What a gas

Sisters have fun running family’s fuel-tank business

Sisters Laurie LaPant, left, and Lisa Johnson pose with one of Transfer Flow’s fuel tanks.

Sisters Laurie LaPant, left, and Lisa Johnson pose with one of Transfer Flow’s fuel tanks.

Photo By jason cassidy

For a business that manufactures and sells something as mundane as gas tanks, Transfer Flow seems like a pretty fun place to work. On the company’s Facebook page employees can be seen partaking in “Stomp Rocket Day,” with pictures showing smiling workers—including CEO Lisa Johnson and her sister, CFO Laurie LaPant—stomping little toy rockets into the air in the parking lot of their 77,000-square-foot facility near the Chico Municipal Airport.

And, on the morning of the interview for this story, sitting in one corner of LaPant’s bright and sunny office was a large stack of boxes of Girl Scout cookies waiting to be handed out to each employee later that day in honor of Valentine’s Day. “We’re a family company,” said Johnson with a smile.

While games, treats and camaraderie are nice, it’s also really fun to work for a stable and successful company. Transfer Flow, Inc., will be celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2013, and with a workforce of 89 employees moving an average of 9,000 fuel tanks a year, and sales of $10.6 million in 2012 (up 30 percent from the previous year), it’s as successful as ever.

Johnson and LaPant’s father, Bill Gaines, founded the company. After working as engineer for General Motors, Gaines returned home to the North State with his high-school sweetheart Jeanne and first started building fuel tanks for motor homes. The company evolved into making complete fuel-tank systems for everything from RVs to airport shuttles to pickup trucks, producing both after-market systems as well as being the original-equipment manufacturers for companies ranging from GM to U-Haul.

Eight years ago, after their parents retired, the daughters took over. By that point, the sisters had each gone to college, gotten married and had kids of their own, as well as spent plenty of time working at the company in most every facet—from janitorial to manufacturing. “You name it, we did it,” said LaPant.

Both of their husbands also work at Transfer Flow—Johnson’s husband, Warren, as marketing director and LaPant’s husband, Todd, as director of engineering.

“Our success is that we don’t incur debt,” said Johnson. “That was instilled by our parents.” All profits go back into the company and toward employee bonuses. “Our management team has been here over 20 years,” she added.

With the company firmly established in the United States, the sisters’ plans for the future include—in addition to continually trying to be innovative in developing new products—branching out, possibly setting up an East Coast distribution point, as well as increasing their international sales (which are currently at 6 percent).

“Right now we’re looking at getting into the international market,” said LaPant, adding that they would like to export to Dubai, China and even Australia in the future. “Because we really want to go to Australia someday!” she said with laugh.