Putting PERC into perspective

August 1, 2003 By    

As I end my term as chairman of the Propane Education & Research Council, my perspective about PERC has changed during my six years as an independent propane marketer on the council. Over those years, I’ve been troubled by some of the perceptions within the industry about what PERC
can or should do.

One of the most persistent perceptions about PERC is that it will grow the market for our industry. While PERC can and is doing a lot to inform consumers about propane through the national advertising campaign, in reality PERC cannot grow the market. That is the responsibility of each company in the propane business. It might be tempting to think that all the marketers have to do is sit in their easy chairs and let PERC close their deals, but the truth is that PERC does not sell a gallon of propane; only marketers can do that.

The council’s mission is the same today as it was when it was created in 1997: promote the safe, efficient use of propane as a preferred energy source. What PERC can do ­ and has been doing for the last six years is give marketers the tools necessary to grow a market that is made more receptive to our sales efforts through the ad campaign.

Here’s a sample of some of the tools that PERC has created to make our
jobs a lot easier:

  • A propane advertising kit, now online, filled with print and broadcast
    advertising material to attract new customers to your business;
  • A safe grilling campaign to communicate the message of how to enjoy the
    advantages of safe grilling with propane;
  • Water heater materials to promote the sale of propane-fueled water heaters
    rather than electric;
  • Forklift brochures that point out the tremendous advantages propane-fueled
    forklifts have over those powered by other energy sources; and
  • Manufactured housing materials designed to help us make more sales in that
    market.

I could go on with this list, but I think the point is sufficiently made. PERC has given us a tool box and now we have to start using the tools in it.

Safety Responsibility

Another troubling perception is that safety should be the responsibility of PERC, not the industry. The reality is that safety is still a company responsibility.

The legislation creating PERC and its recent acquisition of the Certified Employee Training Program (CETP) materials from NPGA has not changed that responsibility. We can expect PERC to work with the industry to provide the best-in-class workforce training program at a cost that every marketer can afford. Yet, even the best safety training program cannot improve safety unless it is put to use.

Improved safety is important to growing the propane market. Consumers tell pollsters that concern about safety is a principle obstacle for them to use propane. Without increased safety and a well-trained workforce, marketers will not be able to offer exceptional service and value that consumers expect today. If those expectations are not met, the industry will not grow regardless of how much we spend on advertising.

In my view, one of the ways to achieve this is by better coordinating the rebate dollars that PERC provides to states. The impact will be greatest when our consumer messages and training are uniform across the country.

Volunteerism is Vital

A third perception is that PERC is not a volunteer organization. The reality is that board members don’t get paid and are not reimbursed for their expenses. We serve because we want to see our industry grow larger and stronger.

I volunteered because I felt it was time to give back to the industry that has been so good to my family and myself. Being selected as a council member, treasurer and chairman has allowed me to put my experience and talents to work serving the industry. I will be forever grateful for this
opportunity.

Constructive criticism is always welcome, but it is disappointing to receive criticism from industry members who are not willing to be part of the process. As PERC has grown, so has the need for more industry members to help guide and oversee its programs. That’s why I urge you to volunteer to be on a PERC advisory committee, subcommittee, or task force. Your perspective and knowledge are needed.

Remember, PERC is not run or overseen by any government agency. It is run by industry volunteers who oversee a small professional staff.

In my view, PERC and our industry associations are only as great as the volunteers who guide and direct them. Your investment of time and money will be rewarded many times over. I can attest to that fact with my own company, Cress Gas Co. We are a far better and more effective company today because of the knowledge I have gained by being active in the Pennsylvania Propane Gas Association, an NPGA state director and a PERC member and officer. Being involved is rewarding.

Where Would We Be?

Without PERC, we wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what we have thus far. Examples come to mind in the critically importantly PERC mission areas of consumer education and research and development.

In the R&D area, we faced a tremendous challenge when forklift manufacturers were thinking of pulling away from propane as more stringent emissions standards were being proposed at the state and national levels. With PERC resources, our industry was able to move quickly and decisively to address the issue.

In January, PERC funded an aggressive research project to test new propane-fueled forklift engines that can meet these stricter emission standards well before they take effect. In April, funds were approved for a forklift maintenance/training program and for specific environmental and economic research on forklifts that NPGA and the Western Propane Gas Association were able to use to substantially defeat California plans to ban new propane forklifts.

It would be tremendous if all R&D always produced such quick successes. The reality is R&D dollars are often long-term investments. If a project were known to be successful up front, private enterprise would have already developed that product. That’s why the long-term perspective must always be kept in mind when looking at our industry’s R & D investments.

In consumer education, PERC dollars are being used effectively through a nationwide and local advertising campaign. The numbers really tell the story, as the industry’s favorability rating climbs higher and customer brand awareness increases.

Now the challenge is to turn favorability and awareness gains into sales. That’s why I have stated publicly and directly that we need to increase the assessment rate to the maximum allowed under PERC’s legislation. We can’t afford to lose the momentum from our previous investments. With effective advertising, the marketer’s job of closing the sale should be much easier.

Still, dollars alone won’t do the job. Marketers must support the effort by offering exceptional service and value to close the sale and provide the growth in our markets that we all seek.

I hope that by writing this article, you will better understand PERC and its role to all of us. With that reality firmly in mind, it’s my hope and belief that we can all move in the same direction and achieve the success our industry is destined to have.

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