Testing a proven idea

May 1, 2006 By    

Propane marketers may soon have a way to evaluate competing brands of equipment beyond the promotional material distributed by product manufacturers and vendors.

The Propane Education & Research Council is considering hiring independent laboratories to test the performance of valves, regulators, tank coatings, underground tank protection, truck equipment and other products routinely purchased by retailers.

The idea is modeled after the popular Consumer Reports magazine that assesses thousands of products for the general public. Other industries perform similar product and service evaluations for their members.

Proponents of the idea say independently testing the design, specifications and performance of equipment commonly used in the propane industry could add accountability to manufacturers and prod needed improvements.

 Patrick Hyland
Patrick Hyland

“In the end, the propane marketer wins with improved products,” observed Stuart Weidie, president of Blossman Gas and chairman of PERC’s Research & Development Advisory Committee, which is pushing the concept.

One unanswered question is what to do with the completed test results.

Like Consumer Reports magazine, the lab reports – and possibly recommendations – could be published and made available to all propane marketers through a paid subscription. The publication would have to be free of any advertisements in order to maintain independence and impartiality.

Another option would be to make the data available only to the National Propane Gas Association. Its Technology and Standards Committee, for example, would love to have third-party research data to guide its recommendations on proper standards for the storage, transportation and use of propane, including equipment and appliances.

When I first heard the idea at the April PERC council meeting in Atlanta, I thought it would never see the light of day. With equipment suppliers sitting on the PERC and NPGA boards, I waited for the discussion to get swatted like a timid layup against Shaquille O’Neal.

It never happened.

PERC council members encouraged Weidie, who had already broached the subject with NPGA leadership, to prepare a funding request for PERC to cover the cost of hiring the labs.

Kudos to industry leaders willing to risk inevitable political flak to empower LPG retailers to make better business decisions for themselves.

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