The Caribbean archipelago of Trinidad and Tobago has been one of the fastest growing economies in the region over the past 20 years. Much of this wealth has been generated by the careful production of the country’s considerable oil and gas resources, accounting for approximately of total GDP and generating significant foreign investment in the country.
One of the domestic companies which has been key to distributing this oil and gas to ensure the steady growth of the economy has been UNIPET. We recently spoke with Dexter Riley, Managing Director at UNIPET, who was able to fill us in on the company’s progress to date as well as some of its plans for the future.
A successful transition through privatization
One of the defining characteristics of the late 1980s and through the 1990s was privatization. In Russia, in particular, the privatization of oil and gas resources in the early to mid-1990s became a textbook example of how the process can fail everyone in society. In Trinidad, as Mr. Riley explains, the process was thankfully far more successful.
He explains: “For 25 years the gas station business had been conducted exclusively by the State, before that it had been run by foreign firms. In 1996 the Government-appointed Petroleum Retail committee recommended a phased de-monopolisation of industry.” This sent a clear message to outsiders that Trinidad and Tobago was open to investment.
Mr. Riley says: “A group of independent owner dealers formed themselves into the United Independent Petroleum Marketing Company limited (UNIPET) and applied for a wholesale marketing license which was granted in July 1999.” Its arrival was just in time for the boom in prices which oil and gas underwent in the following ten years.
UNIPET Trinidad Today
Nearly 20 years on, and UNIPET has grown into a locally operated company, engaged in the marketing and wholesaling of liquid petroleum fuels. It has a total of 22 service stations located throughout the country and also engages in the transportation of bulk fuel to large commercial customers, through Esau M. Jan Transport Limited, a wholly-owned Unipet subsidiary.
The company’s motto is, ‘it’s all about U,’ reflecting a commitment to deliver good service to the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago. This has also allowed it to move into other areas, which include offshore distribution of oil and gas, a comprehensive range of motor care products and even a quick-serve restaurant (QSR), which is currently in the works.
Of the last of these initiatives, Mr. Riley says: “We’re about to venture into the local fast food industry with its first ever quick serve restaurant at its Lady Hailes Service Centre. This will see UNIPET offering a range of fast foods such as Fried Chicken, Subs, Salads, Sandwiches and much more.”
This diversification will also serve to help UNIPET overcome the challenges which are typical of this industry, such as low fuel prices or the advent of alternative energies. As Mr. Riley says: “We’re expanding our offering to counter the declining retail market by offering new products, like a premium wines and spirits range to looking at entering the market for LPG.”
Partners and Suppliers
Despite its successful transition, UNIPET maintains close engagement with Trinidadian government agencies to ensure that it delivers on its mandate to deliver high-quality customer service to the people. As such, it is in regular contact with stakeholders such as the Energy Chamber and the Petroleum Peddlers Association.
In terms of engagement with the private sector, it lists dozens of local firms among its partners and suppliers. These include Glenns Engineering, an electrical contractor, A.T.B.L. Fuel Management Solutions, which caters for everything from tank cleaning and bulk fuel storage solutions to fuel polishing and filtration systems and Critical Engineering, for its expert engineering services.
Other valued partners include Advance Painting, Fenton Straker Engineering, Bolivar Trading, Inc, Powertech Labs, and Residential steel Service- fabrication. In fact, what’s remarkable for a country of Trinidad and Tobago’s relatively small size is how successful it has been in developing the domestic oil and gas scene, without the requirement to call on much foreign expertise as is often the case. As Mr. Riley says: “Trinidad vendors are responsible for the construction and maintenance of our stations.”
Too often, countries with significant mineral resources are the victims of their own success. Mismanagement of these resources is common with the end user – the citizen – paying the price. It is a testament to both the Trinidadian government and UNIPET that this has been anything but the case in Trinidad in Tobago, with UNIPET not only being a successful brand but a trusted one.
As the government looks to move towards LNG and renewable resources, UNIPET will continue to evolve. As Mr. Riley points out: “Unipet will continue to pursue a course of related diversification, in the future to lessen its dependence on fixed low margins business.” The aforementioned restaurants business is just the latest step in that diversification.
As a general rule, Caribbean nations have thrown off the shackles of colonialism over the past 30 or 40 years to create vibrant, thriving economies. This in turn has led to a plethora of confident companies raising the bar for new entrants to the market. UNIPET Trinidad, with its expanding impact on different industries, is a fine example of this.
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