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Food, Fuel, Family, and Future Growth: Three Bears Reflects on 40 Years in Alaska

Mar 3, 2020 | Monitor, Transportation

A Crowley Fuels Customer Profile

David Weisz, Three Bears’ president and CEO, right, with his son Dan Weisz, director of c-store operations/fuel, left.

Crowley

Forty years. Twelve stores. Three generations. That’s what Three Bears Alaska will celebrate this November as they mark the 40th anniversary of their first store opening. But that’s not the only milestone for the Alaska family-owned and -operated company this year. They are also deep into preparations for several new store openings, including their new Big Lake store this month.

The grocery store chain has its roots in Tok, where the first store was opened in 1980 by Larry Weisz Sr. With the support of his son David, Weisz Sr. spent the next nine years learning how to successfully operate a small store in a small community.

In 1989, along with two other partners, Weisz Sr. opened a store in Valdez. Inspired by Alaska and the partnership of three, someone suggested the name “Three Bears,” and the brand was born.

Over the next several years, Three Bears added several new stores, gaining more experience and confidence and building momentum. In 1995, they opened their Kenai store, which, at 32,000 square feet, was much larger than their other locations at the time. While Three Bears had a good handle on the niche needs of serving a small community, they now had a larger store in a larger community and had to figure out how to make the new format successful.

“We started to play with product mixes, and it started to take off,” says David Weisz, Three Bears’ president and CEO. A few years later, they bought the building and completed an addition.

“Fuel sales did well from day one. As we’ve grown, we’ve added fuel stations to our new and existing stores. We’re a healthy fuel player in Alaska with Crowley’s and Shell’s help.”

—David Weisz, President/CEO, Three Bears Alaska

With the Kenai store doing well, they started to look for their next opportunity, which brought them to the Mat-Su Valley. In 2005, Three Bears opened their first store in Mat-Su at Four Corners, one of the first stores to offer fuel. Around that same time, Three Bears began working with Crowley Fuels as their fuel provider.

“Fuel sales did well from day one,” Weisz says, adding that they started with unbranded stations and then converted to Shell stations when they partnered with Crowley. “As we’ve grown, we’ve added fuel stations to our new and existing stores. We’re a healthy fuel player in Alaska with Crowley’s and Shell’s help.”

In 2007, Three Bears introduced their brand outside of Alaska, opening a store in Butte, Montana. Meanwhile, they continued to expand their footprint across Alaska.

Today, with twelve stores, 700 employees, and preparing to celebrate their 40th anniversary, Three Bears isn’t slowing down. Their newest store in Palmer opened July 2019, and the new Big Lake location will be complete with a convenience store, liquor store, fuel station, and an Ace Hardware on the same property.

“We’re working on two to three new locations in the next year and looking at three to five new locations in the next two to three years,” Weisz says. “We’re finding the right niches. Our stores are where folks live, it’s their community store. It’s worked out well.”

Weisz attributes much of Three Bears’ success to listening and responding to their customers. “We’re driven by listening to our customers and place an emphasis on taking care of them,” he says. “If we’re not doing a good job, they won’t come back.”

The evolution of their product lines is a good example. Over the years, Three Bears has expanded to offer a full line of groceries, fresh meat, fresh produce, health and beauty aids, pharmacy department, pet needs, office supplies, seasonal, and bulk buy items. The Three Bears Outpost carries sporting goods ranging from guns, ammunition, knives, and apparel to fishing, hunting, and camping gear. They also have hunting and fishing licenses available at most locations.

Several years ago, at their Big Lake location, local pilots started asking for aviation fuel. With the support of Crowley for equipment, product, training, and maintenance, Three Bears now offers aviation fuel at that location.

“Crowley is an instrumental part of our growth. They take care of us. I can’t think of a better fuel partner.”

—David Weisz, President/CEO, Three Bears Alaska

Crowley

In addition to aviation fuel, Crowley also supplies Three Bears with three grades of Shell unleaded gasoline, as well as diesel, propane, and even home heating fuel at some locations.

“Crowley is an instrumental part of our growth. They take care of us. I can’t think of a better fuel partner,” Weisz says. Quality fuel, reliable service, competent employees, responsiveness to training needs or equipment issues, and up-to-date technology for monitoring and leak detection are several reasons Three Bears chooses to work with Crowley.

“It’s extremely important to go the extra mile to make sure you’re getting clean fuel and that everything is operational,” Weisz says. Pricing is another important consideration. “Crowley works hard so we can stay priced competitively.”

Competitive pricing on all their products, including fuel, is another key to Three Bears’ success. “As we grow, we can buy bigger and buy better. The bigger the buy, the better the price, and we pass those savings along to our customers,” says Weisz, noting that some of their products today are less expensive than in the 1980s because of the volume and who they buy from.

One thing that has remained constant over the years is the family involvement in the company. Although Larry Weisz Sr. retired twelve years ago, Three Bears remains a family-run business. Two of Weisz’s sisters and two brothers remain closely involved in operations, and all seven of Weisz’s children have worked for the company, including three sons who work there currently. “Even though we’re much bigger now, there is still a lot of family involved,” Weisz says.

“This November marks forty years of Alaskans serving Alaskans,” he continues. “My dad founded the company in 1980, our family helped build it, and we’re still moving forward. The third generation is in line now to carry the company into the future.”

And Crowley is pleased and proud of its partnership with Three Bears and looks forward to continuing to help fuel the company’s future growth and success.   

For more information on Three Bears Alaska, visit threebearsalaska.com. To learn more about Crowley Fuels, visit CrowleyFuels.com.

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With the Kenai store doing well, they started to look for their next opportunity, which brought them to the Mat-Su Valley. In 2005, Three Bears opened their first store in Mat-Su at Four Corners, one of the first stores to offer fuel. Around that same time, Three Bears began working with Crowley Fuels as their fuel provider.

“Fuel sales did well from day one,” Weisz says, adding that they started with unbranded stations and then converted to Shell stations when they partnered with Crowley. “As we’ve grown, we’ve added fuel stations to our new and existing stores. We’re a healthy fuel player in Alaska with Crowley’s and Shell’s help.”

In 2007, Three Bears introduced their brand outside of Alaska, opening a store in Butte, Montana. Meanwhile, they continued to expand their footprint across Alaska.

Today, with twelve stores, 700 employees, and preparing to celebrate their 40th anniversary, Three Bears isn’t slowing down. Their newest store in Palmer opened July 2019, and the new Big Lake location will be complete with a convenience store, liquor store, fuel station, and an Ace Hardware on the same property.

“We’re working on two to three new locations in the next year and looking at three to five new locations in the next two to three years,” Weisz says. “We’re finding the right niches. Our stores are where folks live, it’s their community store. It’s worked out well.”

Weisz attributes much of Three Bears’ success to listening and responding to their customers. “We’re driven by listening to our customers and place an emphasis on taking care of them,” he says. “If we’re not doing a good job, they won’t come back.”

The evolution of their product lines is a good example. Over the years, Three Bears has expanded to offer a full line of groceries, fresh meat, fresh produce, health and beauty aids, pharmacy department, pet needs, office supplies, seasonal, and bulk buy items. The Three Bears Outpost carries sporting goods ranging from guns, ammunition, knives, and apparel to fishing, hunting, and camping gear. They also have hunting and fishing licenses available at most locations.

Several years ago, at their Big Lake location, local pilots started asking for aviation fuel. With the support of Crowley for equipment, product, training, and maintenance, Three Bears now offers aviation fuel at that location.

In addition to aviation fuel, Crowley also supplies Three Bears with three grades of Shell unleaded gasoline, as well as diesel, propane, and even home heating fuel at some locations.

“Crowley is an instrumental part of our growth. They take care of us. I can’t think of a better fuel partner,” Weisz says. Quality fuel, reliable service, competent employees, responsiveness to training needs or equipment issues, and up-to-date technology for monitoring and leak detection are several reasons Three Bears chooses to work with Crowley.

“It’s extremely important to go the extra mile to make sure you’re getting clean fuel and that everything is operational,” Weisz says. Pricing is another important consideration. “Crowley works hard so we can stay priced competitively.”

Competitive pricing on all their products, including fuel, is another key to Three Bears’ success. “As we grow, we can buy bigger and buy better. The bigger the buy, the better the price, and we pass those savings along to our customers,” says Weisz, noting that some of their products today are less expensive than in the 1980s because of the volume and who they buy from.

One thing that has remained constant over the years is the family involvement in the company. Although Larry Weisz Sr. retired twelve years ago, Three Bears remains a family-run business. Two of Weisz’s sisters and two brothers remain closely involved in operations, and all seven of Weisz’s children have worked for the company, including three sons who work there currently. “Even though we’re much bigger now, there is still a lot of family involved,” Weisz says.

“This November marks forty years of Alaskans serving Alaskans,” he continues. “My dad founded the company in 1980, our family helped build it, and we’re still moving forward. The third generation is in line now to carry the company into the future.”

And Crowley is pleased and proud of its partnership with Three Bears and looks forward to continuing to help fuel the company’s future growth and success.   

For more information on Three Bears Alaska, visit threebearsalaska.com. To learn more about Crowley Fuels, visit CrowleyFuels.com.

Crowley

“Crowley is an instrumental part of our growth. They take care of us. I can’t think of a better fuel partner.”

—David Weisz, President/CEO, Three Bears Alaska

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