Companies reflect on long hours, added miles needed to source supply

March 20, 2014 By    

Spring is officially here, although it certainly doesn’t feel like spring in parts of the United States. Still, the brunt of winter is gone, and many propane suppliers and retailers are experiencing normalcy in their businesses for the first time in a long while.

“When supply was extremely tight in the Ohio/Midwest market, we looked toward the South and started pulling off the Dixie Pipeline,” says Sara Seebohm, a regional sales representative for Alternative Fuels Inc., based in Milford, Ohio.

Conditions presented challenges in the Upper Midwest, as well.

“Like everyone else, we had to source from many additional companies and locations all around the Midwest – and, of course, Texas,” says Will Norman, co-president and COO of Como Oil & Propane, which covers Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Como Oil & Propane’s dispatcher estimates that the company’s transports put on somewhere between 20 and 25 percent more miles this season.

“The cost increase was enormous because freight is set in stone per mile driven,” Norman says.

Adds Seebohm: “Our drivers definitely had more hours on the road because we had to go out of market to get loads. Getting enough trucks took twice as long this winter because they had to drive to North Carolina or the Conway (Kan.) market.”

Seebohm and Norman say extended hours of service (HOS) waivers were critical to their respective companies’ ability to meet customer needs this winter.

“Our drivers all welcomed with open arms the hours-of-service exemption, and we’re still running like we should because of the exemptions,” Seebohm says March 14. “The drivers themselves are working a lot of hours right now, but that’s what they come to expect in the wintertime when they run propane. For the most part, they’ve done a tremendous job for us.”

Norman is a proponent of the HOS exemptions, as well. Minnesota, in fact, received its first state exemption on Oct. 23 during crop drying season, and it’s been covered for most of the winter. Minnesota and Wisconsin were also part of a U.S. Department of Transportation-issued regional exemption in the Midwest. Regional exemptions also covered the East, South and West, comprising as many as 35 states this winter.

“Without them we could not have kept our customers in propane,” Norman says. “I think the drivers were the real heroes this winter. We have an incredible bunch of drivers, both transport and delivery, and they worked long hours under the most demanding conditions in years. Without their extra-dedicated efforts, we would not have kept our customers in fuel this year.”

So what did Norman learn this winter that he will use come the winter of 2014-15?

“You have to be flexible and willing to operate under a whole new set of circumstances,” he says. “Luckily, we have great vendors and drivers who got the job done, against all odds. [Our No. 1] takeaway is that the industry is changing and will never be the same. The supply game has new rules, new players and new challenges.”

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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