Family-run retailer finds value in outside experiences

May 23, 2016 By    
From left: Kara Tucker, Helen Koppenhaver, David Koppenhaver and Kristen Snyder

From left: Kara Tucker, Helen Koppenhaver, David Koppenhaver and Kristen Snyder Photo: Koppy’s Propane Gas

A sense of pride emerges when a propane retailer is able to keep a business in the family for multiple generations.

According to John A. Davis’ book, “Enduring Advantage: Collected Essays on Family Enterprise,” only 30 percent of family businesses make it to the second generation. Fourteen percent make it to the third generation.

Koppy’s Propane beat both of those odds, having made it to the fourth generation. The central Pennsylvania propane retailer spun out of a general store business in the 1940s, and the propane business has passed on through the generations since then.

Like many who grow up in a family business, Kara Tucker and Kristen Snyder, fourth-generation owners of Koppy’s Propane, regularly helped their parents with the business during their childhoods. Tucker says she and Snyder did “everything and anything” for the business, from painting tanks to answering calls.

With long-standing family businesses like Koppy’s Propane, there’s sometimes a need for outside perspectives – especially after several generations of ownership. Tucker and Snyder temporarily left the family business after graduating from college to get outside work experience and to improve their management skills. Both graduated and received positions at JPMorgan Chase in New York.

When Tucker worked for JPMorgan Chase in 2001, she learned about new business practices and versatility, which she brought back with her when she returned to Koppy’s Propane in 2006.

“I’m glad I went to the city and tried my own thing,” Tucker says. “Had I stayed with the family business my whole career, I don’t think I would be as good of a manager.”

Snyder adds that working for a large company right after college helped to boost her confidence levels when she returned to the business in 2010.

“I had to experience being at the bottom of a business and work my way up, which gave me a new appreciation of my ownership at the family business,” she says.

Tucker also took a few MBA classes at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management when she returned to Koppy’s Propane. The MBA classes gave her a greater understanding about how to run a family business.

David Koppenhaver, her father and co-owner of Koppy’s Propane, even joined her in a class about how to keep a business in the family.

“With almost every class I took in my MBA experience, I could immediately think about Koppy’s Propane and how to improve it,” she says.

Both Tucker and Snyder say they gained invaluable insights from working and learning outside the family business. Because of those experiences, they continue to seek outside knowledge about the best ways to do business.

The fourth-generation owners involve Koppy’s Propane in the National Propane Gas Association’s (NPGA) Benchmarking Council as one way for the family company to hear outside opinions.

“We’ve gained so much knowledge in these meetings,” Snyder says. “We had the idea to put handhelds in our trucks through one of the NPGA meetings. Because of that, we’ve significantly boosted our delivery efficiency.”

More on Koppy’s Propane

OWNERS: David Koppenhaver, Kristen Snyder, Kara Tucker

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About the Author:

Megan Smalley was an associate editor at LP Gas magazine.

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