Luke Xitco and Frank Pupo Jr. were boyhood friends who first cut their teeth on running a business by selling lemonade. Little did they know at the time that they would one day own and operate Associated Petroleum Products, a major Tacoma-based petroleum and propane dealer.
Their fathers, John D. Xitco and Frank Pupo Sr., also close friends, purchased APP, then a small business with only about 12 employees, in 1982.
After studying accounting and marketing at the University of the Puget Sound the younger Pupo and the younger Xitco, fresh from his studies of business and economics at the University of Portland, began working full-time at the company in the mid-1990s.
Soon their fathers began looking at their sons as potential successors in running the business.
“We figured that these boys are working hard, they got brains, the only thing we were worried about – they were young,” said the elder Pupo. “I think we just felt it would work. Naturally, we had some concerns.”
The transition to management had a steep learning curve for Luke and Frank Jr.
“We were very young,” said Luke. “It was quite the baptism by fire. I think our dads enjoyed watching us trip over ourselves occasionally. We had good mentors, and we still do.”
Today with Luke and Frank Jr., both 39, running the business, and Luke’s brother John Jr., as a partner, the company earns $600 million in annual sales and employs some 200 people. And it’s still growing today, even in the face of a poor economy.
Since 2002, APP has expanded into the propane business in a major way. The company’s propane operation is among the top 50 by volume in the country. Currently, it covers the Canadian border to the Oregon border and into Eastern Washington with a move into Oregon planned for the future.
“I would say they’re one of the top five companies in the state by gallon-volume,” said Lea Wilson, executive director of the Washington Oil Marketers Association. “They’re a highly reputable company,” she said. “They have done a great job in growing that business. I think APP has done a really good job finding niche markets that fit their business model.”
Additionally, the company, an AWB member since 2010, has become a leader in treating stormwater runoff from its site near the Port of Tacoma since installing a new $750,000 state-of-the-art system. The system has treated 732,000 gallons since March.
We’re happy with what they’re doing,” said John Diamant, the Department of Ecology environmental engineer who oversees APP’s stormwater permit. “I think they’ve really turned the corner. I think the new system will be a role model for the Tacoma area. They really chose to heed our directives and go beyond that.”
“It’s not all about making money today,” said John Jr. “It’s about making a good living for ourselves and our employees. Our fathers gave us a great opportunity, and we could have blown it. But we built something out of it. We did it on our own, slowly.”