As part of Petro-Canada’s acknowledgement of National Indigenous History Month, we wanted to check in with the team that is responsible for developing Indigenous partnerships in our network. I recently sat down with Pat Pambianco, Director of Retail Operations, Western Canada to talk about Petro-Canada’s history of partnerships with Indigenous communities.
PumpTalk: Thank you for talking to me today, Pat. To start, can you tell me a bit about your role and how you’re involved in working with Indigenous communities?
Pat Pambianco: As Director of Retail Sites in Western Canada, my team and I are responsible for the 350 independently owned Petro-Canada branded stations in our Western region. This region spans all the way from Northern Ontario, west to Vancouver Island and then up to the Yukon and Northwest Territories. These sites are part of our independent dealer network, meaning that they own the sites, they own the property, and they own all the assets. I have 11 team members – including account managers, business development reps and a sales advisor – who reside in various locales around the region and support our relationships with these stations and their owners. Of the 350 Petro-Canada locations in this region, we are proud to say we have 58 Indigenous Petro-Canada retailers; later this year we should surpass 60 locations.
Nk’Mip Corner Petro-Canada on Osoyoos Indian Band reserve land, near Osoyoos, BC
PT: When did Petro-Canada first develop a station within the Indigenous community?
PP: Petro-Canada took our first step with the Indigenous community about 20 years ago. It was very successful for both parties. Our district with the Indigenous stations really started to communicate and grow together about 11 years ago. My first site began with the site on the Grasswoods Indian Reserve of the English River First Nation, south of Saskatoon. They had inquired about coming to our Petro-Canada brand; after getting to know the community, we were excited to work together. We also added the first Petro-Canada Indigenous site in Alberta. This was an unbranded location, meaning they had no national branded fuel. We’re able to offer a significant support to new sites: design of the site, location consulting, contractor recommendations, onsite training for staff. We can help them through all stages of building and operating.
We knew there had been no concerted efforts to reach out to Indigenous communities for a business partnership, but once we did, we realised that these communities would welcome this kind of opportunity and relationship. The economic value to their community is, of course, a big incentive as is the employment of local residents. But perhaps most important is that a Petro-Canada branded station is often just the start.
Sioux Valley Dakota Nation Petro-Canada near Griswold, MB
PT: How have our Indigenous-owned stations contributed to Indigenous communities?
PP: Several communities have gone on to build more than one station: there are at least 10 communities that have more than two stations, and one that has four locations. And the sites they build are flagship sites, really beautiful. They are some of the best sites in our network, often bringing in their own cultural heritage and artwork.
Plus, many communities use that first Petro-Canada station as a foundation to pursue more commercial opportunities. It may have started with one gas bar, but now, we are working with stellar, efficient corporations. A number of these communities are creating more and more business opportunities: wholesale fuel business, consulting firms, engineering firms, mining, wineries, restaurants and even Formula 1-type racetracks. They are really growing and flourishing with many commercial ventures on the go.
PT: We’ve come a long way from our first Indigenous-owned Petro-Canada location. Why is it important for Petro-Canada to work alongside First Nations communities?
PP: Our partnerships with Indigenous communities are really a win-win all the way around. Owning a Petro-Canada station helps their community financially. It helps us to be well-represented in their community. And, it brings both of our communities closer together. This, to me, is the key benefit. By working with Indigenous communities, we’re able to break down old paradigms we had on both sides. We are able to build trust in working together.
It is a slow process to build that trust and credibility. Something that has really helped is that we have a person on the ground in their area, an account manager, that they can call and build a relationship with. The more that we have gotten to know each other, the more you realise that we all have similar goals. We all want better things for our children, our families and our communities.
Ultimately, it all comes down to relationships. I’m proud to see that our relationships are strong and continue to grow. As does positive word of mouth. We often get calls from Indigenous communities across the country who received a recommendation from another community that we are a trusted and reliable business partner. Additionally, we’re now being asked to participate with Indigenous communities during their cultural celebrations which we are truly honoured by.
Caribou Mountain Travel Centre near High Level, AB. Little Red River Cree Nation.
Used with permission. Photo Credit: Anonymous
PT: What makes you particularly passionate about supporting development opportunities in Indigenous communities?
PP: I really love what they are building and the vision that many of the Indigenous communities have. They look at it beyond the gas bar. They are developing tourist areas. They bring in artwork and crafts from local artists and make the station their own. They are really focused on serving ALL communities.
I love seeing the excitement of the people who work at the stations, and I love being involved with passionate people who are willing to take a calculated venture with the motive of helping their community. Our Indigenous partnerships are so much bigger than just a gas station. I’m proud that we contributed to something positive for their communities.
PT: In talking with our Indigenous partners, have there been conversations about how we can do better as a business?
PP: We can always do better, and we learn by communicating and listening to our customers and our retailers. Bringing economic prosperity is key and we will always look to share our successes and contacts in other areas like quick service restaurants, car washes, convenience stores and the buying power of being part of the family of Petro-Canada.
Thank you, Pat, for sharing your thoughts on Petro-Canada’s partnerships with Indigenous communities. It’s great to see the evolution of trust and credibility that you and your team are building.