Case 1: Will Cooper
Will Cooper had spent a total of sixteen years as a successful oil company service station lessee-operator1 in Halifax. In the fall of 1988, he was approached by the owner of another service station who wanted to sell his operation to Cooper. Cooper rejected the offer, but the owner persisted. Cooper eventually agreed to consider the matter seriously, committing himself to a decision by early January 1989. This was a genuine opportunity for Cooper to become the owner of his own operation for the first time; however, he had serious reservations. Since business was always slow during the week between Christmas and New Year's, Cooper took a few days off to focus his attention on the issue; he was resolved to reach a firm decision by the week's end.
Will Cooper entered the service station business as a mechanic's apprentice in 1966. Four years later, when he was only 21, the oil company that owned the service station where he worked offered to lease a Halifax service station to him. His lack of training or experience in business management made him very hesitant to accept the offer, but the oil company persuaded him to become a lessee-operator. In six years he increased the service station's annual gasoline sales from 40,000 litres to 4 million litres. He was a good manager and the oil company was delighted with his performance. Nonetheless Cooper chose to leave the business. The service station demanded his full attention and left no time for his young family and no time for relaxation or vacations. In his words, "life had become all work and no play."
Cooper then went to work as a delivery truck operator for a local bottling company. The job soon proved to be unchallenging, and he found himself in need of something more. He took a course in refrigeration and was promoted to a more demanding and rewarding job with the same employer, but found that this, too, was unfulfilling. After that, Cooper expanded his endeavors to include a chain of vending machines, dispensing his employer's products, but he still sought something more demanding and rewarding.
One day Cooper drove past a construction site on the edge of Halifax, where a sip announced it as the site for a new service station owned by Petro-Canada, the oil company with which he had previously been a lessee-operator. His first reaction had been that the site was a poor one, but it led him to reflect on the business and realize that he truly missed it. On the following morning he drove to the site, parked his car, and spent the day counting the number of vehicles that passed by. He was impressed by the volume of traffic. He repeated the exercise several times, always with the same result. He decided to discuss the new service station with his wife, Mary. He told her that he had not forgotten the long hours nor the headaches associated with operating a service station but, he told her, he felt his life wasn't going anywhere and he missed the business. Mary's evaluation of the situation was direct: Cooper was bored and frustrated, and there was not a real opportunity for advancement in his present work. She encouraged him to contact the oil company about the new service station, and assured him of her full support and assistance.
When Cooper had left the oil company and the service station business three years previously, he had left on good terms. Consequently, the oil company immediately offered the new service station to him, as its lessee-operator. Within the week he met with the company's representatives and signed a lease agreement.
The new service station opened in 1979. Gasoline sales in the rim year were almost 3 million litres, with gross dollar sales of all products slightly exceeding $1 million. Gross sales had reached $2.9 million by 1988, but Cooper felt that future growth would be very limited: the service station's bays were working near capacity, and the size of the local market suggested there...
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