Rhode Island company uses survey to help start propane sales

March 1, 2009 By    

Buckley Heating & Cooling has specialized in heating oil for 90 years, but within the last 10 it has grown with propane. The Rhode Island company added propane to its long list of products and services in 2001, with a survey fueling the decision.

Several factors led President and CEO Jeff Buckley to consider propane. Upon acquiring a competing heating oil company prior to 2001, Buckley noticed a 250-gallon propane tank sitting in the yard. Out of convenience, the competing dealer would fill barbecue propane cylinders for existing customers and friends.

“Every time I looked out the window at my office and looked at this 250-gallon tank – and we’re plugging little 20-gallon tanks – I thought it could be more than this,” says Buckley, representing the third generation of the four-generation family business.

The company began inquiring about where customers have residential propane tanks filled. The 10-question survey, based on customer-service aspects of the business, built on this inquiry.

Buckley called it a “request and reward” survey, in which the company would give phone cards to participants. Several hundred surveys were sent to customers.

“Is there anything else you’d like to see Buckley sell or be involved with?” was a key question in the survey, which required written answers.

Many requests touched on Buckley Heating & Cooling getting into the propane business and filling a need for reliable propane service. The overwhelming response was that the competition had been doing a poor job, Buckley says the survey revealed.

“There are 140 oil companies in Rhode Island, so you have to be there on time and fix it right the first time,” he says. “That was our general culture anyway in the company.”

And one they were ready to apply to propane. Buckley says they “ran by the seat of our pants” in launching the new segment. The company bought a used truck and tanks, hired a young worker from the competition to lead the way and watched as the business “took off.” It now has 60,000 gallons of storage volume and three bobtails.

“It was so much easier than I thought,” Buckley says of the propane venture, though admitting challenges existed from a financial standpoint. “We took our bumps along the way, but it went pretty smooth.”

TEAM: CEO Jeff Buckley, right, and Matt Buckley, sales manager

LOCATION: Peacedale, R.I.

FOUNDED: 1919 (propane in 2001)

EMPLOYEES: 60

PROPANE SOLD: 1.15 million gallons in 2008

SPECIALTY: Heating oil company sells propane and propane products for many uses, including water heating, cooking and space heating. It has several propane filling stations.

ONLINE: www.rioil.com

Brian Richesson

About the Author:

Brian Richesson is the editor in chief of LP Gas Magazine. Contact him at brichesson@northcoastmedia.net or 216-706-3748.

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