Cylinder exchange company finds accounting partner at the Summit

June 6, 2023 By    

Launching a successful business from scratch sounds glamorous, but sudden growth can induce panic if not managed astutely. Recognizing the need for wise counsel is humbling but smart.

Just ask Peter Samuelson, COO at Propane Ninja, a propane cylinder exchange he founded in 2013 with partner Mike Dodd. The Tampa, Florida-based company blossomed from a single-pickup-truck operation to a company that has established a strong presence in the forklift market. It’s now expanding into bulk propane.

Samuelson

Samuelson

As Propane Ninja grew, Samuelson and Dodd turned to Gray, Gray & Gray, a Boston accounting firm, for help. They became acquainted with Gray, Gray & Gray at the LP Gas Growth Summit and learned that it has a division that specializes in the fuel oil and propane industries.

“You could tell they understood how to manage the high number of assets a propane company has,” Samuelson says of Gray, Gray & Gray. “Our CPA firm at the time was working more with service-based companies, and their needs were totally different than ours.

“With us, there was so much capital being put into hard assets, and the people at Gray understood that,” Samuelson adds. “They knew how our industry works.”

Samuelson and Dodd are natural entrepreneurs. After graduating college, they partnered with local nonprofits in the Tampa area, selling donated clothes on the wholesale market and splitting the proceeds with the charities.

They received a tip that restaurants needed about 20 propane tanks daily for patio heaters during winter. The problem was that few propane companies were set up to meet those seasonal demands. Samuelson and Dodd saw an opportunity to fill that niche, and Propane Ninja was born.

Samuelson and Dodd focused on speedy customer responsiveness. For the first few years, they handled their own sales, filled their own tanks and invested all of their revenue back into the business.

“We were fast, flexible and earned a reputation very quickly in the hospitality industry,” Samuelson says.

Prior to Propane Ninja and Gray, Gray & Gray connecting at the LP Gas Growth Summit, Martin Zenk, senior representative of business development at Propane Ninja, met Marty Kirshner, head of Gray, Gray & Gray’s Energy Practice Group, at a convention. Zenk was impressed with Kirshner’s knowledge of the propane industry.

Kirshner

Kirshner

At the time, Samuelson and Dodd had a CPA firm, but when that relationship went south, they immediately called Gray, Gray & Gray. The two companies began working together in 2021.

Kirshner admits that Propane Ninja was a little different than his typical clients. Because Propane Ninja is a smaller business, Gray, Gray & Gray adjusts its fees accordingly.

“A lot of my clients are larger companies with 2 to 3 million gallons, 30 employees and a controller,” Kirshner says. “Ninja is a little smaller, but there was so much opportunity for growth, and I was intrigued by them and their business model.”

The first service Gray, Gray & Gray provided was a full review of Propane Ninja’s previous tax returns and balance sheets to spot any mistakes and determine if revisions were necessary. Kirshner also forecast Propane Ninja’s tax liability if the company continued with the status quo versus if it switched to Gray, Gray & Gray.

“It was really beneficial,” Samuelson says. “They understood the frustrations we were having with our previous CPA not understanding high levels of depreciation due to our rapid growth and our high level of capital going to assets each year.”

Most importantly, Gray, Gray & Gray stressed that Propane Ninja base financial decisions on its profit margin, not its revenue, because propane is a margin-based industry.

Samuelson says Gray, Gray & Gray has become more like a business partner than a consultant. Kirshner even traveled from Boston to Tampa to take part in a meeting with Propane Ninja’s financial backers.

“We never would have gotten that from our previous CPA firm,” Samuelson says.

Kirshner says he also has benefited from the partnership. Propane Ninja has given testimonials about Gray, Gray & Gray’s services and spread the word about the firm in a state far away.

“I’m a young partner in the firm, still growing my business,” Kirshner says. “To have clients who are similar in age to me, I feel I am learning a lot from them as they learn from me. We are growing together.”


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