Maine retailer’s rapid transformation puts it back on the map

September 23, 2013 By    

The reputation of Midnight Energy, a 12-year-old propane and heating oil company in Newcastle, Maine, had crumbled. Customer reports on Midnight Energy’s reputation and service in the field were disappointing, and the company’s owner, Casey Pratt, realized he was partly to blame.

“I had been an absentee owner,” Pratt says. “It was partially my own fault for not keeping a close enough eye on my company. We had some issues retaining employees, and we needed to do something different.”

One of the first things Pratt did to revamp his company was search for someone to lead its transformation. He identified Bob Milliken, who held senior management positions with Sunoco and BP Amoco, among other energy companies, as the person to steer his company right.

Milliken, the company’s director since February, identified several areas holding the company back. One troubling area was the company’s brand identity. It was confusing, Milliken says.

“Some of our branding was Midnight Oil, and some of it had transitioned to Midnight Energy,” he says. “The brand was incomplete from one standpoint to the next. It didn’t make sense.”

Midnight Energy, which was ultimately renamed Seacoast Energy Solutions, was also dated in how its internal and external operations were structured, Milliken says. The company lacked the personnel to sell and service the way it should. One example of its archaic approach was doing business without a defined strategy.

Seacoast Energy Solutions has gone through a makeover over the last several months, though. Since Milliken joined, TempControl, a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) company, was acquired as a key first step. According to Milliken, the acquisition has transformed Seacoast Energy Solutions from a company that primarily delivered fuel and offered a few service options to one that provides installation and maintenance services first and delivers fuel as an ancillary offering.

“We have tripled the business the [HVAC] company is used to doing on the service side,” Milliken says. “When you blow up a company, put it back together and layer in a company that has a good reputation in the service industry, you get an awful lot of attention.”

When the new brand was officially launched in June, Seacoast Energy Solutions hosted a weeklong open house and offered to fill propane tanks for free from its new 1,000-gallon fill station.

“We filled 470 tanks for free and I believe 270 of them were new customers,” Pratt says. “Since then, we’ve had a steady stream of people getting their tanks and RVs filled.”

Propane makes up about 35 percent of Seacoast Energy Solutions’ fuel-delivery business. Its goal is to convert oil systems to propane because that’s where the greatest service opportunities are, Milliken says.

Still, these opportunities would not be realized had Pratt not made the difficult decision to transform his company.

“Kudos to Casey for realizing change was required and for adopting the plan presented to him,” Milliken says. “He was willing to invest in the future of his company. As a result, we’ve taken a company that was kind of sleepy and its value propositions were not well understood by our customers or employees. And overnight, we’ve put our company on the map in a way that either has some people around us admiring us, threatened by us or in other cases saying ‘wow.’”

LOCATION: Newcastle, Maine




Photo: Sea Coast Energy Solutions

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About the Author:

Kevin Yanik was a senior editor at LP Gas Magazine.

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