Salesman’s journey to start California company no easy road

July 19, 2013 By    

Chuck Kinnie, at 50, finds himself without a job and less than $15,000 in retirement savings.

This is 1997. Kinnie has spent the past five years working in sales for a national propane retailer, but the high-paying salary and the comfortable lifestyle are suddenly gone. What to do?

Well, with the $15,000 stashed away and another $20,000 borrowed from his parents, Kinnie pieces together his own propane retail business. One of his first moves is to buy a 1979 Ford F-600 bobtail that was once a Petrolane truck. The truck had been parked in a Carson City, Nev., backyard for about five years, and Kinnie buys it for $4,000.

But shortly after starting the four-hour trek home toward Sacramento, Calif., Kinnie encounters more bad luck: His bobtail is breaking down.

“As you go north on Highway 395, you go up on a 10 percent climb out of the little valley headed toward Reno, (Nev.),” Kinnie says. “I did a quarter-mile on this climb, and the oil pressure goes to zero.”

Fortunately, the F-600 has enough juice left to complete the journey to Sacramento in triple the time. Kinnie gets the bobtail fixed and prepped for duty. The next winter he pumps 300,000 gallons through the truck, and his new business, Shasta Gas Propane Inc., is on its way.

“My first year I gained 600 customers, and I gained 600 customers three years in a row,” says Kinnie, now 66. “At the end of three years, I had 1,800 rental tanks out in the field.”

Although the rapid growth was great on the surface, Kinnie says Shasta Gas grew too fast in its early years.

“I got hooked up with Coast Gas,” he says. “They were shipping me all the tanks I wanted. I was setting 54 tanks a month. I was illegal, and they would have put me in jail and thrown away the key because I was working 16-hour days. There are some horror stories in my story, but if you’re going down you have to make things happen.”

Borrowing all of those tanks in the early years set Kinnie back, as he says he essentially paid for some tanks three times over – and finally paid off his remaining borrowed tanks last year.

Now, Kinnie is moving into a new chapter of his career, breaking ground recently in Anderson, Calif., on a 2,400-square-foot office, a 2,000-square-foot shop and a 500-square-foot area to refurbish tanks. The facilities are a major upgrade for Shasta Gas, which first operated out of a bedroom of a 1,200-square-foot home before moving into a rental office.

Kinnie’s journey between establishing the company and moving it into a more comfortable facility had its hurdles. But the challenges were well worth it, Kinnie says, because he has a viable business to pass onto his children.

“I’ve got my daughter and son-in-law in training to take this over,” he says. “I have a son and a daughter-in-law that I want to develop [a] tank-refurbishing business.”

LOCATION: Anderson, Calif.

FOUNDED: 1997

EMPLOYEES: 10

Customers: 4,000

PROPANE SALES: 1.1 million annual gallons

ONLINE: www.shastagaspropane.com

Pictured above: Family members involved in Shasta Gas Propane include, clockwise from the far left: Jason Wehunt, Sunshine Wehunt, Judy Kinnie, Chuck Kinnie, Karen Wehunt and Jason Wehunt Jr.

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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