Companies use their bobtails to share important messages

June 11, 2024 By    

Bobtails are essential to the propane industry. They’re the main method retailers use to transport the liquid propane to customers.

In a 2018 report by Bankers Insurance, 35,000 bobtails travel the roads each day to deliver propane.

Other than a company logo or the symbols that are mandated by regulations, it used to be that the tank space on a bobtail was left blank. But that isn’t always the case anymore.

Companies across the industry have discovered an opportunity to cover that space in support of certain causes.

Not unlike race car drivers covering their cars in sponsorships, these propane companies are putting messages on what are essentially mobile billboards. By wrapping the bobtails in vinyl, companies can promote causes that are important to them. With trucks on highways across the country, the messages are bound to grab people’s attention.

‘Fuel up for FFA’

Virginia FFA members, sporting their signature jackets, stand in front of the branded bobtail promoting the “Fuel Up for FFA” program.(Photo courtesy of Rockingham Petroleum Cooperative)

Virginia FFA members, sporting their signature jackets, stand in front of the branded bobtail promoting the “Fuel Up for FFA” program. (Photo courtesy of Rockingham Petroleum Cooperative)

One company that deployed a wrapped bobtail for a public cause is Rockingham Petroleum Cooperative, which wrapped a truck to promote the “Fuel up for FFA” campaign to support the Future Farmers of America (FFA). The FFA bobtail hit the road in 2023 and has returned this year.

“The FFA was very influential in my life as a young adult,” Josh Stephens, general manager of Rockingham Petroleum, says. Stephens was an FFA member, having served as the Virginia state FFA president while in high school. “I see folks that work for me, and I see other young leaders in our community that can really attribute what they learned in that organization to what they’ve been able to accomplish professionally and in their personal lives.

“We take 5 cents per gallon pumped off that truck to go back to the Virginia FFA Foundation,” Stephens explains.

This donation helps the FFA with several objectives, including providing FFA jackets for students, funding career development events and sponsoring awards for student projects. The 5 cents per gallon adds up quickly, even just from one truck.

“Last year, we put 500,000 gallons through that particular unit and presented a check to the FFA Foundation in December for $25,000,” Stephens says.

Rockingham’s campaign is also getting other companies across Virginia to start their own tank-wrapping campaigns.

“It’s causing a sweep across the state,” Stephens explains. “Folks are saying, ‘You know, that’s a good cause we want to be involved in, too.’ And it’s causing other retailers to look at doing the same thing.”

Stephens sees the impact and support that the campaign has in the community and among Rockingham’s customers. To bring in as many donations as possible, Rockingham spread the word about the truck and the donation pledge across various channels.

“We put it out on the radio, we put it on our website, we put it on our Facebook page,” Stephens says. “We’ve actually had customers switch their service from other local providers. We have customers that call in and specifically say, ‘Hey, I’m going to need to fill up in a couple of weeks. Just make sure it’s when the FFA truck can come take care of it.’ They’re behind the cause, too.”

Veterans with disabilities

The Eastern Propane & Oil team presents a check to Veterans Count for the proceeds of the company’s penny-per-gallon campaign. (Photo courtesy of Eastern Propane & oil)

The Eastern Propane & Oil team presents a check to Veterans Count for the proceeds of the company’s penny-per-gallon campaign. (Photo courtesy of Eastern Propane & Oil)

Eastern Propane & Oil has been doing cause marketing with Veterans Count for over six years, and just started working with the Disabled American Veterans Department (DAV) of Massachusetts within the past six months.

The company has wrapped bobtails in support of both organizations – five for Veterans Count and two for the DAV.

“A penny for every gallon of fuel that runs through that truck is donated back to the organization,” Whitney Cloutier, brand and marketing manager, says. “So, it’s not just the brand awareness; it’s that we’re also attaching that to a monetary donation to help New England veterans.”

In November 2023, Eastern Propane presented a check to Veterans Count for nearly $25,000, collected from the five wrapped bobtails.

In addition to the donation pledge, Eastern Propane seeks to educate people about these organizations.

“Veterans Count is a fairly young company, as far as helping out in New Hampshire and Maine,” Nathan McShinsky, marketing specialist for Eastern Propane, says. “Sharing their mission is important and educating people about what they’re doing for active-duty military and their families, and for veterans once they’ve served the country.”

According to Cloutier, Eastern Propane has been working to support veterans and their families for over 90 years, long before the bobtail-wrapping campaigns.

“The families who own Eastern, the Clement and Anderson families, both have such a passion for military veterans and first responders,” Cloutier says. “So that has been part of the foundation and commitment to community that Eastern has in supporting those organizations.”

Suicide prevention

Gordon Swan, owner of Swan Fuel Services, wrapped a bobtail for his company’s suicide prevention campaign after the death of his close friend, Sherrie Sue Schwartz.

Swan Fuel Services’ suicide prevention truck is on display at Propane Expo in memory of Gordon Swan’s friend, Sherrie Sue Schwartz. (Photo: LP Gas Staff)

Swan Fuel Services’ suicide prevention truck is on display at Propane Expo in memory of Gordon Swan’s friend, Sherrie Sue Schwartz. (Photo by LP Gas staff)

“She was my very good friend. She struggled with depression, and last June, she committed suicide,” Swan says. “Her family has been really good to me, and I’ve known them for a long time, so I did this as a tribute to her and to her family.”

Talking about suicide used to be taboo, Swan says, but today, more people are talking about it openly. Swan’s goal with this initiative is to spread awareness of suicide and to get people to start talking to each other and support their friends in their mental health struggles.

“These trucks are making 25 to 30 stops a day, and they’re driving up and down these roads,” he explains. “They’re driving billboards. And if someone sees that, maybe they’ll think, ‘You know, I haven’t reached out to that one person. I should probably check in on him because I haven’t seen him in a while, someone a call and see how they’re doing, and that helps them through another day, then we’ll have accomplished what we’re looking for.”

Getting personal

While these companies support different causes, each of their campaigns has personal weight behind them. The propane retailers say their genuine support for the causes is beneficial to their respective communities.

“Consumers are so quick to see through things if there’s no connection or no passion,” Cloutier says. “Consumers will know whether there’s an authentic appreciation for the organization or not.”

For other propane retailers who may want to wrap their trucks in support of a cause, Stephens and Swan advise them to get involved with people who are connected to the cause.

“Get to know the folks that are involved in that cause,” Stephens suggests. “Not only the executive directors and the leadership of those organizations, but get involved with those who are affected by it.”

For Stephens, that means talking with FFA students to understand what they’re getting out of the program and how important it is to them.

For Swan, that means working with Schwartz’s family and his own sister and niece, who were close to Schwartz. In the past, Swan wrapped propane bobtails for autism awareness, which was another cause that’s personal to him. His oldest son has autism.

“If they’re doing it for someone, have them get involved,” Swan recommends. “Ask, ‘What can we do to make it personal?’”

Swan adds that retailers should get input from their employees, too. “They’re the ones driving the trucks,” he explains.

To that end, Eastern Propane employs military veterans to drive the branded trucks whenever possible.

“It’s Eastern veterans driving the veterans-branded truck that is raising money for veterans,” Cloutier says. “It’s very full circle.”

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