Ohio retailer relies on rural customers, autogas for growth

September 7, 2016 By    
Joe Buschur has owned McMahan’s Bottle Gas since he purchased the company in 1979. Photo courtesy of McMahan’s Bottle Gas

Joe Buschur has owned McMahan’s Bottle Gas since he purchased the company in 1979. Photo courtesy of McMahan’s Bottle Gas

Joe Buschur admits it’s become a daily battle for McMahan’s Bottle Gas to win and retain residential customers near the company’s Dayton, Ohio, headquarters.

“We’re trying to hang onto as many gallons as possible, but some days it’s a losing battle to natural gas expansion when you’re so close to a city,” says Buschur, owner of McMahan’s Bottle Gas.

Despite this challenge, Buschur’s company plans to focus on growing the business in communities outside city limits. For years, McMahan’s Bottle Gas primarily sought to attain rural residential accounts. A number of the company’s rural residential customers reside in mobile home parks, as the company’s founder, Don McMahan, operated a mobile home-selling business throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

“We’ve had at least one tank in 45 different mobile home parks,” Buschur says. “They’re using a good amount of propane to heat those homes, and it’s not hard to commit every person in the park to be a customer.”

This past year, McMahan’s Bottle Gas participated in the Propane Education & Research Council’s (PERC) Residential Opportunity Insights program as a way to target residential growth markets. PERC’s free program shows retailers on maps and charts where they might have the most success gaining residential customers.

“It’s a way to find out who my customers are and the best way to reach them,” says Brian Buschur, Joe’s son, who is manager at McMahan’s Bottle Gas. “This program gives us a shot to hit the customers we’re trying to reach.”

The residential market makes up about 75 percent of the company’s customer base. However, as residential gallons become harder to acquire, Brian has been developing the company’s presence in the autogas market for the past two years.

“I think that’s a market you’ve got to keep working hard to develop,” he says. “And it won’t happen overnight.”

The company works with a local street-sweeping company and a bakery to fuel their fleets on autogas. Brian isn’t aware of any school districts in the Dayton area that have committed to autogas buses, but he hopes to see that change in the near future.

Additionally, Brian helped to launch the Ohio Propane Gas Association’s (OPGA) first local Propane Days lobbying event in Columbus, Ohio, where a handful of OPGA members met earlier this year with state legislators to discuss two House bills that involve alternative fuels. Only one week after lobbying, Brian says, Ohio passed a law that allocated $5 million in grants to establish an alternative fuel conversion program.

“It was probably a coincidence it passed not long after we met congressmen, but we’re happy it passed,” Brian says. “My vision is to continue to grow the autogas market. Ohio has some of the oldest school bus fleets in the nation, and not a single school in Dayton runs on propane-fueled buses. I’d like to change that.”

More on McMahan’s Bottle Gas

Founded: 1955
Headquarters: Dayton, Ohio
Owner: Joe Buschur
Propane sales: 2 million annual gallons
Employees: 12
Customers: 3,000

About the Author:

Megan Smalley was an associate editor at LP Gas magazine.

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