Folger Gas digitized the way its drivers did business about 12 years ago by adding tablets and digital meter technology to its bobtails to make the company run more efficiently.
“We were hand-keying in all the tickets and having to balance them manually,” says Pete Folger, co-owner of Folger Gas. “It took forever to balance every day. But now, with the software, things are seamless.”
This past year, the company took this technology one step further by purchasing three Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablets for its service technicians. The tablets serve as tools to help technicians with work orders, Gas Checks and material lists, Folger says. Technicians can also use the tablets to take pictures of installations and appliances on-site, as well as look up service-call histories.
Folger Gas partnered with Blue Cow Software in August 2015. Blue Cow’s Ignite software schedules technicians’ calls, stores information about customers and helps with billing. Folger Gas deployed the Surface Pro 3 tablets with Ignite software to its technicians in April 2016, and they went through a brief training period using both the tablets and manual reports.
“We set a date, committed to it and at that point switched strictly to using tablets,” says Jason Patterson, service manager at Folger Gas. “There were problems, but we committed to go through them. And each day it got easier.”
There were trials upon switching to the tablets, but the retailer implemented the new technology during a less busy time of year.
“When we started using the tablets, it changed everything some of our service techs knew about the jobs they had been doing,” says Kim Folger, co-owner of Folger Gas. “It’s been a bumpy road and it took us a while to get over the hump from being manual to automated, but it’s now a night-and-day difference.”
In addition, the retailer learned quickly that technicians require more rugged tablets than delivery drivers. While drivers can keep the tablets in their vehicles at all times, technicians need to carry the tablets with them around the job site, Patterson adds. As a result, the retailer replaced one of its Surface Pro 3 tablets with a MobileDemand xTablet T1500, a more rugged model.
“Initially, we didn’t count on the fact that servicemen would need to carry the tablets all around with them,” he says. “Had we thought that through, we would have initially purchased the most rugged devices. Anyone adding this to their business should look for the most rugged model that their budget allows.”
The tablets have proven to be a timesaving tool for Folger Gas. Pete Folger thinks it’s only a matter of time before tablets become a mainstream tool for technicians. He also hopes to see technicians use tablets as selling tools.
“I think if we can start selling with them, we can easily pay off the investment in the tablets,” he says. “I see that value in them going forward.”
Owners: Pete and Kim Folger
Headquarters: Blue Ridge, Georgia
Propane Sales: 3.5 million annual gallons
Customers: About 9,000