One of Pulaski’s anchor businesses, Downtown Exxon, is experiencing a changing of the guard.
For over 30 years, brothers Barry and Buddy Collins have been operating the Downtown Exxon Service Station and Downtown Exxon Fuel Delivery Service. They started their business with a mere 40 customers and expanded their base to over 6,000 customers on file, delivering fuel to homes in five neighboring counties: Bland, Craig, Giles, Montgomery and Pulaski.
“Not all customers are active … but some of the customers are children or grandchildren of our original customers,” states Buddy.
“We’ve been here in business 30 years and have dedicated our lives to Downtown Exxon. Some people criticize Pulaski, but I’ve found some of the finest people living here. Trustworthy people we grew up together with. Many of them are our customers and we maintain a warm relationship with them,” Buddy adds.
“We want to see our business keep going. It’s an excellent business with great clients. We want to keep serving the people who have been loyal to us. They have become like family. They trust us. They trust us with their house keys and tell us to take the cash or check off the refrigerator. We make sure to lock up before going onto the next delivery,” explains Barry.
“Often, we would be out working late … at least 10-hour days, but frequently 12 to 15 hours. They (customers) would invite us in to eat a meal or sit at the kitchen table and have a piece of homemade pie. You can’t imagine how much food we’d have by the end of the day,” Buddy laughs.
The brothers recalled how with two trucks, they normally did 40 stops (home fuelings) a day, but during busy fuel-delivery season, they made a record 52 stops in one day. “People panic when they are out of fuel. We may get calls from 250 people wanting fuel that day, but we can only service so many,” states Buddy.
Since the brothers purchased C & S Oil Company in Pearisburg 20 years ago, the fuel delivery business has changed. In addition to the long hours, add government regulations and stringent testing as stress factors. Years ago, driving a fuel truck only required them to have a chauffer’s license. But since 9/11, government regulations have been expanded. Currently, drivers need to pass tests for a Class B CDL license with Hazmat endorsement; and every two years they need to pass a physical and renew their CDL license. Additionally, they are required to be photographed, fingerprinted and pass background checks.
“There’s more to it than just turning a key and driving away,” states Buddy.
As the brothers approached retirement age, they started looking for an honest, trustworthy individual to take over the business.
“In our search, we were looking for someone trustworthy … someone we felt we could turn the keys over to and he would keep the personal touch in the business,” commented Buddy.
Enter the “new guard,” Steve Morris. He had worked at Volvo for 29 years as a painter and a paint supplier. “Volvo was so good to me through the years, but it was time for a change. I had been praying for God to open doors … and Barry and Buddy had been praying for God to bring someone to them,” states Morris. It seemed like a match made in Heaven.
Morris says he is better known in the community as “Vicki’s husband.” They were married 40 years ago in Christian Community Church, Dublin where Steve was baptized into Christ. Vicki Morris is the owner of Towne House Beauty Salon located at 1907 Bobwhite Blvd., Pulaski. The salon is the oldest full service beauty salon in Pulaski County.
Morris believes that “Success comes from God and support comes from my wife, Vicki. We are partners in both businesses.”
One of the things that attracted Morris to Downtown Exxon was that it was the only gas station in Pulaski that offers full service; and has had the same mechanic for 20 years. “There is a down home feeling – like an expanded version of Mayberry,” he comments.
The transition in ownership has been a lengthy process that began in August 2017.
“I started helping in September and continued through December,” Morris said. “I got good on-the-job training from Barry and Buddy. It was six months before the customers knew there was a change. Some would ask where Barry and Buddy were; and we tried to tell them and assure them that we are committed to continue the personal touch that they have expected through the years.”
Morris, who attended Bible college for several years, says he “is committed to continue Downtown Exxon as it was and trusts in God to take care of business. He’s the one who opens doors. They (Barry and Buddy) built it. I’m just riding the wave.”
Downtown Exxon is the contact place for both the fuel delivery business and the service station. Currently, there are eleven full-time and part-time employees, not including Barry and Buddy, who are on reserve. Shannon, who is Buddy’s son, is the station manager and has worked at Downtown Exxon since he was 14-years-old.
“He grew up there. Lots of people know him. Shannon is a key player. He’s really the voice of Downtown Exxon,” exclaims Morris.
Barry and Buddy are committed to remain on reserve, promising they will still be there for Steve, should he need their support.
To contact Downtown Exxon, go to their Facebook page: Facebook.com/downtown-exxon or call: 540.980.5467
New Downtown Exxon station owner, Steve Morris, is committed to serving the public in the same dedicated manner that has been the tradition for the past thirty years. From left to right: Steve Morris, Shannon Collins, station manager, and retiring station owners Barry and Buddy Collins.
By DANIELLE REID, The Patriot