Customer’s Gas Service grows with father’s influence

July 2, 2012 By    

Centennial celebration
LP Gas Magazine is celebrating the propane industry centennial by honoring longtime retailers with our Blue Ribbon Gas Man award and enduring dealership businesses with our Retailing Honor Roll. Look for the complete list of these owner-operators and dealerships in our July issue, and read about some of them here in Snapshot. Customer’s Gas Service LLC’s Mel Price is on our Blue Ribbon Gas Man list.

Terry Price chuckles when his dad, Mel, tells some of the wild stories of his early years as a gas man in the 1950s and ’60s.

There were the times Mel had to shovel his bobtail out of North Dakota snow banks to make good on his 500-gallon hauls. There was also the stretch when Mel hauled propane in blizzards with a broken ankle. And, who can forget, the times he soaked ash in oil, lit it on fire and let it smolder all night by his bobtail’s transmission so the darn thing would run the next morning.

“Some of the stories he would tell regarding that era would scare the hell out of current-day safety directors,” says Terry, who co-owns Customer’s Gas Service with his wife, Renee.

Terry even remembers hanging out in the bobtail around age 3 while his dad delivered gas. Today, few gas men would dare bring a 3-year-old along for the ride, but, as Terry says, that’s the way propane retailers operated in those days. And it’s those childhood experiences, he adds, that made him want to be a gas man himself.

“I watched my dad for many years – ups and downs – and the one thing he really got a lot of mileage out of was helping people,” Terry says. “You don’t deliver with a broken leg and put ashes under a bobtail for the money. There’s a passion, and that’s what I took away from him.”

In 2000, after an extensive career with several companies, Mel purchased Customer’s Gas Service in Wisconsin. He immediately turned around and offered the company to his son, who continues to make payments to Mel for it today.

At the time the Prices purchased the company, they inherited about 240 customers. Today, the Prices have about 3,000.

A key to adding more customers, Terry says, is finding summer opportunities. About two years ago, Customer’s Gas Service partnered with Generac on generators. Since then, the company has sold about 40 of them. It also sells items like propane-powered grills and refrigerators to sustain business, and Terry continues to explore other markets.

“We have two golf courses in our area, and I would love to have them try a couple of propane-powered lawn mowers,” he says. “I would actually have to convert their mowers to run on propane. You have to play to the customers you have.”

Terry’s dad taught him that long ago.

“Without him, I wouldn’t have done any of this,” Terry says.

TEAM: Pictured above, Mel Price, foreground, and his son, Terry Price.
LOCATION: Amberg, Wis.
FOUNDED: 1995
EMPLOYEES: 7
CUSTOMERS: About 3,000
PROPANE SALES: 1.02 million annual gallons

Kevin Yanik

About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is the senior editor of LP Gas Magazine. Contact him at kyanik@northcoastmedia.net or 216-706-3724.

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