Propane marketers in buying mood at Southeastern Convention

May 1, 2009 By and    

Scribbles in my notebook from the Southeastern Convention & International Propane Expo held April 4-6 in Atlanta:

SHOW PERFORMANCE: There were more attendees to see fewer exhibiting vendors covering less space on this year’s show floor. The number of qualified attendees was up 18 percent (1,431 vs. 1,209 in 2008); exhibitors was down 11.5 percent (192 vs. 217); show floor square footage was off almost 14 percent (47,500 net vs. 55,100 net); and total attendance (attendees, exhibitors, staff, guests, etc.) was up a shade (2,807 vs. 2,770), according to Jennifer Tomb, director of conventions and meetings for the National Propane Gas Association.

More significantly, show patrons were enthusiastic and looking to buy. A perfect storm of cold weather and high margins throughout the heating season meant marketers had cash in their pockets for capital purchases, as well as an opportunity to invest in equipment and services to increase business efficiency.

Vendors wary of the rugged economic climate who chose not to exhibit – truck companies were noticeably absent from their familiar perimeter positions – will be kicking themselves for missing this year.

The new innovations booth, on-floor luncheon and fast-track education sessions seemed to successfully generate floor traffic. Feedback also was positive regarding additional hours scheduled for Sunday (which is historically the busiest day) and reduced hours on Monday to allow most exhibitors to move out and avoid an additional day of expenses.

BUS(TING) SALES: Blue Bird Corp. hoped to sell 300 clean-burning, propane-powered Vision school buses in 2008. The manufacturer reports year-end sales pushing 800. The GM 8.1-litre Vortec engine used in the popular OEM is being retired, however, and will be available for the bus only through 2010. Blue Bird and PERC are looking for a replacement.

MOW ’EM DOWN: Since Dixie Chopper launched its commercial-grade, propane rider mower in Atlanta in 2006, seven other manufacturers (Bad Boy, EnviroGard, Ferris Industries, Husqvarna, Lehr, Scag Power Equipment and Zipper) have stepped up to offer equipment. Now Kawasaki is in the process of a major transition of its 600, 730 and 850 engine block families targeted at the $8 billion nationwide lawn and garden industry market. The change should generate 15 engine models ranging from 16 to 31 horsepower. PERC has kicked in $100,000 to ensure propane engines are part of that reconfiguration.

IT’S A GAS: The new-look International Association of Young Gassers celebrated its 50th anniversary with a salute to Rick LaDue, Kurt Ruhl and Brian Davidson. The esteemed triumvirate ran the organization for the last 20 years before passing the reins to Becky Zigmond of Vision Financial and Jason Soulon of JARCO Inc. earlier this year.

The new leaders hope to extend the group’s mission of welcoming young men and women into the propane industry to make it more of a professional networking, social and service organization. They are developing a communications network to allow members to foster personal and professional relationships and accelerate them through job referrals and networking. Check out the group’s new Web site (www.younggassers.org).

MISSED IN ACTION: Old friend Frazier Thompson, president and later CEO of Presto-Tap, an innovative provider of leak-testing equipment since its inception in 1998, passed away at his home March 2 after a lengthy illness. Frazier helped develop and market a full product line of leak-testing equipment in the sole interest of a safer propane industry. He was a pioneer in leak-check safety and someone I always looked forward to visiting each spring in Atlanta. He truly will be missed.

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