Owners of the Berico pose in front of a sign.
The company president reflects on the solid foundations of a family-operated business & the strength that comes through community

In February, Berico celebrated 100 years of business. Beginning as a coal company, the fourth-generation propane, heating and air company based out of North Carolina is accustomed to adapting to fluctuating market trends and evolving customer needs. That’s been a big part of its time-tested success. BPN received insights from Berico’s current president, Will Berry, on the company’s history, best practices and what it’s like to be a part of a business that’s been in the family for a century.

What are the unique advantages of running a business that’s been family-owned for four generations?

It’s a tribute to the leaders of prior generations that our company has been very involved in our community. From community leadership positions to donations, to our Gift of Warmth Campaign and beyond, we try to give back to our community. In turn, our community has supported us for over 100 years. Our reputation has been built upon by each generation. As a family-owned company, we can also make quick decisions when necessary. We run the company like a family and not only want our employees to feel like they are part of Berico, but their families as well. If their family is not happy at home, then the employee will not be either.  

How has the company adapted to changes in the industry and market dynamics over the years? 

From coal to heating oil to propane to HVAC services and lubricants, we say, “Our cheese is always moving.” We are very involved in state and industry associations, keeping tabs on the future of our industries and investing appropriately in our future.  

What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned operating a family business?


The give and take of partnership. When involved in a family business, you must support everyone in the organization, including those who were involved from generations before you. We are all on the same team, even on days we disagree. We love each other and want our employees to have that same feeling so they perform at top levels for our customers. You will always be family!

How has the company maintained its relevance and competitive edge in the face of changing consumer preferences and economic conditions? 

Our involvement in community has helped us. We are also heavily involved in the industry and leadership opportunities. Our team participates in industry study groups where we learn from other companies in non-competing markets and adopt good/new principles of success. We invest in our growth and our employees so we can always perform at top levels. We are not afraid of change!

Lenny Hall poses with the previous owner of Berico.Are there principles or values that have been foundational to Berico’s success? 

Since 1924, our motto has been “Always Dependable.” We live that with our company principles of success, which we post and discuss at all of our meetings: community, customer service, family, teamwork, accountability, safety, innovation and profitability.

Can you share memorable stories from the company’s history that exemplify its values or resilience? 

Each generation has placed its stamp on our history. Founder William N. Berry was a father of 13 and added a truck to the business to support each child. Joe Berry was a naval officer and Notre Dame football player known for his generosity. He once left on a busy afternoon to take a customer a heated blanket until the fuel truck could arrive. John Fuquay was known for his integrity and quality in all that he did. He would often personally support employees who fell on hard times and no one would know about it. He was a giver and did not want any recognition for it. Tom Berry was deeply involved in community leadership positions, from being a wildlife commissioner in North Carolina and chairman of the Guilford Merchants Association to a founding participant of the Chamber of Commerce’s “Other Voices” class based around diversity. He also founded the company’s Gift of Warmth campaign. During my time as president, I’ve often operated by the following principle: “Happy employees + happy customers = successful business — in that order.” We focus the company around a family atmosphere where employees are family, but are also driven to provide the best services in town. We are goal-oriented.

What have been some of the biggest challenges Berico has faced, both in the past and more recently? 

Fluctuating fuel/propane prices; maintaining a safe work environment given an industry full of risk; and having a growth plan in an ever-changing industry and marketplace. We also have faced staffing challenges as our industry sees a declining/aging workforce.  

How has Berico maintained a healthy company culture? 

We are very much employee- and goal-focused. We want our employees to be very happy and enjoy coming to work. Each employee and department have goals, and we review our principles of success regularly. We are not afraid to seek assistance from consultants, study groups and other sources to make sure we are implementing best practices. Our management team is top in the business, and I think that reflects down throughout the organization.

In what ways has the company contributed to the local community or society at large over the past century?

Our owners and management team are very involved with leadership and board positions for North Carolina Petroleum & Convenience Marketers, Southeast Propane Alliance, Southeast Propane Alliance Technical Education Center, North Carolina Propane Education & Research Fund, Guilford Merchants Association and Boy Scouts of America, among other community organizations. Gift of Warmth is a company-sponsored campaign partnering with the Salvation Army to support local families who cannot afford to heat their homes. Berico matches all donations. Over the 18 years of the program, we have raised over $1.2 million and helped over 1,500 families.

What has the process of transitioning leadership looked like over the years? 

Each generation has spent time working outside the company before joining the company. Upon joining the company — after proving themselves worthy — there is usually a succession plan that is laid out and agreed upon by all (backed with a heavy payment to the previous owner/partner — haha!).  

What are the company’s goals and aspirations for the future?

We hope to expand our commercial fueling partnerships and HVAC department into new areas like plumbing and electrical. We are also planning on developing our propane operations both in market share and geographical growth. Growing our wholesale fuel operations as a shipper on the pipeline is another goal we have going forward, as well as continuing to build our regional presence with our lubricant distribution.     

What advice would you give to other businesses striving for long-term success and longevity? 

It is truly special to be part of a fourth-generation business and learn from those who came before our current generation. To be a successful company, you have to have happy employees and happy customers, in that order. Our employee-focused decision-making has helped build a strong culture that we believe, in turn, leads to greater customer service and loyalty from our team. At Berico, we are never satisfied with following the status quo. We always find ways to improve, grow and change if needed. Being goal-focused keeps your entire team going in the right direction.

Johnny Nickel is associate editor for Butane-Propane News magazine.

Placing Priority on the Employee