Tuesday, October 16, 2018
Business

Tampa company embraces new Amalie Arena boost to its image

TAMPA

To find Amalie Oil Co.'s headquarters, journey deep into the downtown Tampa industrial labyrinth known as Port Tampa Bay.

Hidden beyond a cluster of massive storage tanks and warehouses, there lies a nondescript, one-story gray building that housed the port's offices 60 years ago. Though they've expanded multiple times as the company continues to grow, Amalie's offices have a well-worn appearance.

Harry Barkett, Amalie CEO and one of four brothers who runs the company, says that's because they would rather put money into people and new technology than some plush headquarters. And because Amalie has primarily produced motor oil blends that are branded in others' names — from Walmart to AutoZone — promoting itself and building its own name recognition was never a top priority.

Until now.

Amalie has aspirations of distributing its products anywhere from quick lube stores to retail outlets, perhaps someday becoming a brand name on par with the Quaker States and Pennzoils of the world.

Its public ramp-up began quietly a couple years ago with a few local billboards cajoling "One day you'll break down and try us." It bought advertisements inside Tampa International Airport's baggage claim and concourse. Four years ago, it bought naming rights for the Tampa Bay Storm's home field.

Now comes the coup de grace. Sometime before the Tampa Bay Lightning's opening game Oct. 9, the Tampa Bay Times Forum lettering outside the stadium will be rebranded "Amalie Arena" under a naming rights deal unveiled last week.

"(Lightning owner) Jeff Vinik said it best: 'Amalie has been flying under the radar.' And that's going to change," Barkett said in a sit-down interview with the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday. "That's one big reason we made this jump."

As the oldest of the four brothers growing up in Miami, Harry Joseph Barkett was introduced first to the oil and gas industry.

His father, Harry Barkett (no middle name) ran a fuel business supplying steam boilers and air conditioners to bakeries, hotels, and other small businesses.

At the age of 14, young Harry helped install underground storage tanks and boilers. "That was my summer vacation," he said.

The family business grew, expanding to gas stations. By the 1970s, the company's chain of gas stations numbered close to 300, stretching from Key West to Pensacola.

In 1977, the Barkett family bought Petroleum Packers, a Port of Tampa company that sold oil and lubricants. Twenty years later, they bought Amalie from Sun Oil Co., and changed the corporate name to Amalie Oil Co.

At Port Tampa Bay, Amalie's operation begins with base oils shipped from Texas and Louisiana.

Using some 450 different formulas, workers blend the oils into different types of motor oils, transmission fluids and other products. Then, they package the oil into thousands of products using plastic bottles manufactured on the site. (Investing millions in technology, Amalie operates the largest one-quart blow molder in the world, capable of making 360,000 one-quart bottles a day.)

Products sold in the U.S. are distributed by truck, while products destined for overseas are packed in 40-foot containers and sent by ship.

Aside from a rough spurt in 2008, the company has been growing briskly, doubling in size every six years. It operates in all 50 states and in 100 countries.

Industry observers have pegged Amalie's annual sales between $50 million and $100 million. Barkett declined to discuss financial details of the private company except to say those cited figures "are way low."

The company has 207 employees and projects at least 10 to 15 more hires this year.

A decision to jump-start the Amalie brand originated about 10 years ago and developed slowly.

Seizing on the naming rights deal for Amalie Arena, the push is quickly gaining momentum.

So far, a half-dozen independently owned quick-lube outlets in a 150-mile radius of Tampa Bay have agreed to use Amalie-branded products for their customers. The Barketts want to expand that to 100 stores.

Harry Barkett is 70 years old. Among his brothers, Anthony is 67; Rick, 59; and Ken, 58.

Barkett notes the big age difference between the two oldest and two youngest brothers could come into play in discussing succession options. And he said his family has taken steps to distribute partial ownership to the next generation.

Still, retirement doesn't appear to be in his vocabulary. "I'm going to be here until they start putting dirt on top of me."

Contact Jeff Harrington at [email protected] or (813) 226-3434. Follow @JeffMHarrington.

     
   
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