Centex, Building Trust One Site at a Time
In this day and age, finding a person, let alone a company, that operates their business with a social conscience and strong moral compass is rare.
By Tania Moffat
Centex Petroleum has managed to build such a reputation with several of Canada’s First Nation communities based on a foundation of trust and honesty. Their efforts have been rewarded with the high praise and recommendations given by the communities they have worked with.
Alnoor and Shafiq Bhura, Centex managing partners, didn’t seek First Nations to partner with, but after assisting Bearspaw First Nation and helping others like Frog Lake Cree Nation reclaim their site, word of their altruistic nature spread.
“There has to be a sensitivity and understanding of the First Nation people’s history, and it is important to me as a company that we show First Nations the respect they are deemed as long-standing inhabitants of this country. Centex strives to work for the benefit of the First Nation and to show them that we can do better than what they have experienced in the past,” Alnoor Bhura explains.
Challenges and Opportunity
Centex’s work with First Nations began in 2013. The Bearspaw Community, part of the Stoney Nation west of Calgary in Morley, Alberta, contacted them to consult on a site. “The job was under construction, and the band already had a fuel letter of agreement in place. They were not receiving help from the company they were supposed to be branded with and the construction company was already over budget and over schedule. We took over communication with the construction company for them, gaining the trust of the nation to the point where they switched their fuel agreement to brand with us,” shares Bhura.
The opportunity was enlightening and served to show just how different these builds were. Most notably was the role of the gas station. On a reserve, especially remote ones, there are very limited options for people to buy groceries or gas, making the stations’ role much more critical to a First Nation.
Despite the need, Centex found that existing facilities were underdeveloped on reserves, often with run-down pumps and above-ground tanks. “Finding a store that has been leased to an independent business on First Nation land is a common scenario. This often unhealthy relationship leads to a conflict of interest, whereby the operating enterprise does not feel the need to invest in the site. We encourage bands to take ownership of their site, invest in it and benefit from the proceeds,” Bhura adds. This was the position Frog Lake First Nation found themselves in.
Frog Lake: Building Partnerships
“Frog Lake was the first First Nation to have a Centex site built from the ground up,” says Greg Desjarlais, chief of Frog Lake First Nation, proudly. “Taking back the site has provided our community with a sense of ownership and pride, as well as a place for our people to work. Where only one person had worked in the past, today all of our staff, including our managers and cooks in the restaurant, are First Nation, and they wear their Centex shirts proudly. Centex is there to consult with whenever we have questions. Best of all, all the proceeds now stay within the community.”
The situation at Frog Lake incited a series of new connections and a partnership for Centex. Nirmal Gill, a former, long-time Centex employee made the introduction. “We do a lot of building and work with First Nations. When Chief Greg Desjarlais and William Quinney approached me about reclaiming their fuel site from a third party, I reached out to Alnoor because of our previous relationship,” says Gill, owner of Metrican Builders.
Metrican, like Centex, was an ideal partner showing their support and honesty to the communities. Gill outsourced up to 70 per cent of the project labour and sub-contracts to First Nation companies, its member companies and people. “That was the first time our community had ever experienced this type of involvement in a contracted project, and it has now become the norm,” added Desjarlais.
“We give First Nations the first right of refusal to work because often these projects provide one of the only places to work in the community that doesn’t involve travel. It’s rewarding to see the people so proud to be able to work and support their communities,” says Brent Labossiere, site supervisor for Metrican Builders.
The transformation in Frog Lake was astounding. The run-down pumps and small store were replaced with an almost 2,000-square-foot professionally laid-out convenience store and pumps. “Since the band took over, the Frog Lake Travel Centre does four times the business it used to. Gasoline sales increased in volume from one million litres to 3.5 million, and instore sales have reached $5,000 per day,” Bhura shares adding members no longer need to travel 30-45 minutes away for necessities.
Piikani: Set Up for Success
When Chief Stanley Grier had a vision to create a travel centre for Piikani First Nation, he and local council members did their due diligence. After meeting with several reps from different companies, including the nationals, they chose Centex.
“Mr. Bhura was extremely transparent with us. He explained in detail how the retail fuel business worked. Their reward program was attractive, directly saving customers money by rolling back fuel prices three days a week. Centex was also less restrictive of the products we could sell in the store, allowing us to sell items like First Nation apparel. Additionally, there were no franchise fees, and Centex covered the cost of their signs and banners,” explains Kiaayo Damisoowo Chief Stanley “Stan” C. Grier, Chief of Piikani Nation, president of the Blackfoot Confederacy and president of the Piikani Travel Centre Inc.
Besides setting up all of Piikani’s IT, Centex worked with their personnel, training them onsite and at their headquarters until they were comfortable with the system. What captured Grier’s attention the most was that Centex had live people managing their phones 24/7, 365 days a year. “That was important to me. Another station told me they had fallen behind on submitting their batches and Centex staff helped them catch up. I like that personal service,” shares Grier.
Wayne Fiddler, operations manager at Piikani Travel Centre, agrees. “Working with Centex has been great. Their number is saved on my phone. If I need anything, all I have to do is call, and they’re there to help,” says Fiddler.
As Centex’s retail specialist, Diana Alvarez works with the store managers to select a floor plan and determine its needs. “We empower them to make all of the decisions. They choose which vendors they would like to work with, and I make the introductions. Seeing how proud and excited the people are to have their own store is what is rewarding for me,” shares Alvarez.
Since its completion, the Piikani Travel Centre has become the focus of the community. The 4,800-square-foot facility is larger than an average station (2,000 to 2,500 square feet), allowing members to benefit from a more extensive grocery and food program. “Our people no longer have to travel to Pincher Creek or Fort MacLeod for basic convenience items like milk or sugar. The site is always busy, with both native and non-native people stopping in to use the facility. We have a red-line chef and deli offering traditional foods like bannock, and the food is phenomenal,” adds Grier.
“Our main goal and motive are not to have more gas stations on First Nation sites. We are not driven by that. We want to play a role in facilitating ownership by the community to benefit them. We are there to help them through the entire process from building the site to its operation,” Bhura says of the company’s motives.
Currently, there are 18 Centex sites built or under construction on First Nation lands in four provinces. Centex’s growth has been built through word of mouth. When a First Nation inquires, Bhura encourages them to speak with the chiefs and council members he has worked with. There is no shortage of glowing reviews.
“Having worked with Metrican Builders and Centex Petroleum, I strongly advocate other First Nations to use them. I have nothing but the highest amount of praise for Nirmal Gill and Alnoor Bhura. They operate their businesses like they live their lives with integrity and honesty. I 100 per cent support them.” – Chief Stanley Grier, Piikani First Nation “Centex is very upfront and professional. Their respect and honesty go a long way in our relationship. If anyone is looking for a partner, connect with Centex.” – Chief Greg Desjarlais, Frog Creek First Nation
Tania Moffat is a freelance writer, editor, publisher and photographer. She has worked in the publishing industry for the last 16 years on a wide variety of B2B and consumer publications, both in print and online. You can connect with her at email@example.com