During trips home from propane industry events over the years, former LP Gas Editor Pat Hyland would often ask me, “So what’d you learn?”
Before answering, I would normally pause to sort through the overload of information cycling through my head. Grasping the ins and outs of any industry takes time.
So as I think back on the industry’s latest trip to Atlanta, where the National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) hosted the Southeastern Convention & International Propane Expo in April, this familiar question comes to mind.
So here’s what I learned:
■ I’m a sucker for motivational speeches. Lt. Col. Rob “Waldo” Waldman delivered one on the expo’s opening day.
The former F-16 Air Force fighter pilot talked about overcoming his fear of heights and claustrophobia to fly more than 65 combat missions all over the world.
“My passion was greater than my fear,” he says.
He stressed the importance of teamwork, explaining you need “wingmen” to dodge the missiles fired within our own industry. He says the keys to building a stronger business include adapting to change, stepping outside your comfort zone and “pushing up” on the throttle to avoid complacency.
■ The Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) is breathing a sigh of relief after getting the news it’s been seeking for nearly six years. It can finally promote the benefits of propane to all end users after the Department of Commerce lifted a restriction on PERC’s public education efforts. Click here for more about the restriction and what this means for the industry.
■ New residential construction is picking up and returning to a normal level, PERC CEO Roy Willis says. That’s good news for propane sales opportunities. But we continue to hear about the encroachment of heat pumps and the growth of electricity as the primary source of energy in homes.
“Our message about residential is: Do you have a relationship with somebody who influences the building process?” Tucker Perkins, chief business development officer for the council, asks of the propane retailer.
■ One-third of the industry is engaged in selling propane appliances, Willis says. In the residential space, we still rely on others, such as plumbers, HVAC companies and big box stores, to sell appliances. Why not put more control in our own hands?
■ Propane has lost market share in the forklift segment – from 65 percent to less than 50 percent. A partnership between PERC and Power Solutions International looks to reverse that trend with the development of an advanced propane engine. The council is positioning propane against Tier 4 diesel and electrified products in the 3- to 6-ton forklift market.
■ Propane’s advantages over diesel are also evident in the agricultural market, as the industry continues to push irrigation engines. Perkins says a large group of users is advocating for the industry in this space. Other opportunities also exist for propane in agriculture.
“The data is showing irrigation is awesome, grain drying is really strong and animal heat is en vogue,” Perkins says.
■ A segment of the industry is making every effort to capitalize on the opportunities in the propane autogas market. The expo’s first Autogas Pavilion, which included 19 exhibitors across 6,500 square feet of show-floor space, was evidence of that.
Many partnerships have been formed, as the industry has found success with school buses and medium-duty loads, but it still needs more marketer engagement in autogas to fully tap this year-round gallon producer.
■ A branding problem exists between PERC and NPGA. Some industry members are unclear of the role each group plays. We can tell you the council’s focus is on industry safety and training efforts, research and development, and (now without the restriction) consumer education. The association has a handle on legislative and regulatory issues, working with governmental agencies and lobbying on the industry’s behalf. PERC says it’s working on the issue.
■ The industry seems on board with the Propane Expo’s move to Nashville, Tenn., for 2016 and 2017, before a return to Atlanta in 2018. Anecdotally, we haven’t heard much pushback on this NPGA decision. In our conversations, industry members are excited for the change to a vibrant Music City.