Getting Pumped Up

Sacramento Region, CA  |  By Susan Maxwell Skinner
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Ed Marszal (left) shares his company headquarters with a collection of vintage gasoline pumps. Daughter Annie and son Adam are executives for Marszal’s Carmichael-based business that operates in four US states. Photo by Susan Maxwell Skinner

SACRAMENTO REGION, CA (MPG) - A business that began on a Carmichael street corner is now one of Sacramento’s most geographically far-flung enterprises.

Owned by the Marszal family – and with father, daughter and son as executives -- California Retail Management pumps petroleum at 42 stations in four US states. All outlets have convenience stores and the combined operation has a more than 350 employees. It’s an understatement that Ed Marszal has come a long way from the Ohio college graduate who left the Army and sold auto accessories. “I felt I could run a gas station at least as well as some guys I was selling tires to,” he recalls. “In 1981, an old Chevron station on the Marconi and Walnut corner became available. I didn’t plan an empire. I just wanted to make one station work.”

In days of full-service, the boss pumped gas and employed mechanics for repairs. He mopped floors and cultivated a personal touch with customers. When daughter Annie (now Marszal’s development executive) was born, he covered his macho premises with pink ribbons. “That got us in the newspaper and brought new customers,” he says. “People like family businesses. I still have full-service available at all our stations; we make sure someone will always run out to help a customer. We’ll never charge for air or water. Cashiers are the most important people in our company. Being nice is not something you can teach; but friendliness determines whether a customer comes back.

“One day a lady asked me where she could get her car washed. I washed her car myself.  My employees watched and learned never to pass up an opportunity to extend service. Yeah, I kept her tip; I earned it. From then, we put carwashes in our stations.” While alert to innovation, Marszal treasures the continuity of old retainers and family. Chief Financial Officer Elizabeth Valentina has been his right hand for 34 years. Executive Tim Skovensky has provided what Marszal calls “glue” for company operations for 12 years. Daughter Annie has worked nine years for her dad and son Adam joined his marketing team in 2015. “My kids began as cashiers,” he says. “I wanted them to learn how important that role is. They’ve done their share of cleaning restrooms, too.”

Outside Sacramento, the family now has stations in Maui, Oahu, Nevada and Ohio. 2019 plans include a new El Dorado Hills outlet. The founder and Susan -- his wife of 37 years -- live quietly in Carmichael. Their national operation is run from an anonymous building near Manzanita Avenue.

At HQ, the boss houses an arsenal of vintage petrol pumps, telephones and slot machines. “I found the first of my collection in a Rancho Cordova bar,” he explains. “In the 1950s, every oil company had distinctive pumps and they were works of art. I love seeing them restored and gleaming. They’re relics of an industry dear to my heart.”

In 40 high-octane years Marszal has seen oil companies and retailers come and go. “Many of our competitors lost their focus on service,” considers the survivor. “Over 40 years, service is what constantly opened doors for us to gain more customers.

“The gasoline engine will be around for many more decades. As for gas stations, I believe the strong and the friendly will survive.”