PERC task force to explore new consumer education strategies

July 16, 2015 By    
perc gavel exchange

The Propane Education & Research Council’s (PERC) July meeting began with a gavel exchange, as outgoing chairwoman Paula Wilson of AmeriGas welcomed new chairman Tom Van Buren of Ferrell North America. At far left is PERC President and CEO Roy Willis.

With its public education initiatives no longer restricted by the federal government, the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) announced plans to form a consumer awareness task force that will help lay the foundation for a new outreach program.

PERC has been moving toward a new consumer education program since the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) lifted a restriction that had lasted about six years. The council announced the DOC’s decision to lift the restriction during the Southeastern Convention & International Propane Expo in April.

As part of 1996 legislation that authorized PERC’s formation, DOC was instructed to calculate the price of consumer grade propane annually and compare it with an index of prices of competing fuels. If the price of propane exceeded a specified threshold, the council would be restricted from conducting most educational outreach activities regarding the general benefits of propane, on the assumption it was driving disproportionate demand.

Consumer education helps end users better understand the benefits of propane and ultimately grows gallon sales for the industry, but the restriction that took hold in August 2009 terminated millions of dollars toward that effort.

With the help of the National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) and members of Congress, the DOC performed a new propane price analysis using revised data that put the industry below the threshold, lifting the restriction.

“We’re at a mission-critical time period in our industry,” says Tom Van Buren of Ferrell North America, the council’s new chairman who replaced Paula Wilson of AmeriGas during this week’s meeting in Park City, Utah. “We are at a stage where we can raise the bar to grow gallons off the council’s commercialization efforts over the last five years.”

In a post-restriction era, the council faces a “paradigm change,” says PERC President and CEO Roy Willis. Whereas the previous campaign was developed around the residential and commercial markets and Energy Guys-branded materials, the industry has since expanded its market focuses; new opportunities to grow gallons have emerged; and the way consumers receive information has trended toward digital technologies.

Changes are already taking place behind the scenes at PERC, Willis says. The council is interviewing candidates for a new chief marketing officer to push a new program, and it’s reexamining the deployment of its communication resources.

During consumer education campaign development, PERC is stressing a continued focus on its project portfolio, and this week also approved the formation of a subcommittee to oversee it.

“Our effort to integrate a consumer education program into our commercialization strategy will be one of the most important things this council does,” Willis says.

The council has been deliberate in its actions toward a new program, leaning on industry leaders to help develop a strategic plan.

Scott Brockelmeyer of Ferrellgas will chair the new task force. He says the group will be propane marketer driven and consist of individuals with expertise in various market segments of the industry.

The new task force will construct a framework for the campaign, identify council needs to execute the strategy and identify how to measure progress over time, Willis says.

“Consumer education can change consumer behavior,” Willis adds. “This council has done it before, and we need to do it again.”

Stuart Weidie, president and CEO of Blossman Gas and chairman-elect of NPGA, wanted to hear a more specific strategy for a new consumer education campaign. He told the council he only heard a “collection of random thoughts” during the meeting instead of a deeper strategy on which customers and prospects the industry should target for gallon growth. PERC officials say a new campaign likely won’t launch until 2016.

Also at the meeting, PERC approved a proposed 2016 budget of $44.4 million for public comment. It maintains an assessment rate of four-tenths of a cent per gallon.

Check out LP Gas’ August issue for more coverage from PERC’s July meeting.

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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