Marketing propane’s extensive range of applications

February 5, 2018 By    

Photo: Innovative Hearth Products

It all started with a search for a better ski sock.

A couple of ski instructors decided they were tired of putting up with cold feet brought on by droopy, soggy socks that ended up in the bottoms of their ski boots. Peter and Patty Duke started the SmartWool company in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, in 1994 and took care of cold feet and much more.

The SmartWool story reminds me of what it must have been like for Dr. Walter Snelling to discover a way to extract and liquefy a gas called propane (should we call it “SmartPropane”?) and then realize all of the different uses it could have.

I hadn’t paid a lot of attention to SmartWool products in the past. Oh, I got a pair of SmartWool socks for Christmas once in a while and always appreciated the comfort, but didn’t realize how its product line had grown. That is, until I was reading an outdoor exploration magazine with an article on cold weather performance clothing. That’s where I learned about SmartWool boxer briefs, one of many product line extensions that SmartWool now brings to market.

I bought a pair and will buy more. They were the most expensive pair of boxers I ever purchased, yet I was entirely satisfied with them. If you have a high-performance product like SmartWool, or SmartPropane, you don’t have to apologize for the price.

Today’s SmartWool product line goes beyond an extensive casual and hiking sock lineup and includes hats, gloves, sweaters, base layers and more.

Like SmartWool, products using SmartPropane go way beyond Dr. Snelling’s first dreams. Today’s SmartPropane products include an extensive range of home-heating products, water heaters, cooking appliances, clothes dryers and hearth products. The SmartPropane lineup has been extended to many outdoor room applications, off-road engine use, autogas and more.

Consumers love SmartWool products because they are high quality, keep them comfortable in a wide range of temperatures and offer a great value. These are a few of the many reasons consumers also love SmartPropane.

SmartWool products are available at thousands of retailers across the country, around the world and, of course, online. This is where SmartWool and SmartPropane have been on divergent paths.

One of the slogans used by SmartWool is “Sheep to Shop,” to highlight confidence in its supply chain, which “feels good along the way.” Slogans like “Clean American Energy” and “Propane Can Do That” feel right, but we need some work on our “shops.”

We seem to have a lot of propane retailers who want to be like sheep farmers, who just deliver wool and aren’t interested in being part of the rest of the supply chain. Industry experts estimate that only 10 to 20 percent of propane retailers are active in selling, installing and servicing propane heating equipment, appliances and other products that consume propane. If our industry is ever going to truly market SmartPropane, we also need to have a supply chain that “feels good along the way.”

That means more propane companies need to be involved in marketing the applications that use SmartPropane. All markets are different, but retailers need to find ways to do more than just deliver propane if we expect our growth curve to ever rise to the SmartWool pace.

If you want to learn more about selling, installing and servicing SmartPropane products, you and some of your employees should plan on attending the National Propane Gas Association Southeastern Convention & International Propane Expo to be held April 6-8 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. Go to to find out more about the educational programs and other learning and networking events.

There are plenty of “sheep farmers” out there who just want to deliver propane. This event is a great opportunity to learn more about SmartPropane and how to become a bigger part of a supply chain that “feels good along the way.”

Tom Jaenicke is vice president of propane marketing services at Warm Thoughts Communications. He can be reached at or at 810-252-7855.

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