Increase your visibility to customers with Internet presence

January 1, 2009 By and    

The statistical data on the use of the World Wide Web, provided by, is fascinating.

Did you know that 75 percent of adults in the United States today access the Internet? That compares to 15 percent of adults who accessed the Internet in 1995 and 50 percent of adults who used it as recently as 2000.

Not unexpected is the age comparison. Ninety percent of individuals between the ages of 18 and 29 use the Internet, while only 38 percent of those over 65 are users.

Also, the higher the income bracket of a person, the more likely that person will use the Internet. In fact, 95 percent of all Internet users have a household income greater than $75,000. That compares to 56 percent of those who come from households making less than $30,000.

A similar trend is true for educational factors: 95 percent of those with college degrees access the Internet, but only 38 percent of those without a high school diploma are active users.

So, the question for you: Is your business available to propane customers who are on the Internet?

Who is open and who’s not?
Four years ago, a quick search through the National Propane Gas Association membership directory showed that a remarkably low percentage of independent propane distributors had established a Web site to receive customers. The alarmingly high number of those who had not yet jumped aboard prompted my 2005 column promoting the benefits of establishing a Web site. Today, it is good to see that many in the industry are effectively using the Internet as a marketing tool.

However, for all who have not yet created a Web site, my purpose here is to drive the last nail in the coffin – so to speak – on this subject. Actually, there are quite a few of you. The typical logic for not establishing a Web site is 1) your business is extremely well established; 2) you gain customers by word of mouth and from your reputation; and 3) you already know everyone in the community and they know you.

Don’t be the last one
A similar comparison to today’s Internet usage is the growth of telephone’s usage in the latter part of the 1800s and into the 20th century. Initially, the invention of the telephone was a novelty. It grew first into a “fad” category, and then eventually its use became widespread. There were always business owners who resisted and never established phone service. However, at some unknown point, on one given day probably in the middle part of the 20th century, the last business without phone service closed its doors or finally installed a phone. A similar evolutionary trend is occurring with the use of computers in small businesses.

So, if you don’t have a Web site in this day and age, you are basically saying to the most-educated, highest-income group in your market that you are not open for business – at least not in terms of the most effective communications tool available. My advice is to not be the last one standing without a Web site.

It’s really quite easy
First you should know that setting up a Web site is relatively inexpensive and a fairly painless process. I am confident that you can set up a Web site for a few thousand dollars or less. If you want funding, move it out of newspapers and telephone books – surely less effective advertising segments. With a little digging you will find how many local people are experienced in Web site development and how much they can get done for so little.

The ultimate purpose
The key benefits are:
• Increasing the awareness of your business – if you can’t be found on the Web, people may think you have closed your doors;
• Validating the inquirer’s questions regarding your company’s capabilities – reliability and dependability remain the top needs for any homeowner in choosing his propane supplier; and
• Providing assurances – that you are open for business, that you do great work and that you can be counted on.
So now that we have revisited the most important technological breakthrough since your company was founded, the question is: Are you truly open for business? If not, when do you plan to open?

Carl Hughes is senior vice president of business development for Inergy LP. He can be reached at or 816-842-8181.


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