Business

Tired of gas pumps? Fort Worth startup may bring the fuel to you

Star-Telegram

Charlie Campbell drives a couple of hundred miles per week but has hardly stopped at a gas station in five months.

Instead, the gasoline comes to him.

The senior vice president for finance and administration at Hillwood Properties in far north Fort Worth is a customer of a startup that aims to revolutionize how Americans buy their fuel.

The company is Booster Fuels, and it’s financially backed by developer Ross Perot Jr., Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and others. The company, which is still in its infancy, for now runs a small fleet of fuel trucks that patrols the parking lots of major employers such as Hillwood, Galderma Laboratories and Dyncorp International in the AllianceTexas area.

But its goal is to take the concept national.

The customers — like Campbell, who orders a tank of gas once every week or two — work at major employment centers. When those customers need gas, they use a smartphone app — similar to how Uber users call for a ride — and request that a fuel truck find their car in a parking lot (using global positioning technology that is part of the app) and fill the tank. Usually, in less than an hour the fuel truck arrives in their parking lot and fills them up.

The customers can carry on with their workday, doing whatever they do in cubicles and conference rooms, while a driver trained in hazardous materials fills up their vehicle, checks their tire pressure and sometimes even wipes the windshield.

The service is not available to the entire traveling public but can be made available to anyone whose employer agrees to allow the Booster Fuels trucks to operate in their parking lots. And for people who work jobs where their cars are parked in the same spot for hours at a time — at major design or manufacturing firms, or call centers, for example — the service offers a potentially stress-free and time-saving service in which their cars are filled up while they’re going about their routine.

The cost of the gas is not only comparable, but competitive with whatever motorists normally are paying at the pumps. For example, on a recent afternoon, Booster Fuels filled up numerous cars in an AllianceTexas parking lot while charging customers $1.73 a gallon for regular unleaded or $2.38 for premium. Customers are emailed a receipt letting them know the final cost of their purchase.

“It is super convenient,” said Campbell, who admitted being skeptical about the service before he tried it. “He arrived right away and filled it up. There was even a note left by the driver, Winston, that said, ‘Thanks for your business.’ He even cleaned my windows.”

Booster Fuels for the past several months has quietly been “incubating” as a startup business at AllianceTexas in far north Fort Worth, and more recently has begun serving a handful of major employers in neighboring Collin County, too.

The idea is to combine the latest in technological convenience — the ability to request gas online with a phone, with no more effort than it takes to order a pizza — with the old-fashioned attention to detail of yesteryear’s full-service gas stations.

“We are on-demand fuel delivery, while you work,” said founder Frank Mycroft, who for now is focused on building the business in Fort Worth, Plano, Frisco and a handful of places south of San Francisco, but hopes to expand further within months. “We offer high-quality fuel and high-quality service at a fair price.”

Custom fuel trucks

Booster Fuels plans to aggressively expand its operations to other U.S. cities, said John Parker, the company’s head of operations and growth who arrived at Booster Fuels several months ago after a stint starting up Uber in the Fort Worth area. He declined to specify the company’s expected cost of expansion but acknowledged that one of the keys to success likely will be the ability to quickly add additional fuel trucks to their fleets to meet demand.

The company has bright-purple fuel trucks, manufactured on an Isuzu chassis and customized by SkyMark of Kansas City, Mo. That company, Parker says, has modeled the fuel trucks after those commonly seen carrying jet fuel at airports.

SkyMark, which has built aircraft refueling vehicles for the military, is capable of manufacturing dozens of new refueling trucks per month if asked, he said.

The trucks are much smaller than refueling trucks often seen at gas stations. They are about as long as a Suburu Outback and have a turning radius comparable to a Honda Civic, Parker said, so they can easily maneuver through pretty much any surface parking lot. (Multilevel parking garages are more of a challenge, not because of the trucks, but because it’s difficult for drivers to find the customers’ cars using GPS location if they’re parked inside a concrete or metal structure.)

The trucks carry 800 gallons of regular unleaded and 400 gallons of premium and can fuel a vehicle in as little as three minutes, Parker said. They buy their fuel wholesale, at a site near the Fort Worth-Arlington-Euless border where local gas stations also buy their products.

Hazmat-trained drivers

Cole McCurry has been driving for Booster Fuels for 2  1/2 months. He has previous experience driving trucks in oil and gas operations. McCurry said he applied for the job after a friend notified him that Booster Fuels was hiring.

Drivers must have not only a commercial driver’s license but also tanker and hazardous materials endorsements, which require several hours of training. But for truck drivers, it’s a great alternative to hauling loads long-distance, and being gone from home for days at a time.

“It was such a good idea [for a business], I just wanted to be a part of it,” McCurry said after filling a Volkswagen Jetta on a recent afternoon.

AllianceTexas’ new role

For Hillwood, which has been responsible for much of far north Fort Worth’s massive residential, retail and industrial development the past three decades — including Alliance Airport, the world’s largest privately funded cargo aviation facility — Booster Fuels is an opportunity to become more of a business incubator.

“This is the beginning of what we hope will become a new area of business at Alliance,” said Mike Berry, president of Hillwood Properties.

Booster Fuels is supported by Perot Jain L.P., a partnership that includes Ross Perot Jr. and former Perot Systems executive Anurag Jain, who is chairman of India-based Access Healthcare Services. The partnership is actively seeking high-tech startups.

Not for everybody

Booster Fuels is not for everybody. Although anyone with access to the iPhone App store or Google Play can download the app for the service, there is no guarantee of fuel delivery unless the customer is parked in a lot where the Booster Fuels truck is allowed and has an arrangement with the property management.

The company’s plan is to grow in partnerships with major employers who allow the purple trucks onto their property, Parker said. The service is meant to be a perk for employees of those employers, he said. For now, the service is being offered at no cost to the employers, Parker said.

For anyone who loathes having to stop at a gas station on the way home from work, the attraction to such a service is obvious.

“I have an 18-month-old son,” said another Hillwood vice president, Tony Creme. “Anytime I can use a service that allows me to spend more time with my family, I appreciate it.”

Gordon Dickson: 817-390-7796, @gdickson

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