Webbtown Propane survives early adversities, competition from majors

January 1, 2009 By    

Webbtown Propane Co. is one of the last remaining independents in its territory bridging the Tennessee and Kentucky border. A handful of major marketers have a presence in the region, but Webbtown presses forward. Owner and Operator James Thomas has faced and overcome sizeable challenges in the company’s 15-year history – so taking on the big boys would only add to the list.

A fire destroyed the business, which Thomas and his late wife Jo Ann started in 1994, in its first year of operation. Not long after, one of Webbtown’s employees was killed in an automobile crash.

“He has faced a lot of adversity, and he’s pedaled through it,” says Jane Farley, one of seven employees at the Lafayette, Tenn.-based business.

Webbtown, located about 65 miles northeast of Nashville and 10 miles south of the Kentucky border, serves all or parts of 18 counties. It sells propane mostly for home heating and is heavily involved in selling and also servicing appliances. Tankless water heaters are a popular item now, says Thomas, who has worked in the propane industry for about 50 years, as an owner, manager or salesman.

“We’re big in the appliance business. We have more items for sale than any other major or minor dealer,” he adds. “And if we can’t service it, we won’t sell it.”

Thomas, 76, spent some time recently in the truck covering for an ailing driver. He says if a company gives good service, 24 hours a day if necessary, it will have and keep good customers.

To compete against the major companies in his region, Thomas stresses having “one price, not 25 different prices” of propane.
Some companies will attract new customers with low offers on propane or tanks and then hike prices later, he says. Webbtown treats old and new customers alike.

“I give them a good price and don’t try to rob them,” Thomas says of his customers. “Some companies practically give fuel away to get customers. People think they’re getting a good deal, but the next year they get it crammed to them. We don’t do that.”

Thomas says Webbtown draws customers from the competition with word-of-mouth advertising: People notice the way it does business and spread the word to their neighbors.


About the Author:

Brian Richesson is the editor in chief of LP Gas Magazine. Contact him at brichesson@northcoastmedia.net or 216-706-3748.

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