In the Know: Technology for propane retailers

January 11, 2018 By    


In the Know is a monthly partnership between LP Gas magazine and Propane Resources. Our focus this month is on technology, addressed by consultant Cooper Wilburn.

Q: What are the most important pieces of technology retailers should be incorporating into their businesses and how do they help increase efficiency?

A: There are hundreds of different technologies and software options out there, all with sales reps saying their product is the best. But even the best product can’t operate to its full potential if the information to support the product isn’t there.

When looking at different types of technology, it is important to know what the technology does. Does it decrease operating expenses and drive efficiencies or is it there to grow the operation?

Technology can come in the form of software, tablets, tank monitors or even custom reports that source a retailer’s data. Knowing when it’s time to implement these different types of technology helps retailers maximize efficiencies and grow their companies.

The size of an operation will help direct a retailer toward the type of technology he or she should implement. A company beginning at ground level has a tough decision to make about whether or not to install a software package. By not installing the system, the company will have more cash, but processes will be manual. Then, when it does come time to implement software, it will be a headache to enter all of the information into the system.

At some point, the retailer will need to decide to either invest in more assets (employees, trucks, bulk storage) or technology. Investing in technology prevents the need to add that additional employee, truck or bulk storage. Remember, technology should be a one-time expense, whereas hiring a new employee is a recurring expense.

There are two things technology accomplishes: It decreases operating expenses and drives efficiency. Technology speeds up and automates processes. For example, investing in electronic meters frees employees to perform other tasks and eliminates the need to hire additional employees. This type of technology saves all of the information onto a thumb drive or connects via cellular data and updates the office system automatically, saving time and manpower.

Retailers can also save time by using electronic statements. Many software packages automatically generate and send statements to customers with email addresses. Instead of printing, stuffing, postmarking and taking statements to the post office, it’s now as simple as a quick review of the statement and clicking “send.” You save time and money. Online web pay also saves on the time it takes an employee to apply checks, credit cards and cash payments to a specific account by automatically applying payments.

Are gallons delivered by your driver lower than they should be? You might consider investing in a combination of routing and scheduling software on the truck or even tank monitors. To get the biggest bang for your buck, look at reports such as the time it takes to make a delivery, how often a driver returns to the same area, how much backtracking occurs each day and the location of storage tanks. These reports alert you to routing, drop size and/or timing issues, which will allow you to implement the correct technology.

Technology can also help implement growth strategy. From a marketing standpoint, technology in the form of a website and social media plays an important role in branding the company and introducing promotions. Search engine optimization (SEO) technology for your website pushes your company to the top of the list when potential customers search “propane providers.” Utilizing SEO technology is like the outdated practice of naming your company “ABC Propane” so it would be the first company in the Yellow Pages.

Starting a growth strategy isn’t just about picking up new customers. Sourcing current customer data can be a gold mine. A good software system is imperative when identifying current customers with potential room for gallon growth. Software systems need to show reports with customer location and gallon usage as well as number, type and age of appliances. This information tells a retailer where there is potential gallon growth within the customer base.

Knowing which customers own old appliances allows retailers to target specific customers and educate them on the benefits of propane appliances. In addition to the ability to perform targeted marketing to these areas or customers, it can also help you plan where you build your next bulk storage facility or satellite office.

Implementing a system in which you can build custom reports and then continuously source the data allows owners and management to quickly make operational changes without a long wait. Before implementing any software, it’s important to set goals concerning what you actually want the software to accomplish. If there’s more than one item to accomplish, make sure the technology fits multiple needs.

Implementing technology should be an in-depth analysis of many different products and the companies that supply those products. When implementing your system, remember why you started using it in the first place and use it for that reason. Technology can be implemented, but if it’s not used properly or used to its fullest extent, a retailer will likely not receive the expected outcomes in efficiency and growth.

Cooper Wilburn is a consultant at Propane Resources. He can be reached at cooper@propaneresources.comI or 913-262-0196.

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2 Comments on "In the Know: Technology for propane retailers"

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  1. Great article Cooper!

    Tank monitoring can decrease delivery labor and vehicle expenses and improve service quality, safety performance, customer satisfaction, profitability and capital expense when done properly.

    We help Retailers with a thorough deployment analysis that’s data driven to help identify where to deploy our tank monitoring solutions to achieve the fastest payback and highest ROI.

    We have solutions that work and can help Retailers realize their specific operational and financial objectives by deploying WESROC on a few priority tanks to monitoring every tank.

    We do the analysis and provide a Summary Report at no cost. Just give me a call or email.

  2. I second what Boyd said! Great article, Cooper.

    The effective use of technology in the propane industry yields huge savings of both money and time for a propane retailer.

    Specifically, the correct tank monitoring solution can cut your deliveries in half and prevent run-outs completely. With Tank Utility’s tank monitoring solution, we also provide you with customer engagement tools via our mobile app. Our mobile app gives customers the customer service level they are demanding! On top of that – we provide you with a suite of marketing tools to reach these customers.

    Similar to Wesroc – we can run an analysis for you to depict inefficiencies, create a deployment plan, and depict your ROI.

    Get in touch with us. We’d love to simply just chat and hear your thoughts.