In it for the long haul.
Brad and Michelle Williams cover a lot of ground operating the Lethbridge, Taber and Pincher Creek UFA Petroleum Agencies. And it all started with a chance meeting at a John Deere dealership. Brad’s grandfather, Jack, was working as a salesman at the dealership and UFA was looking to buy a piece of equipment. “My grandfather must have really left an impression,” says Brad. “UFA came back and approached him with an offer to operate the Lethbridge agency, to which he said yes.” That was back in 1954 and Jack continued to run the agency up to 1986 when Brad’s father, Trevor, took over. Trevor operated it until 2001 when Brad and Michelle signed on, but he still visits often for a coffee and to catch up with customers.
The couple both grew up in Lethbridge. “We actually went to the same high school but didn’t meet until college when a mutual friend introduced us,” says Brad. “We got married in 1993 and moved to Vancouver. We had no plans to get involved in the fuel business, I actually wanted to be a police officer, and was working in security, while Michelle was working as an administrator for a home building company. But after three years, we made the decision to move back when my father asked us to get involved after one of his veteran drivers retired. And looking back, I’m really happy we made the move home.”
It was 1996 when Brad and Michelle started at the Lethbridge agency, and in 2005 they also took over Taber. “Things were really busy running both agencies and we relied heavily on our staff who are all exceptional. Your staff can either make or break you and you can’t do it without them, you rely as much on them as they do on you,” says Brad.
And even though things were already busy, in 2016, they were about to get even busier. The couple agreed to take over the Pincher Creek agency when long time owner, Greg Walter, decided to move on to other opportunities. With three agencies, it’s hard to imagine how much ground they cover. “It can get pretty hectic,” laughs Brad. “We cover everything spanning 100km both east and west right to the BC border in fact. We are proud to serve so many different communities; Coaldale, Taber, Fort Macleod, Magrath, Raymond and Pincher Creek, just to name a few.”
Some of Brad and Michelle’s largest customers also belong to the Blackfoot Confederacy; which includes the Siksiká, Káínaa (Kainai), and Aapátohsipikáni (Northern Peigan) Nations in Alberta, and the Aamsskáápipikani (South Peigan or Montana Blackfoot) located in Montana.
Over the years, Brad has gotten to know almost every square mile of the Blood Reserve, one of the largest reservations in Canada, at 1,413.87 km2. It is also the second most populous with 2016 census numbers over 12,000 people. “The Blood Reserve is home to our largest customers. When you deliver in the area as much as we do, you get to know the land very well,” says Brad. He adds that he is amazed at the history that exists right in our own backyard, history that includes heritage sights like Head Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.
For Brad, delivering fuel has led to something very special; being welcomed into a community rich in culture and tradition. “I have been so lucky to have had the opportunity to learn about First Nations’ culture. I have been welcomed with open arms into people’s homes, have been able to participate in a sweat lodge ceremony, and even had the opportunity to support dancers and events. I am grateful to have had experiences that many don’t, but all should.” Brad and Michelle consider themselves fortunate to have an overall customer base that is very diverse and includes everything from feedlots, potato growers and sugar beet farms to trucking and commercial companies.
Looking back on the last 20 years, Brad and Michelle, also count themselves very fortunate to be part of a co-operative. “I was very close to my grandfather who taught me at a young age how powerful co-operatives can be, and how important it is to shop local,” says Brad. “And I can’t imagine a better model than the agent model at UFA. This is something I can pass down to my kids, Mackinley and Decklan, just like it was passed down to me. There aren’t many places today where you have multi-generational customers whose loyalty spans decades. “We still have customers that dealt with Brad’s grandfather,” says Michelle. “Our customers know who they are dealing with, and there is a level of trust that doesn’t exist in other businesses.”
And their customers not only know who they are dealing with, but which person to call for what. Michelle spends most of her time in the office and manages the operations side of the business. She has also made Health and Safety a priority and is proud to work for a business that also makes it a top priority. “I’ve worked really hard developing new health and safety procedures and policies,” she says. “It’s our responsibility to make sure we all get home safely at the end of the day.”
Brad spends most of his time delivering fuel and dealing with customers face-to-face. “All the customers know that if they have a question about pricing or deliveries, to phone Brad,” adds Michelle. The couple have clearly defined roles that they have spent carving out over the past two decades.
Michelle adds that UFA is one of the few companies where loyalty and experience count, and that with hard work you can really make something of yourself. “We look back on the past 20 years and can’t believe it’s been that long, and I really look forward to the next 20 years. We’re in this for the long haul.”
In honour of Brad and Michelle’s 20th agent anniversary, donations of $1,000 will be made to both the Lethbridge Food Bank Society and the Lethbridge and District Humane Society.
Thank you for your dedication and years of service and we are so glad that you’re in it for the long haul. Congratulations!