A 121-year-old farmer co-op puts pedal to floor on autogas

August 7, 2014 By    
Premier Cooperative

Josh Budworth, left, a Premier Cooperative energy regional sales representative and an Alliance AutoGas sales rep, with Tim Lease, Premier’s energy division manager.

One of the oldest farmer cooperatives in the United States has roots that trace back to 1893. Still, that co-op continues to modernize, and it’s actively developing its propane autogas services.

Premier Cooperative, which is based in Mount Horeb, Wis., and has 14 locations throughout southwest Wisconsin, officially joined the growing Alliance AutoGas network last month. The co-op’s ties to autogas, however, date back a few years and to Charter Fuels, a member of the Alliance AutoGas network that Premier Cooperative acquired earlier this year.

As part of the acquisition, Premier Cooperative acquired the services of Josh Budworth, a veteran Alliance AutoGas sales rep who’s now a Premier Cooperative energy regional sales representative.

“I’ve worked for Charter Fuels since 2009,” Budworth says. “I got started with Alliance as an automotive technician in 2004-2005. Alliance AutoGas became a natural fit for what I do.”

According to Budworth, Charter Fuels sold about 2,000 gallons for autogas purposes in his first year with the company. The next year, Charter Fuels sold about 9,000 autogas-specific gallons. Last year, the company sold more than 80,000 gallons.

“You can see how it’s starting to unfold,” Budworth says.

This year, Budworth sees Premier Cooperative approaching or surpassing 100,000 gallons in autogas sales. Premier is currently serving about 40 vehicles across 12 fleets. Budworth forecasts future sales far beyond that, though.

“The outlook is really good,” he says. “Once people get past the fear factor, we can offer the complete package – everything from onsite fueling to technical support and training. It really calms customers’ nerves knowing that.”

Cold-starting issues were a hump propane retailers had to get over with past autogas technologies, Budworth says. Cold starting is still a concern many potential customers have, but it’s an issue Premier Cooperative can overcome, he adds, because the system the co-op uses has a proven track record.

“The other big anxiety piece is the range of the vehicles,” he says. “The system we use is a bi-fuel system, so you can run on propane or gasoline. You have the same range on propane as you do on gasoline.”

Although Budworth is optimistic about autogas for Premier Cooperative, that specific propane market currently represents just a sliver of the co-op’s propane sales.

Following the Charter Fuels acquisition, Energy Division Manager Tim Lease says the co-op is now in position to sell about 17 million annual gallons of propane.

Most of those gallons are sold into the residential market, but the ag market – which Premier Cooperative has served since its first days as Patrons’ Mercantile Cooperative in 1893 – is still a key market for the business.

“I think we do maybe 600,000 gallons in corn drying,” Lease says. “Last year it all hit at once so it was tough to get loads sometimes.”

Lease is exploring summer deliveries and larger tanks for remote customers as a way to improve how Premier Cooperative serves its farmer customers

COMPANY: Premier Cooperative

LOCATION: Mount Horeb, Wis.


EMPLOYEES: 41 in propane

CUSTOMERS: More than 20,000

PROPANE SALES: 17 million annual gallons

ONLINE: www.premiercooperative.com

Photo: Premier Cooperative

About the Author:

Kevin Yanik was a senior editor at LP Gas Magazine.

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