Building a long-lasting propane business

September 4, 2019 By    

The Grand Hotel, located on northern Michigan’s Mackinac Island, has been in continuous operation for more than 130 years. The hotel exudes a style and graciousness that stands in stark contrast to today’s cookie cutter corporate lodging chains.

Of the 11 wooden-structured hotels in the United States with over 200 rooms, the Grand Hotel is the only one under private ownership. Photo: iStock.com/ehrlif

Of the 11 wooden-structured hotels in the United States with over 200 rooms, the Grand Hotel is the only one under private ownership. Photo: iStock.com/ehrlif

The premier resort hotel is in its third generation of family ownership after originally being built by a group of steamship and railroad transportation companies to attract Victorian travelers. Original intentions aside, the Grand Hotel was built to last.

There are also many propane companies across the country with second, third and even fourth generation management and ownership in place today. These family businesses brought gas energy to families across America during the post-world war boom and adapted to better serve customers into the modern era.

While the temptation to sell is always in the background, these family propane businesses have a customer-driven vision and a willingness to continue its investment in an evolving energy future. They were built to last.

For the Grand Hotel, “built to last” means it found ways to attract customers and rise to profitability in what was originally a two-month resort season, now extended to six months a year. That’s right – every year the hotel is shut down and winterized during the six months of the cold offseason. While the nearly 400 rooms remain empty in the winter, a lot of time, talent and resources are invested in preparing for the next season and beyond.

The Grand Hotel’s version of customer retention is that it finds ways to attract returning guests year after year, generation after generation. As an example, a fourth-generation guest wedding took place last summer at the hotel.

While the Grand Hotel has a loyal return-guest following, the hotel has invested in its future with the latest in digital marketing, including an optimized website and social media platform to help create new loyal guests as well. Last year, the Grand Hotel set an occupancy rate record of 99.8 percent.

The Grand Hotel has it figured out.

If your propane company is built to last, you are finding effective ways to attract new customers while retaining a high percentage of your current business. You know how many customers you have in every market you serve. You know how many new customers you are bringing on and why they chose your company. You also know how many customers you are losing and, most importantly, why you are losing them, so you can make adjustments if needed.

A high percentage of your marketing spend is focused on the digital world in which your prospective customers live, such as having a modern, well-maintained website and a thoughtful social media approach. You take pride in the customer experience you provide and look for ways to improve it even further. You have it figured it out.

There are some things on which the Grand Hotel won’t compromise, such as its reputation as a living, working museum that brings history alive for its guests while still offering all of the modern amenities. As one might expect, lodging at the Grand Hotel is expensive, but the customer experience it offers is unparalleled.

At one time, there were over 1,200 wooden-structured hotels of over 200 rooms in the United States. Today there are 11, and the Grand Hotel is the only one under private ownership.

The Grand Hotel is built to last.

If you are one of those multi-generation propane companies, your brand and reputation are paramount. While some of your competitors are building to sell, you have a more measured approach. Your propane pricing reflects the customer experience you deliver and what you need to reinvest in the business to keep it viable well into the future. Your company is built to last.


Tom Jaenicke is vice president of propane marketing services for Warm Thoughts Communications

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