At its peak, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) was one of the busiest airfields in the world, with hundreds of airline connections. But after Delta Airlines pulled back from its second largest hub of 20 years, Cincinnati suddenly found itself much farther from the rest of the country.
That was years before RelaDyne, Inc. started building a national network of fuel and lubricant distributors from the industrial city. In late 2010, four family-owned businesses came together, with private equity financing, to better serve customers across the United States. Each had a different specialty, from heavy industry to consumer, and each served its local market in Cincinnati, Chicago, Houston or Lake Charles, LA.
“We’ve grown from a startup to one of the largest distributors in the country in 10 years,” said President and CEO Larry Stoddard. “There is no way we could have become who we are without business aviation. It’s just not even possible.”
Stoddard’s team has stitched together local distributors from coast to coast, flying a light jet out of Cincinnati Municipal/Lunken Field (LUK). A pilot for many years, Stoddard currently flies a 2015 Cessna Citation M2.
Places You Can't Get To
RelaDyne has grown its business twelve-fold by buying lubricant and fuel distributors in local markets and bringing new capabilities to each region.
“We may buy a lubricant distributor in Arizona. They were good at automotive, and we bring in folks from Louisiana to train their salespeople in heavy industry. Or before they had fuel, and we bring in lubricants,” said Stoddard. “That’s how we create organic growth from inorganic growth.”
In an average year, RelaDyne may complete 10-15 acquisitions in markets all over the country, which means Stoddard’s team is on the road constantly.
“We’ve grown from a startup to one of the largest distributors in the country in 10 years. There is no way we could have become who we are without business aviation. ”
LARRY STODDARD CEO, RelaDyne, Inc.
“We’re in major markets that have big airline hubs, but we’re also in Abilene, TX; Monroe, LA; and Lakeland, FL – places you can’t get to from here [commercially],” said Dan Oehler, executive VP of sales, marketing and e-commerce. “To get home from Northern Florida on the airlines [on one occasion when he could not fly with Stoddard] took two connecting flights and 12 hours. I could have driven faster.”
Because Cincinnati is no longer a Delta hub, many airline trips that might have required one connecting flight now take two. Using the Citation M2, Stoddard and the RelaDyne team can visit partners in three states across the Southwest in 48 hours – a trip that would take a week by airline or car.
“In our case, the airplane is not a business perk, but truly is just another tool to grow the company,” said Stoddard. “Our ability to get to market, to deal with people in-person, can’t be replaced in any other fashion. It makes us a national business done locally.”
Usually, Stoddard will fly with three or four other RelaDyne leaders. His assistant, Kristina Anthony, comes from an aircraft scheduling background. She uses ForeFlight Trip Assistant to manage his fuel contracts, review prices and overnight fees at different airports, and track passengers for tax reporting purposes.
When Anthony schedules a trip, she emails RelaDyne managers. Anybody in the company can join for any leg. Stoddard flies nearly every week, often planning multi-state swings to visit partners across an entire region.
One week this past July, Stoddard flew with four colleagues from Cincinnati to meet with investors and insurers in Chicago before flying to Little Rock, AR, to meet the owner of a local distributor for acquisition talks. There, more RelaDyne managers hopped on the jet and flew with Stoddard to Houston, where they met with local associates, then with vendors and finally had lunch with customers before returning to Lunken Field.
“When I fly with Larry [Stoddard], it’s usually to one of our branches, and we’re spending time with our associates,” said Oehler. “We’ll do a town hall type of meeting after acquiring a company. That’s a sensitive, face-to-face meeting that during an integration helps calm people’s emotions and lets us tell the RelaDyne story.”
“The airplane is not a business perk, but truly is just another tool to grow the company. ”
LARRY STODDARD CEO, RelaDyne, Inc.
Stoddard emphasizes that an integration is only successful if RelaDyne keeps the people. “We’re not here to slash costs, we’re here to grow the business,” he said. “When we buy these companies, we integrate them operationally and culturally. They become a part of RelaDyne.”
After a long day of meetings and travel, Stoddard will often have dinner with local associates or customers, then fly home the next morning.
“I would often prefer to sit down on a Delta flight at the end of the day and get home that night,” said Stoddard. Except, the extensive airline connections to Cincinnati no longer exist.
Stoddard, who has an airline transport pilot license, takes single-pilot safety seriously. As a single-pilot, he says he “would never fly back the same night” after a day on the road. “I’m very conscious of fatigue and how it impacts you when you manage a business, as well as manage a flight department. Since I’m the one flying, we will stay overnight, then leave early in the morning after a good rest.”
“Because we transport fuel and chemicals, safety is a critical component of what we do,” Stoddard added. “We’ve implemented a variety of safety protocols in our daily business to ensure our associates and customers are safe, and we’ve extended the same approach to our aircraft operations.”
Whenever more than two RelaDyne employees have a meeting, they are required to have a safety moment, talking about a recent hazard and the safety protocols the company implemented. Stoddard has a similar safety mentality regarding flying, setting his own duty limits and keeping up with his training.
“When you fly single-pilot jets, there’s an enormous amount of training,” said Stoddard. “We go through much of the same training that airline pilots do and fly to the same standards.”
The Value of a Handshake
Visiting facilities around the country gives all of RelaDyne an opportunity to learn from recent acquisitions and the way they do business.
“We take best practices from different locations and duplicate them across the company,” said Stoddard. “We want to receive product in Florida the same way we do in California. The people who load the trucks, they know how to do this best. You could never learn that over a computer.”
“When I fly with Larry [Stoddard], it’s usually to one of our branches, and we’re spending time with our associates.”
DAN OEHLER Executive Vice President of Marketing and E-Commerce, RelaDyne, Inc.
In the acquisitions business, being able to fly straight to the partner can make all the difference. One deal had come down to RelaDyne and a competitor, both of which were trying to buy a lubricant distributor in the Northeast. Stoddard was in Michigan at the time.
“I told the owner [of the Northeast company], “‘This is really important to us. If you can spend 30 minutes with me, I can explain why we’re different,’” recalled Stoddard. “He agreed, I got on the plane, flew to New Jersey, and we sat in a small FBO, where I explained what we’d do for his people.
“After half an hour, we shook hands, and in that moment, we made the most successful acquisition RelaDyne has ever done. And it absolutely could not have happened without business aviation.”
Learn more about RelaDyne at reladyne.com.
Can’t Do Business Without It
RelaDyne Executive VP of Marketing and E-Commerce Dan Oehler
Pre-owned aircraft values had surged by early 2022, and, as a businessman, Larry Stoddard saw “no shame in taking a profit.”
At the time, the RelaDyne President and CEO owned a Cessna Citation CJ3 that he loved, but the value had risen so high that he decided to sell it and then wait for the market to calm down before buying a new airplane. He thought he might upgrade to a CJ4 within a year or so.
Stoddard immediately ran into two problems: the pre-owned market for light jets showed no signs of slowing, and without an aircraft “it was literally impossible to do my job.”
In the months between the pre-buy inspection and the sale of his CJ3, Stoddard lost out on opportunities while spending days in airports, waiting for airline connections. He studied the pre-owned market, concluded the Citation M2 was not overvalued, and bought a 2015 model shortly after selling the CJ3.
Stoddard was not the only one relieved to have access to a business airplane again. RelaDyne Executive VP of Marketing and E-Commerce Dan Oehler often flies with Stoddard to meet with customers, associates, vendors and partners.
“We can be almost two or three times as productive on these trips because we have that plane as a business weapon, and it is a business weapon,” said Oehler. “Without it, we certainly wouldn’t have the size, scale and success we have today.”
Aircraft: One Cessna Citation M2
Base: Headquartered at Cincinnati Municipal Lunken Field (LUK)
Personnel: CEO Larry Stoddard is the owner/operator and sole pilot