Some propane retailers spend a considerable amount of money and resources on marketing their company to prospective customers while ignoring their current “underserved” customer base.
“Underserved” is a word I stole from the natural gas industry playbook. Natural gas utilities use “underserved” to describe a propane user who has natural gas nearby but hasn’t switched yet. In the propane industry, “underserved” refers to propane users who haven’t taken advantage of the unique propane opportunities available to them. Many propane users don’t know all of the ways that propane can make their lives better in their homes or businesses because they are “underserved” by their propane providers.
The Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) spends millions of dollars each year to develop products and programs to help state associations and propane marketers expand the use of propane across the country. Now that the restrictions on consumer outreach have been lifted, PERC is expected to boost those efforts even further. None of that money being spent will do any good if propane marketers choose to “underserve” their customers by not communicating with them. The resulting loss of gallon-sales opportunities is then magnified further in the commercial segment.
Let me give you a real-life example: An owner of a popular ski and golf resort in the Midwest was quoted in a chamber of commerce special report that having propane energy at his resort was holding back economic development, explaining that he supports natural gas expansion. The resort has large on-site propane storage delivered by a transport truck, so it is in a competitive class of service. When the report surfaced, it was a red flag the propane industry couldn’t ignore.
A small delegation of propane industry veterans arranged an appointment with the resort owners and key management team members. The meeting went well, and the resort owners were pleased with the attention. The meeting follow-up items included the following:
- Long-term propane forecast – The customer wanted a better sense of where the propane market was predicted to go in the long and short term, so he would have a better sense of how to plan for his energy needs. PERC can help provide this information.
- Service assistance – There were some soot issues on several installed propane fireplace products that needed attention. A qualified service technician was recommended to address those issues.
- Expansion needs – The main lodge is doubling in size, and the resort needed recommendations on the best type of propane equipment to install for space heating, water heating and hearth use. A sales representative was recommended to address those needs.
- Propane consolidation – Several 1,000-gallon propane tanks in use in outlying areas of the property will be eliminated with the resort tying in to the main bulk storage locations. The propane industry gave a qualified contractor reference.
- Off-road use – Information on propane lawn mowers and the research and development of other golf course maintenance equipment was given to the owners. They are interested in learning more and participating in trial use. The state association is also getting involved.
- Snow grooming – The resort owners are particularly interested in propane-powered snow-grooming equipment. There are two popular brands on the market that run on diesel. The resort owners are concerned about the exhaust and noise pollution that come with the diesel equipment, and they would welcome a propane solution. PERC has been alerted to the possible research and development opportunity here.
The conversation also turned to an affordable housing project and more accurate price comparison between natural gas and propane, standby generators, propane autogas use for the maintenance vehicle fleet and other opportunities at the resort.
The resort is a prime example of a propane customer being “underserved.” The propane supplier needs to be proactive in serving this type of account and finding ways to provide service and expand usage in ways that provide a better energy experience for the customer.
You can continue to “underserve” your customers or potentially double your gallon sales by showing them new opportunities. What’s your choice?