Family-run company fosters experience, commitment

February 20, 2017 By    

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There’s something to be said for a lifetime of experience.

It’s certainly a way to gain respect, says Mike O’Reilly, a propane delivery driver for Hudson, New York-based Mulhern Gas Co. I couldn’t agree more.

O’Reilly has worked for Mulhern Gas, a family-owned propane retailer, for six years. In all, he’s been a propane delivery driver for about 10 years.

I’m standing outside as O’Reilly carefully fills one of five 1,000-gallon propane tanks for one of the company’s commercial customers. It’s sunny, with wispy clouds drifting overhead. The 30-something degree temperature doesn’t feel too cold at first, but after standing outside for 15 minutes, my fingers are feeling the effects.

A job like this takes some dedication, I think to myself.

Working for a company like Mulhern Gas makes it easier, though, I’ve realized after spending much of the past two days at the company’s office.

“They’re smaller, so they pay more attention to detail – the employees, the customers,” O’Reilly says.

This statement rings true as one enters the Mulhern Gas office. It’s filled with antique equipment, and the wall behind the front desk is adorned with “Thank you” cards – both typed and handwritten – from customers. It’s homey, and it embodies the company’s longstanding roots.

T.J. Mulhern started the company in 1918 as a coal provider. It later went into the fuel oil business, and then into the propane business. T.J.’s son-in-law, Richard Cummings, joined the company in the 1930s and his son, Richard Cummings Jr., joined the company in the 1960s. In the 1970s, the company sold its fuel oil assets to concentrate solely on the propane business. Richard Cummings Jr. currently serves as the company’s president and his son, Rick Cummings, serves as its vice president.

The family-run aspect of the company makes all of the difference for its employees, from the atmosphere to its customer service.

“It’s a laid-back atmosphere,” O’Reilly says. “You’re not under the gun all the time. And I like dealing with the owners of the company instead of a manager that’s being paid. I think that’s a big difference when the owner of the company is the person you’re dealing with. They’re the ones who are seeing what you do.”

It’s something O’Reilly appreciates, he says, as he begins filling the second tank.

“That’s kind of a rare deal nowadays,” he adds. “A lot of the smaller companies have been bought out.”



Video by Allison Barwacz


The company’s professionalism can also be attributed to the family’s experience with each service aspect it offers. It understands the gritty tasks its employees perform and the obstacles they must overcome: sub-zero-degree temperatures, blizzards and torrential downpours – to name a few.

“Like many family businesses, you grow up exposed to the business from an early age, so I had a background growing up as a kid,” Rick Cummings says. “I’ve driven bobtails, I’ve done service, I’ve done pretty much everything that we do at some point in my life.”

Mulhern Gas, which delivers about 2.5 million gallons annually, serves about 3,500 customers in the upper section of the Hudson Valley of New York. Most of these customers are residential, which the company prefers.

The company’s philosophy and business model best align with the residential sector, Cummings says.

Driver Mike O’Reilly says Mulhern Gas pays close attention to detail.

Driver Mike O’Reilly says Mulhern Gas pays close attention to detail.

“We’re very service oriented, and I think people really appreciate that,” he says. “The homeowner really appreciates that, perhaps more than commercial customers do.”

The company’s philosophy extends past simply filling customers’ propane tanks. It offers pretty much any service related to propane, including heating equipment maintenance and cooking equipment repairs, which gives customers a reason to come back.

“When we get a customer, we expect to keep that customer for life,” Cummings says. “Our philosophy is if you provide that customer with good service, you will keep them for life.”

Despite its traditional roots, the company is working to become more progressive, integrating new technologies to enhance the customer and employee experience.

“I think the next phase will be automating our delivery services and integrating that with our computer systems through the use of smartphones and tablets,” Cummings says. “I think for the future of the industry, that is the next big vista. A lot of dealers have already moved to it. Friends of mine in the industry have already moved to it. We will be moving to it.”

Cummings sees this as an opportunity with which his son, Ricky, can assist. The recent college graduate joined the company’s service department in 2015.
This is an exciting development for the company, as the staff hopes it stays within the family. After all, the family aspect is a key characteristic that separates Mulhern from larger companies. It even dictates employee performance.

“It all goes back to working for the owners of the company,” O’Reilly says. “I think that’s the difference. If they care, then you’re going to care, and it’s going to be a better quality job.”

Allison Barwacz

About the Author:

Allison Barwacz is the digital media content producer for LP Gas magazine. Contact her at abarwacz@northcoastmedia.net or 216-706-3796.

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