100 Years and Counting for Oil Company
By Jeff Morris – January 22, 2021
You might never guess from hearing him talk that Bedford resident, David Singer, is co-president and CEO of a major metropolitan area heating oil supplier. He is more likely to tell you about his company’s sustainable energy initiatives, its role as a supplier of 100% hydro-generated electric power, its technicians trained in electric heat pumps, or his involvement with the Boys & Girls Club of Northern Westchester.
Robison Oil, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, has grown to over 200 employees and over 24,000 customers. But the company history is a bit more complicated. It begins, at least partially, in 1921, when architectural engineer Eben Robison opened a small office in downtown Hartsdale, with his wife running a gas station and auto parts store. He lived upstairs and was ready to help anyone in need at all hours of the night. The business grew and eventually expanded to delivering home heating oil to homes in Scarsdale, Hartsdale, Edgemont, Ardsley and White Plains.
Meanwhile, Original Oil was founded by Harry Singer in 1928, delivering oil to the five boroughs of New York. “My grandfather and his brother actually started the company in the early 1920s, bringing lubrication oil in barrels to sweatshops in the garment district,” Mr. Singer told The Record-Review. “When heating oil began overtaking coal after World War II, they started growing the heating oil side of the business in the ‘50s. My dad had just finished college and joined the company and kept growing it in the ‘60s.”
His father, Saul Singer, passed away Jan. 10 in Florida at the age of 85. In his obituary, it was noted that Saul Singer was a supporter of White Plains Hospital and dozens of other local charities — a tradition his sons have followed.
David Singer is a longtime supporter of the Boys & Girls Club, Northern Westchester Hospital and other area organizations. He has been involved with the Westchester/Putnam Workforce Development Board for over 10 years, currently serving as board chair. He and his company are actively involved in community activities, sponsoring community events as well as Little League teams in Bedford Hills and Mount Kisco. His brother, Dan, who is four years younger and lives in Ardsley, serves on the board of Feeding Westchester.
In 1984, while competing against much larger companies, Saul Singer was successful in buying Robison from Mobil, which had taken control of the company in the ‘70s from a group of managers and employees who ran into difficulties during a period of energy shortages and price instability. Original and Robison operated as a combined company for a period, but, explained David Singer, in the late ‘90s the Singers decided to sell Original because it was primarily dealing in the heavy oil used in apartment buildings, which “was falling out of favor,” he said. “We sold it to Hess and started focusing on home heating oil in Westchester.”
Significantly, he said, they also expanded into other forms of energy. In the late ‘90s, when industry deregulation came to New York state, Robison became one of the first oil companies to provide customers with electric service. “Our electricity that we sell now is 100% hydro-generated,” Mr. Singer said. Robison also entered the natural gas business, introducing its full-service customer model with twice-a-year maintenance visits to the gas market. “Gas customers never had that luxury,” he said. “Today we sell as much natural gas as heating oil.”
Mr. Singer said he works closely with organizations such as Sustainable Westchester and Bedford 2030 to refine the company’s approach to energy efficiency, including offering a 100% green energy option to customers.
Also, a number of company staff members are certified to perform home energy audits in conjunction with Energize New York, and more personnel is undergoing the certification process, he added.
Mr. Singer said the company refrains from standard sales practices such as telemarketing and direct mail to promote its green energy and other services, preferring instead to rely on customer relationships and word of mouth.
The company’s 100th anniversary means a lot to Robison’s employees, said Mr. Singer. “Many of our employees have been with us their entire careers. Unfortunately, “we haven’t been able to do the kind of celebration we would like to because of COVID. But we want to remind the market, and offer incentives to customers.”
Summing up the company’s record, he said, “We got here because we keep our heads down and work hard.”