Traditions, trade shows and picnics

July 1, 2007 By    

Jim Murray stood back to soak in the view of hundreds of customers milling about the annual Ray Murray Open House at the Lee Mass corporate compound.

 Jay Johnston
Jay Johnston

“We are not sure whether to call this a training session, a trade show or a picnic,” he says.

My first Ray Murray Open House was also a joint venture in 2004 with the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) to introduce the program “Remember Charlie.” I had the opportunity to spend a half-hour with Charlie Moorcraft and will always value his safety-speaking advice.

“First of all,” he says with a grin, “you aren’t charging enough!”

At the next year’s open house, I attended seminars on sizing heaters, Department of Transportation pipeline safety, hearth product installation, electronic metering, National Fire Protection Association updates, regulator design and function and venting and pump maintenance. That experience inspired my article and first chapter in my book called “Safety Education is a Forever Process.”

This year the classes were practical and informative, with topics such as code compliance on jurisdictional systems, ABCs of getting your new bulk plant approved, hearth product installation & venting do’s and don’ts and generating profits and gas load with standby generators.

Kate Hutcheons-Caskin and Tracy Burleson of PERC informed attendees about opportunities to build lasting relationships with builders who may influence and guide customers to choose propane.

There were plenty of vendors, giveaways and food. Every grill manufacturer or rep was serving breakfast. Lunch was an outdoor buffet of standard New England fare. They still use the old Ray Murray line at lunch where they say, “We hope you enjoy the seminars and the food, and we want you to stay as long as you like, as long as your bumpers are dragging from equipment purchases when you leave.”

At lunch I had the opportunity to visit with Midge Murray, wife of the late Ray Sr. and mom to Ray Jr., Jim, John and Margaret. Midge is 82 years young. More than 20 years ago I met Midge and Ray Sr. while serving on the National Propane Gas Association’s safety committee. She was there the day they started the company in their home in 1973, and it was great to see her again this year. She is a testimony to tradition.

Many vendors were highlighting the features of their wares. My friend, Mark Hall of Sherwood, was on hand to show off safety features of his new cylinder valves, with built-in, leak-testing equipment. And, of course, the entire Ray Murray staff was visible, available and helpful in assisting customers with sales choices and new orders.

“It’s a day of good friends and fun, a day of information and learning and a day of bargains and buying,” President and CEO Mike Hopsicker says.

I enjoyed the opportunity to hear safety issues discussed by instructors, manufacturers’ reps and marketer employees. Many questions came from experience in the field, and it was fun to watch the safety interaction as everyone worked together to resolve issues of concern. That kind of interaction is one safety tradition I hope we never lose in our training process.

As I sat in on lunch and dinner discussions, I saw lots of pictures of family and heard many stories about “the competition.” But mostly, I was impressed to hear many conversations centered upon how to sell more gas safely.

As the vendors packed up and the last of the dinner stragglers said their goodbyes with loaded trucks and sagging bumpers, I had to smile at the successful combination of safety traditions, trade shows and picnics.

Jay Johnston is president of Jay Johnston & Associates, specializing in business consulting, leadership strategy development and unique speaking presentations for propane marketers. Jay can be reached at 952-935-5350 or

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