Valley Propane surpasses 1 million annual gallons with two drivers

April 23, 2014 By    
Valley Propane

From left, Ruben Acosta, Martin Cortez, Frank Covarrubia, Roger Guthrie, Alicia Estrada, Sheryl DeVelbiss and Vince Guthrie.

Valley Propane is a small retailer made up of five employees. Two of the company’s employees are full-time bobtail drivers, and combined the two deliver about 1.1 million gallons of propane each year.

On a retail gallons-delivered-per-bobtail basis, Valley Propane’s Vince Guthrie suggests his company outpaces many of the largest retailers in the United States. And if you compare Valley Propane’s productivity with the data available about the Top 50 Propane Retailers, you’ll find, with a few exceptions, that Guthrie is correct about his company’s efficiency.

So how is a small California retailer – one Guthrie estimates is the second smallest in its region – able to crack the 1-million-annual-gallon mark with so few resources?

“We try to put all of our resources at every area we cover,” Guthrie says. “We have so many accounts in this small area that we have to be here three to four days per week just to take care of it.”

The areas Valley Propane serves near Fresno, Calif. – Mendota to the west and Madera Ranchos to the northwest – are highly residential. Guthrie says residential drives between 70 and 80 percent of Valley Propane’s business, with agricultural and commercial accounts making up the rest.

Valley Propane isn’t trying to make it as an MLP, Guthrie adds. Instead, his goal is to be the best at covering one territory.

“We come from a small town called Firebaugh, Calif., where everybody knows each other,” says Guthrie, whose father, Roger, owns the business. “Everybody knows each other’s kids because my dad was the tee ball coach for many years. I tried to lay down the same roots in Madera Ranchos. The west side is home. We don’t want to be anywhere else.”

Roger founded Valley Propane in Mendota in 1995, and Vince, 30, started working in the business around 2007. The company branched into Madera Ranchos in 2010, hosted an open house that drew about 400 local people that summer and signed up about 15 percent of those who attended that day.

The business grew in Madera Ranchos from that open house, Vince says, because of a personal touch.

“I go to every tank set and meet all of our customers,” he says. “We go over the house and have coffee together. All customers have my personal cell phone number so they can get ahold of me as they need to.”

Joining the Chamber of Commerce and Kiwanis Club in Madera Ranchos proved beneficial to Valley Propane, as well.

“I was able to jump into this small community as somebody who wants to legitimately be a part of the community,” Vince says. “Our name’s on all the home run fences in town; our name’s at all of the community’s events.”

Advertising has helped boost Vince’s business, but word of mouth has played a key role, as well. Madera Ranchos consists of about 3,200 homes, Vince says, and many of those homeowners talk with one another. He happens to be one of those community members, and immersing himself in the community is a reason why Valley Propane gains an average of four customers per week, Vince says.

LOCATIONS: Mendota and Madera Ranchos, Calif.
FOUNDED: 1995
EMPLOYEES: 5
PROPANE SALES: 1.1 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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