New propane products, old standbys offer new opportunities for marketers

August 9, 2013 By    

Storm-related power outages are common occurrences in rural America in what we call propane country.

Power outages can affect broad areas of urban America, too (Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy come to mind). Often in those cases, natural gas service is also cut off, sometimes for weeks at a time. Propane has always had the potential to provide consumers with relief from such storm-related utility cutoffs, and now new products will put us in the best position ever to stormproof any home, anywhere.

Many of your long-term customers are well aware of what a stormproof home meant for them from the standpoint of security, comfort and reliability. Many appliances in the marketplace were able to operate without electricity because of standing pilot lights and other manual operation features. Savvy propane customers equipped with the right appliances could cook, heat their homes and maintain a reasonable quality of life, even during extended power outages and other emergencies. Consumers learned to ask for those stormproof appliance models.

As electronic controls and other safety measures became more popular, the operation of those appliances during a power outage was sacrificed to embrace the modern technology.

Now we have new or improved products available and more in the pipeline that could bring a stormproof home back in demand. Let’s look at three product types that could tempt you back into the appliance business, and you can do it on a cash-and-carry basis.

A portable propane generator can be the anchor propane application for any stormproof home. There are several brands from which to choose. The Generac propane series portable generator incorporates an integrated tank holder on a portable cart and is as easy for consumers to use as an outdoor grill. Two models are available up to 5,500 watts, enough to power the refrigerator, well pump, tankless water heater and other appliances.

The other appliance needed to stormproof a home is the old standby, a portable propane gas grill. Many homes today have electric cooking equipment or gas ovens in their kitchens that don’t operate without electricity. The portable propane gas grill in the backyard can meet all cooking needs during emergencies, no matter what type of cooking appliances are inside the home.

Most propane marketers gave up on selling portable propane gas grills when the big box stores and other mass merchant retailers came on the scene back in the 1980s and ’90s, selling offshore manufactured brands. It is time to take another look at retailing gas grills. There are quality-built, American-made brands available and not sold by big box retailers. Broilmaster, Fire Magic and Modern Home Products are some popular American-made brands that come to mind. Check with your propane equipment distributor and see what brands of gas grills it offers.

The other product needed to complete the triangle of stormproof offerings is the portable propane cabinet heater that integrates a composite propane cylinder. While there are many portable propane cabinet heaters on the market today, none incorporates a composite propane cylinder inside the cabinet or has the regulatory approval needed for the widespread acceptance of this product.

The propane industry has been sharply divided over whether a vent-free cabinet heater and propane cylinder should be used together inside a home. Sam McTier, well-known propane industry veteran and president of Propane Technologies LLC, has been leading a nearly one-man campaign to win over regulatory agencies and the doubters in our propane industry.

McTier is proposing that the cabinet heater be designated as an “emergency use only” indoor heating appliance, and that makes a lot of sense. Regulatory agencies are slowly starting to accept the viability and safety attributes of the portable propane cabinet heater for emergency use, and I predict that McTier will win final regulatory approval and acceptance by most of the skeptics in our propane industry. When that happens, consumers will welcome the emergency-use concept and look for places to buy them. Will you be ready when the time comes?

Portable propane generators, portable gas grills and portable cabinet heaters can stormproof any home in America. Propane is the only energy source that makes possible this type of portability, security and reliability to homeowners. Propane marketers can be fully engaged in retailing these products and building their gas load.

Tom Jaenicke is the owner and principal adviser at ATomiK Creative Solutions LLC. He can be reached at 810-252-7855 or tom@atomikenergysolutions.com.

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