It’s in the blood: Facetime with Ben Dunn, MD of The Dunn Group

Ben Dunn is the Managing Director of The Dunn Group and owner of several BP stations across Sydney and the Blue Mountains. Growing up, Ben’s parents owned and operated truck stops around Australia, so when it comes to his career choice you could definitely say that for Ben, it’s in the blood.

For the December / January issue of Convenience & Impulse Retailing Magazine, Ben told us a bit about himself and his journey to the petrol and convenience industry.

I was born at Diamond Valley Community Hospital in Greensborough, Victoria. But today I live in Balmain, Sydney with my wife, Renee and our three kids, Lily (15) Saskia (13) and Sam (11).

Mum and Dad met in the army and Dad went to Vietnam twice. When he got back they went halves with family friends in a service station in Euroa, which is a little country town about an hour and a half out of Melbourne. Mum and Dad had no retail experience, they’d met in the army and they had no idea what they were doing, but they invested in the service station anyway.

We were there for about 12 months and then we moved to a town called West Wyalong, which is out near Forbes and Wagga, and that’s where I spent my formative years from the age of four to about 16.

The funny story is that I actually lived at a truck stop for a couple of years! When we were in West Wyalong we had bought this old Shell truck stop and there was an old motel on the site that wasn’t being used, so we as a family lived in it. Because it was a motel, it had eight individual rooms so Dad had to knock a hole in the wall down the middle of the building so we could move between the rooms without having to go outside.

I’ve actually got a paper clipping from around that time. It was in 1984, our truck stop was on the cover and the newspaper article says ‘$850,000 Shell transport terminal takes shape’. If you know how expensive our industry is and how much it costs to build sites – that would be like putting $10 million on the cover these days! I’m going to get that clipping framed and hang it in my office.

Dad had the Shell truck stop out there for many years and we left there in about 1990. My parents moved to Adelaide and they had a BP truck stop at Wingfield for three or four years while my sister and I were at boarding school.

I went to boarding school in Orange and when I finished; my parents made the decision to move back to NSW. Mum and Dad did a deal to take over the BP truck stops down in Marulan on the highway between Sydney and Canberra, and we ran that from about 1994 to 2006. We lived in Bowral and ran those sites for quite a while – it is a great part of the world. I did all of the operational work for them during this time and then about a year later I had the opportunity to buy my first site at Botany.

I was around 25 when I bought Botany and I borrowed every single cent to buy the site, back then the banks would give you a 100 per cent loan. I then spent the next three years putting every possible cent back into reducing that debt and then I began planning what a new store would look like. I went back to the bank and presented them with my plans and I took with me a couple of builders’ quotes so I could show exactly how much I needed. Luckily the bank agreed to give me another loan and since then it’s been really successful. My site at Botany has been the anchor that has helped me grow into all of my sites.

Basically every site we’ve taken over has been an existing location and I guess that’s given me some sort of comfort that there is already a business there. But this year, we’re about to sign a contract on a block of dirt so we will do a new to industry site. We’ve taken a punt and we’re going to build on it in 2021 along with the complete rebuild of our site at Blackheath in the Blue Mountains.

We’ve launched our own coffee brand and there’s actually a funny story around how I came up with the name for it. When we were building our site at Katoomba, we were also building our coffee offer and we had to come up with a name for it. I initially went to BP and asked if I could use their Wild Bean brand and they said no. So I went and sat in a pub in Balmain with a piece of paper and a pen and was trying to think of all of these things that combine a café and a service station. But the more I thought about it, I realised that it really didn’t matter what we called it, all that matters was the quality of the product and service. So, I was sitting there and I was looking at the beer taps and the one that caught my eye was Balmain Brewing Company, so I just thought ‘Balmain Coffee Company’.

I always joke that I was roasting coffee beans in my shed in Balmain and that I was going down to the markets and selling them at Rozelle, but it’s nothing like that. I just got the idea from a beer tap.

Outside of work I am really into car racing. I race in the Touring Car Masters in a support category of the Supercars. We race 1965 to 1980 Australian and American muscle cars, so Mustangs, Torana’s, Valiants etc. I’ve got a little 1975 Chevy Monza, which is a little American muscle car. It’s really good fun!

Dad and I started it as a hobby years ago because we were working 60 or 70 hours a week, he had no hobby and all he was really doing was work, so we went halves in a car. I was always into it and we used to go to Bathurst together to watch the Supercars, so we just thought why not!

Looking back, I think that every kid that’s grown up around service stations has worked for free filling drink fridges and stacking the chips for their parents. But I always enjoyed the industry and am really happy to still be working in it.

My advice for retailers is to be consistent. Our industry is not complicated, what’s hard is to do it consistently everyday. It’s difficult to produce the same standard at the same level 365 days a year, but retail is detail so be consistent.

Pictured: Ben Dunn with the team at BP Botany

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