may include driving, off-loading, loading, security and a host of other subjects,” Burke said. “When I think back to 10 years ago, our safety meetings were held one morning per month at our headquarters in Chelsea, Massachusetts. We currently hold eight safety meetings per month to accommodate the schedules of multiple branches and double shifts. It is an expensive item, but one that we feel is tremendously valuable.”
In addition, D.K. Burke installed electronic logs on all power units in March 2012, well ahead of recent changes in legislation. These electronic logs ensure compliance with relevant Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations, and eliminate the timely and tedious task of maintaining paper logs across the company’s fleet.
“D.K. Burke has also custom-built a dispatch system, and we have integrated it with the delivery function across our fleet through on-board tablets to maximize efficiency,” Burke shared. “This system provides enhanced visibility of delivery status to our dispatch team, and dramatically reduces or eliminates the need for verbal communication between the dispatch function and our drivers.”
Marketing is the proverbial “name of the game” within the fuel industry. In the petroleum industry, it’s all about getting people to remember your products, services and brand. Marketing is the arena that puts the “big picture” perspective into focus and determines whether a company makes—or breaks—its future.
“Over the past several years, much of our marketing efforts have transitioned from the more traditional methods to content-driven efforts through our website,” Burke explained. “The reality of our situation is that the majority of our business comes from referrals from existing customers. We work hard to provide industry-leading service levels, and when you do a good job, people do not hesitate to refer you to others who may need a similar service.”
Burke and his team understand that customers have many options when choosing a supplier, and they appreciate every organization that chooses to partner with them. In fact, they view it as their obligation to make the overall experience as easy as possible so D.K. Burke can maintain these partnerships for many years.
“To this end, we continually make significant investments in our business to remain the partner of choice,” Burke said. There are several key areas in which the company strives to make improvements:
- New, clean and well-maintained equipment
- A team of the most professional drivers in the industry
- Sales and customer service teams that have significant industry experience and provide assistance with items ranging from technical lubricant specifications to price management programs
- A dispatch office that understands the operational requirements of D.K. Burke’s customers and works tirelessly to meet these requirements
- Accounting and information technology (IT) departments that provide the required back-office information in a variety of formats
- If and when an issue may arise, the company’s Safety Director is extremely responsive and has the backing of the executive team to support the customer as needed
“We have built our organization as one that builds partnerships with our customers and vendors. As a result, we have been blessed to work with many first-class organizations for many years,” Burke noted.
In the future, Burke plans on continuing to execute and grow organically in the same manner that has served the company well throughout its history. They strive to continue to stay current with issues that impact the petroleum business and the businesses of their customers, and try to identify areas where the company’s services are needed and valued.
“We will continue to invest in the people that run our business, as well as the associated equipment and facilities needed to operate a first-class operation that can provide industry-leading product offerings and service levels to our customers,” Burke said. “We have been extremely fortunate to work with a great group of customers and vendors, and we look forward to continuing to do so for many years into the future.”