By Lee Howard, Day staff writer
NEW LONDON, CT — Jeff Suntup, the man who built up and sold off both Bernie’s Fuel Oil Co. Inc. and Anytime Oil LLC, now holds a patent eight years in the making that he believes could make “oil barons” of regular working people with a truck.
“We’re a game changer for the industry,” Suntup said in a phone interview. “The way oil is sold and delivered will be changed forever.”
The utility patent issued April 21, titled “Apparatus for Dispensing Small Quantities of Heating Oil,” shows a small truck outfitted with a “portable, self-contained, self-powered apparatus which is carried on a lighter weight truck as cargo.” The battery-powered device is in stark contrast to the lumbering oil trucks of the big delivery services that can cost upward of $200,000 to purchase, he said.
But for Suntup the patent recognizes a dream of his to develop a way for hard-working people to make a living delivering small amounts of oil at a higher markup per gallon than the big oil companies charge.
“Oil is an essential product; it’s a recession-proof business,” Suntup said. “In the next 30 years there’s nothing that’s going to replace oil.”
Suntup, a New London resident who pioneered the idea of small oil deliveries when he started up Anytime Fuel Oil, sees a large market for small oil deliveries, whether for boats, agricultural purposes, burner startups in the fall, difficult properties to access or emergency middle-of-the-night sales.
So he came up with the device he calls Putnus — his own last name backwards — that allows drivers without a special license to sell fuel including oil, kerosene or diesel from the backs of their cargo or pickup trucks using a legal measuring device approved by the U.S. Bureau of Standards. He figures the 118.9-gallon tank on the Putnus should be able to net an typical self-employed driver an average of $75,000 to $125,000 a year in sales.
Suntup, who has two other patents pending related to the device, sees the easy access to the oil business allowed by Putnus as opening up delivery sales to single moms and college students alike. He has a prototype made by Central CT Tank Fabrication & Truck Repair, and could fill orders for Putnus
“The tank is sized at 118.9 gallons so that, when it is mounted on a vehicle, it is exempt from DOT (Department of Transportation) regulations,” according to a 2015 article titled “Thinking Small” in the industry publication Fuel Oil News. “Further, the smaller tank means that the vehicle operator is not required to have a CDL (commercial drivers license); nor do hazmat regulations apply.”
Suntup, who has faced a series of health problems in recent years and has a lawsuit pending against the city due to flooding on his Jefferson Street property, said he has had inquiries about whether he would sell the patent for Putnus, but he’d rather find a partner who would help recognize the potential of thinking small.
“I need help,” he said. “This is a sure winner.”
Suntup, 66, who grew up in the oil business, said he first thought up the idea for small oil deliveries in the 1970s. But it wasn’t until after he sold Bernie’s Oil to Daniel Groben, who later led the company to bankruptcy, that he had time and money to fully explore the option and manufacture prototypes. A business plan emerging from the Putnus device could go in any number of different directions, he said, including leasing agreements or a broker option.
“It’s a great business,” Suntup said. “I just have to market it.”