“We do the routine jobs, but we thrive on challenges,” said Patrick Fielder, president of the Los Angeles-based Fiedler Group. A provider of petroleum-related engineering and design services throughout the western United States and Mexico, the company has become a consultant of choice for projects that may be large, complex, pioneering or just downright unusual.
In 53 years since its founding by the late Fred Fiedler, his namesake firm has often performed pioneering and/or unusual projects as it keeps up with a changing industry—for example, working with BP in the 2004 construction of California’s first retail-designed hydrogen fueling facility and again with BP on the 2008 opening of the world’s first gas station to be certified under the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards of the United States Green Building Council.
Then there have also been the unusual one-of-a-kind projects. In that vein, Patrick Fiedler recalled a couple of jobs his firm undertook during the 1990s, both located not far from the Fiedler Group headquarters in downtown Los Angeles.
One project was performed for California Mart (officially the California Market Center), a retail and trade show facility for the California fashion industry. With 3 million square feet of space, California Mart hosts such major events as the LA International Textile Show and the Focus Apparel and Accessories Show. “The building owner wanted a fueling facility in the underground parking garage for use by tenants and exhibitors,” Fiedler explained.
But California Mart is a 13-story downtown high rise. And since the parking garage extended seven stories below street grade, Fielder said, “There was no way to maneuver the underground fuel storage tanks down to the bottom level.
“The only real estate available for installing the tanks was a parking lot across the street. That meant boring under a public street and installing a duct to run all the piping and electrical circuits from the storage tanks on one side and the fuel dispensers on the other.”
Though the project predated many of California’s enhanced vapor recovery (EVR) regulations, Fiedler said, his firm had its work cut out in getting approvals from both the Los Angeles fire department and city engineer.
A few years later the Fiedler Group encountered a different twist on a similar problem. A developer, Maguire Thomas Partners, was constructing a 54-story downtown office tower and decided to put a fueling facility for tenants in the underground parking garage. “This time we didn’t have the problem of retrofitting an existing building,” Fiedler said. “We could integrate the fueling facility into the building as it was designed and constructed.”
But the twist was: How could the underground storage tanks, seven stories below grade, be refilled by fuel trucks operating from street level? And could any product releases be remediated if the tanks were inaccessible? “Since there was no way to get in there with any equipment if any remediation was needed,” Fiedler said, “we approached the project from the standpoint of being a 100-year installation and put in triple-walled tanks.”
Both the unusual and the routine have been par for the course since the company was founded in 1957 as Fred Fiedler & Associates. Previously, the elder Fiedler had worked for
Union Oil during the postwar building boom and helped the company construct service stations throughout the western United States. In time, however, the markets in the West filled up and Union Oil disbanded its in-house engineering and construction department.
“When my father entered consulting in the late 1950s,” son Patrick Fiedler said, “all of the business concentrated on development of full-service gas stations. The industry was growing and it seemed as though there was a gas station on every corner.” Later the firm helped its clients make the transition from full-service auto care to self-service fueling. When the 1970s oil embargoes brought station construction to a standstill, Fred Fiedler & Associates expanded
its expertise into the installation of vapor recovery systems and helping clients comply with the new environmental regulations of the decade.
“By the 1980s,” said Patrick Fiedler, who joined his father’s firm at that time, “people were looking elsewhere than service stations for their auto care.” That created two needs: to help fuel retailers enter the convenience business and to assist auto care entrepreneurs in developing quick-lubes and car washes. “Then the next migration came in the 1990s,” he explained, “with the advent of quick-service restaurants and construction of co-branded facilities that combined gasoline and food.”
The industry’s move toward co-branding has, in turn, created opportunities for the Fiedler Group—a name the firm adopted in 2004. The group in 1996 helped construct the first Chevron-McDonald’s co-brand in Marina Del Ray, Calif., and assisted Texaco in co-branding existing sites by developing prototype designs for Carl’s Jr., Taco Bell, Del Taco, Taco Time, Subway, Popeye’s, Baskin Robbins, TCBY, A&W, Hot n Now and Great Bagel.
“Our venture into co-branding has also led to opportunities for working directly with national restaurant chains, such as McDonalds and Jack-In-The-Box, on new restaurant construction and regional expansion programs,” said Fiedler. And a generation after helping petroleum retailers to enter the c-store business, the Fiedler Group is now working with clients to develop second-generation facilities. For example, the firm not only managed construction of the first ground-up Arco AM/PM store concept to be built in Mexico, but also helped build the first “New Vision” Arco AM/PM mini-market in South Gate, Calif.
Today’s need to help retailers stay current with reimaging projects and environmental compliance has spurred the Fiedler Group into developing expertise for large, complex and fast-track projects. “Technology is crucial to managing complex projects and programs,” said Fiedler. Toward that end, his company has developed a customizable “PTS” (Project Tracking System) software application to assist clients in managing financial, schedule and permitting information at the project and program levels.
A milestone in the Fiedler Group’s program management portfolio is its participation in the 1996-98 “Ring of Fire” Texaco development program by spearheading construction of 40 new retail sites and 20 remodels in just 24 months. Since then, the firm has managed many large development programs. In the decade of 1997-2007 alone, the Fiedler Group completed more than 2,800 environmental compliance projects for BP and Exxon/Mobil.
Involvement in environmental compliance has likewise spurred the Fiedler Group to enter the alternative fuels market. “It’s presented a unique growth opportunity that allows us to capitalize on our design and engineering expertise,” said Fiedler. “We started with
compressed natural gas and today we’re very active in hydrogen fuel station design and engineering.” In recent years the Fiedler Group has been a pioneer in assisting BP, Chevron and Shell to open their first U.S. hydrogen stations in the U.S. “And we look forward to supporting additional infrastructure development throughout the country,” he added.
Hydrogen fuel stations are a long way from 1982, when Patrick Fiedler’s first project was designing a Texaco island marketer site. “That was the ubiquitous design concept of the 1980s,” he said, “but now, of course, retailers have moved the fuel islands out front and placed them perpendicular to the store so that gasoline customers can see what the store offers.”
In his father’s day, lot sizes of 150x150 feet or 200x200 feet were sufficient. “But new sites today need larger and larger properties,” Fiedler said. “The smallest stores are 2,500 square feet and it’s not uncommon to exceed 4,000 square feet. Stores are going beyond packaged food and expanding their fresh food offerings and also their coffee offerings.”
At the same, Fiedler observed, “As c-stores are becoming more of a destination, they’re also taking on more of their own identity, separate from the fueling.” As an example, he cited the way that BP has given its stores an AM/PM mini-market concept that is distinct from BP. “In addition, throughout the West we’re seeing the majors selling off retail facilities,” he added, “so that independents are coming in and, as a complement to the fueling, adding their own distinct value to the store operation.”
But when does a convenience store become so big that it is no longer convenient? According to Fiedler, petroleum retailers and c-store operators are taking note of McDonald’s recent emphasis on “de-plasticizing” its restaurants. “If you look at the new-concept sites that
McDonald’s is building,” he said, “the plastic is giving way.” And taking its place are warmer design values that are more home-like. Such an aesthetic may be a solution for many c-store operators who want to create “happening” destinations that nevertheless remain on a human scale.
Yet in another area, fuel retailers may be slow to catch on. In 2008 the Fiedler Group helped BP open the world’s first LEED-certified gas station in Los Angeles. Dubbed “Helios House,” the facility boasts a futuristic-looking structure of heat-reflecting and geodesically-cut steel; is topped by solar panels, a rainwater collection system, and a “green” roof that grows cacti; and features bamboo-paneled bathroom stalls. Metalwork throughout the site is made of recycled aluminum. Lighting is motion-sensitive to conserve electricity. And attendants have been trained to educate customers about green living.
“Some of our petroleum clients are looking for energy savings in their own retail facilities,” Fiedler pointed out, “but fuel retailers in general still need education about going green. Companies that develop sites in order to sell them aren’t as concerned about green building. But those retailers who build and occupy sites and plan to keep them—often family-owned businesses—are more willing to make investments that will bring a return over time.”
Meanwhile, Fiedler anticipates his firm will continue to “do the routine jobs, but thrive on the challenges” as future industry developments generate complex, pioneering, and unusual one-of-a-kind projects. “Through it all,” he said, “what’s been continuous over the past 50 years is that our success depends on the success of our clients—whatever that success might mean at any given time. So we continue to evolve our service offerings and create new technologies that enable new visions to become realities.”