The St. Vincent Automotive Co-operative Society (SACS) Ltd. was registered on April 14, 1969. According to Mr. Hugh Stewart, one of the founding fathers, the idea to establish this type of co-operative was pro ered by Mr. Lewis, the then Co-operative field officer in the Ministry of Agriculture. Mr. Stewart further intimated that although gasoline was being sold at EC$1.00 per gallon at that time, the sale of this fuel was a pro table undertaking.
The establishment of the SACS at that juncture was both visionary and courageous, in light of the challenges that were being experienced by the co-operative movement. The new venture’s competitors were four other gas stations located within the vicinity of Kingstown. Shell, Esso and Texaco supplied these stations with fuel. However, Texaco with whom SACS had established a partnership was a dominant player in the market. Thus, despite the presence of Shell and Esso, the environment was conducive to the establishment of a co-operative gas station which would supply its members with gasoline and vehicle accessories.
The operationalization of the SACS was achieved through the action of a group of co-operative credit union members primarily from the government employees Co- operative Credit union ltd. (GECCU) and the Kingstown Co-operative Credit union ltd. (KCCU). on May 6, 1969,the group which comprised of eleven males elected a Management Committee to oversee the operations of the entity with Mr. Hillary B. Da Silva as chairman. These founding fathers provided the initial capital to get the gas station functioning and negotiated a line of credit with Hadley Brothers and St. Vincent Motors Ltd., the franchisee for TACo. in addition to infrastructure such as buildings, Texaco supplied the gas station with fuel dispensers. Shares were subsequently sold to new members at a par value of eC$5. 00 per share with each member being required to purchase a minimum of five shares.
Texaco funded the participation of Mr. Robert Slater, first secretary/manager, in a training course in Trinidad and Tobago. A news story in the June 7, 1969 edition of the local newspaper, The Vincentian, stated that: ‘The Manager of the St. Vincent Automotive Society left on June 1st to undergo a course in Co-operative Management. The Manager will return to St. Vincent on time to manage the new Co-operative Society which will be opened to the general public on about the 1st July, 1969.’
The St. Vincent Automotive Co-operative Society Ltd. officially opened its gas station on Saturday, October 20, 1969, almost three weeks after it had commenced offering products to the general public. The gas station was strategically located at the far western area of Kingstown on the main road leading to the General Hospital and the Leeward Highway. This location has been maintained throughout its fty years of operations. The designation of ‘Management Committee’ was changed to ‘Board of Directors’ in 1990. This board comprised of a Chairman, Vice Chairman, a secretary /manager and four other directors.
Early efforts at expansion
The primary objective of SACS, as identified by its bye- laws, is the improvement of the economic welfare of members through the utilization of their united funds and e orts for marketing of petroleum products and/ or any approved product. indeed, in an attempt to fulfill this critical objective, some members, as early as in 1969, promoted the idea of establishing a supermarket in the Arnos Vale area. This proposal never became a reality since other members were of the opinion that the gas station should be put on a rm footing before engaging in a new venture. Subsequently, the Management Committee sought to open another gas station on the Reclamation Site. Negotiations were held with the Development Corporation (Devco) between 1981 and 1984 on the leasing of lands to house the new station. These negotiations were discontinued after Devco indicated that the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines was rethinking its development plans for the Reclamation Site.
Initially, membership was restricted to members of existing credit unions. This was, however, changed in 1971 after members argued that this restriction was impeding the growth in membership and also gave the impression that the society was a private concern. Membership was thus opened up to the general public. from the eleven founding fathers in 1969, membership grew to 420 by 1985 and reached an all-time high of 515 in 1997.
In 1984, a resolution was passed to authorize the increase of the minimum share requirement for membership from five shares at EC$5.00 each to forty shares at EC$5.00 each. This move was intended to enhance the capital base of the society. An inadvertent consequence of this decision was the failure of a large number of members to increase their shares to meet the new membership
requirement, even after the grace period had elapsed. The present membership that meets this new requirement currently stands at a little more than three hundred.
Product and Services
Throughout its years of operations, the St. Vincent Automotive Co-operative Society has always sought to expand and enhance the range of product and services o ered to members and other stakeholders. The society’s ability to deliver high quality products has always been predicated on the commitment of its members and the e effectiveness of its management and staff . Many board and committee members, as was the practice by the founding fathers, have over the years given yeoman and voluntary services to the entity. Despite the magnanimous efforts of these members, SACS experienced a prolonged period of difficulty during which time its operations and profitability were negatively affected. fortunately, at the turn of the 21st century, the Board of Directors began an aggressive programme to address those factors that gave rise to this period of difficulty. The success of this strategy is reflected in the enhanced stability in SACS’ management and operations. This has resulted in the society being able to consistently pay dividends and issue bonus shares for two consecutive years. This improved position put SACS in a better position to expand and enhance its products and services and also created the platform for the acquisition of a modern administrative building. Credit must be given to the Board of Directors, Building Committee, manager and staff of the gas station as well as the active membership who provided critical support during this crucial period. Today the range of products and services offered include gasoline, diesel, lubricating oils, vehicle accessories, cold drinks and mobile telephone ‘top-up’.
New Administrative Building
The St. Vincent Automotive Co-operative Society, as early as 1976, expressed an interest in owning its own headquarters. Attempts were made to purchase the property that it rented for use as an o ce. This property was ideal given its close proximity to the gas station. unfortunately, after a period of promising negotiations, the landlord renege on her decision to sell the property. in June 2011, the Board established a Building Committee to give impetus to the effort to acquire an administrative building. The Committee which was chaired by Bro. Martin La Borde made several efforts to purchase properties within walking distances of the gas station. These included a property directly opposite (east) the gas station, Victoria House next to the Victoria park, a property in rose place and one next to new Haven funeral Home on the road leading to edinboro. These e orts were unsuccessful for one reason or the other. Finally in late 2014, the Building Committee located and successfully negotiated for the purchase of a parcel of land at the junction between Tyrel and Queen Streets. The deed for this property was registered in March 2015 and construction of a modern administrative building commenced in August 2016. The construction phase was completed in 2017 and the new headquarters was o cially opened on friday 29th September, 2017.
The visionary and noble decision to establish the St. Vincent Automotive Co-operative Society fifty years ago is today bearing fruits for members and other stakeholders. it is true that in its early years the SACS experienced great difficulties and challenges. However, the dedication of its members, the commitment and vision of the various Boards of Directors and the support of the many stakeholders have combined to catapult the co-operative to a position of relative stability. It is now in a position to make significant progress as it embarks on its next fifty years of operations.