Owens Energy offers the unexpected in the Wild West

December 12, 2011 By    

Owens Energy isn’t your typical retail propane company, especially when the owners “can’t say how many times we’ve had guns pulled on us,” co-owner Dennis Owens guesses.

Welcome to the Wild West of Show Low, Ariz.

The action takes place about 6,500 feet in elevation, where the Owens brothers – Dan and Dennis – have serviced customers across challenging terrain and in unique propane applications since 1999. About 175 miles northeast of Phoenix, Show Low is known as the recreational area of Arizona, with plenty of camping, fishing, hiking, golfing and skiing.

Then there’s the area east of town where hundreds of families live off the electrical grid, on ranchettes that rely on renewable energy (solar and wind) and generators for backup power. Propane is used for heating and cooking, and most appliances run on gas, including dryers, refrigerators and the generators. These off-grid accounts represent about a quarter of the company’s business.

“A lot of the customers are off the grid,” says Dennis Owens, adding that his brother lives off the grid as well. “They want to be kind of solitary. In some areas you don’t drive your personal vehicle because you might get shot at, but in a propane truck you don’t have a problem. It’s interesting some things we run into.”

That’s if the company can get there. About half of its customers are only accessible from dirt roads, and in some cases Owens Energy had to get creative to service them because “it’s not worth trashing a $150,000 truck” to sell a modest amount of gas, Owens says.

In one case, the company ran a 300- to 400-foot line up a mountain to the customer’s house because it was so difficult to access with a bobtail. The customer’s tank is about a quarter-mile from the house. Another customer set up a small trailer to move his tank closer to the paved roads to have it filled.

“We’ll try to work with them in ways they can get service without us having to go clear to the home,” Owens says.

The Owens brothers have roots in the area. Dan Owens had been transporting propane in Canada before returning to Arizona and uniting with his brother. Dennis Owens had hopes of keeping his job as an electrical contractor while working in propane, but he discovered that wasn’t possible.

“We knew a lot of people here, and we got busy real quick,” Dennis Owens says.

TEAM: Owners (and brothers) Dan and Dennis Owens
LOCATION: Show Low, Ariz.
FOUNDED: 1999
EMPLOYEES: 9
CUSTOMERS: 3,000
PROPANE SALES: About 2 million gallons annually
NOTEWORTHY: Owens Energy has a customer who applied for a Propane Exceptional Products incentive and is likely to be approved. It is a $1,000 incentive to purchase and report performance of a Generac off-grid generator. The Propane Education & Research Council launched the program in October.
ONLINE: www.owensenergy.com

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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