In the Know: Enhancing propane retailer operations through technology

January 16, 2014 By    

In the Know is a monthly partnership between LP Gas Magazine and Propane Resources. Our focus this month is on equipment and technology, addressed by consultant Tamera Kovacs.

Q: In what ways can technology enhance propane retailers’ operations and improve efficiencies?

A: The goal when investing in technology is to increase efficiencies and improve profitability. With staff costs being 40 to 60 percent of most retail marketers’ operating expenses, choose technology that will allow you to do more with less (or grow profitability without growing your staff).

A spin on the common thought of technology improving efficiencies would be to focus on enhancing the customer’s experience and making it easy to do business with you. An interactive website, which takes online ordering, online pay options, online new-customer applications, or a smartphone app that lets your customers order propane or pay their bill will help streamline office processes and procedures. The more customers can do without calling or walking in will allow your office staff to be more productive.

Adding technology such as laptop computers, tablets or handhelds in bulk trucks eliminates the driver’s time in completing delivery tickets and reduces errors in calculating pricing. This technology also has the capability of downloading delivery data directly into the system, reducing data-entry hours and errors.

Investing in and, more importantly, utilizing mapping and optimization software reduces miles driven, allowing for more gallons to be delivered with fewer miles driven. With the price of diesel fuel or propane, the fewer miles driven the quicker fuel savings add up. By adding GPS coordinates to your customers’ files, the drivers do not have to worry about finding their next stop; the GPS directs them to the location of their next delivery. Don’t get rid of all directions, though. There may be some tanks that can’t be located with GPS – especially if, for instance, the tanks are located in the middle of a field.

Tank monitoring devices allow you to monitor tank levels from your office or phone, depending on the type of service. Tank monitors can be used on bulk storage tanks, refill stations so operators don’t have to call when they need a load (ah, keep that customer with great customer service, an added bonus) or to monitor a group of remote customers. Place the reader on one or two of your biggest users in the area and make all of the deliveries in that area when the largest users are running low.

Find out where your biggest time losses are occurring or where the dollars are flowing out of the business the quickest, and make improvements in that area first. Get your staff involved in selecting the technology to implement. Their buy-in and involvement will help the change go smoothly. Most importantly, use the technology to its fullest extent once you make the investment. And that means all staff!

Tamera Kovacs is a financial consultant and an industry expert in business valuations and business sales with Propane Resources. For more than 22 years, Propane Resources has been providing financial and operational consulting, merger and acquisition services, supply, transportation and marketing communications services for the propane industry. Contact Tamera at 913-262-0196 or

Photo courtesy of Digital Dispatcher

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