LPG Spotlight: Sail Energy

February 23, 2021 By    
Sail Energy operates retailers across five states, including Maine’s Murray-Heutz Oil & Propane. Photo courtesy of Sail Energy

Sail Energy operates retailers across five states, including Maine’s Murray-Heutz Oil & Propane. Photo courtesy of Sail Energy

From natural disasters to potential leaks, propane retailers are typically prepared to conduct business safely – but a once-in-a-century pandemic can throw off even the most experienced industry veterans.

Dennis O’Brien, president and CEO of propane and energy company Sail Energy, admits that the pandemic brought challenges he had never experienced.

“I normally depend on my experience and what I’ve learned in over 40 years, and I quickly learned that I had absolutely no experience in anything like this,” he says.

O’Brien explains the spring of 2020 proved to be both confusing and frustrating as a business trying to adapt to pandemic news and developments.

Sail Energy is based in New Hampshire and operates locations throughout Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York, serving more than 25,000 customers, according to the company.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the pandemic for Sail Energy – from an operations standpoint – was the varying guidance and restrictions in the five states it serves. For example, O’Brien explains, there could be an outbreak in Rhode Island while Maine has the virus fairly contained – and it changes quickly.

“By the end of September and the beginning of October, I began to realize that we needed to have an operating protocol, and that the protocol needed to be different and based on different conditions that were impacting individual operations,” he says.

As a result, O’Brien spent months working with the company’s insurance provider on developing a comprehensive guide to ensure the health and safety of employees and customers across all locations. The guide, which debuted in December, involves a green, yellow and red color system to determine the level of severity in each state at the moment, with red being most severe.

The color designated to each state is based on three criteria: the spread of the virus, testing availability and hospital bed capacity. As a retailer’s state changes color, it can access the guide detailing all requirements and restrictions for its new level, designed to reduce confusion between locations, O’Brien says.

With an effective safety system in place, Sail Energy looks ahead with optimism to brighter days. This year, O’Brien intends to grow the company, which has completed a number of acquisitions in the past several years, while maintaining that at least the first half of the year will likely still be impacted by the virus.

“We continue to be focused on our long-term strategic goals in terms of our operating process, and continue to look for opportunities to grow organically and through additional acquisitions,” O’Brien says. “The extent of that work really hasn’t changed. We’re just simply trying to find ways to work within protocols.”

The guide can serve as a model for other retailers, even beyond the pandemic. Be it hurricanes, outages or snow storms, a color-coded system such as Sail Energy’s can offer clarity for employees – especially if communications are impaired or a retailer has multiple locations.

“From a professional level, we have a responsibility to be able to offer business in the worst of conditions,” O’Brien says. “It comes with a great responsibility of making sure that we continually operate, and that’s the challenge: How do you do that?”

Company Profile: Sail Energy

Year founded // 2014
Headquarters // Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Founder // Dennis O’Brien
Employees // 165
Bobtails // 17
Annual propane gallons // 6.6 million

About the Author:

Carly Bemer (McFadden) was the managing editor at LP Gas magazine.

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