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Past LP Gas Growth Summit attendees reflect on event

November 30, 2020 By    
Ed Santa, back left, says relationships are vital as his company looks to branch out. Photo: LP Gas staff

Ed Santa, back left, says relationships are vital as his company looks to branch out. Photo by LP Gas staff

The 2020 LP Gas Growth Summit may have been canceled, but the overarching theme and purpose of the annual event – partnerships – has remained as important and present as ever this year.

Few would have predicted a virus would affect nearly every event, holiday and gathering in 2020 or that it would spur an economic downturn. But the propane industry is not one to panic when confronted with crises. In fact, it is conditioned to respond quickly and does so with the aid of partnerships.

Past summit attendees spoke with LP Gas about their experiences at the event and how they have leaned on their partners in a time when gathering may not be an option.

LP Gas: What memories do you have from the LP Gas Growth Summit(s) you attended?

Dave Bertelsen, national product manager at Matheson Tri-Gas: They were all good memories. [I] met a lot of interesting people. There were a number of tank monitoring folks there, and that’s one technology that has really been helpful to us. Autogas is a big player as far as our future with propane, and there were representatives there involving that. There were also some financial folks that really covered a gamut of different expertise that are needed to be successful in the propane business.

Ed Santa, vice president of Santa Buckley Energy: [The event] pulls in a big, broad stroke of people from all over the country. Everyone is able to go there and speak pretty freely and openly about things that they’re doing and of angles they’re going at the market with. No one feels threatened because someone in California is not going to be competing for the same customers that we have here in Connecticut. So there’s a real openness to the conversations.

LP Gas: Can you cite any examples of how the event helped your operation?

Mike Hayden, second from left, joined a panel discussion in 2016. Photo: LP Gas staff

Mike Hayden, right, joined a panel discussion in 2016. Photo by LP Gas staff

Mike Hayden, propane manager at Co-Alliance: I continue to run into many of the people I met at the Summit at other industry events. On the supplier side, we met Rob and Kim from IPS Equipment and have continued a partnership with them as they are our supplier for all our autogas dispensers. Autogas was just starting to gain interest in our area, and the Summit connected us with IPS. Additionally, I met Jake Otte as a fellow marketer. Otte Oil & Propane is 650 miles from me, and I would have likely never met Jake if it weren’t for an event like the Summit. Jake and I stay in touch to bounce ideas off each other, and we make it a point to meet when we travel to the same event.

Santa: [It was helpful] seeing the different products that were out there. There was a whole suite of folks that were selling the backroom services: the bill collection, credit checks, that type of thing. Some of the presenters were selling a service where we could look at perhaps outsourcing that type of task, and that seemed very appealing to us. We [also] met other men involved in station or bulk plant construction. We have a few people that we work with in New England but had the opportunity to meet other people that perhaps we will use in the future as we’re building more plants.

LP Gas: How important are partnerships in the propane industry?

Bertelsen: It’s absolutely vital. In a crisis, you can’t just cry wolf and expect people to come to your aid unless you have already built in that relationship in the past. That’s why it’s important to build those foundations going forward. It’s going to happen: There’s going to be problems. But you can call on resources that you already have a relationship with, and I have always been fortunate that they’ve come through for me.

Hayden: Like many companies, we choose to do business with companies we consider partners. Partnerships bring trust and ease of operation for all involved. A partner knows your preferences, strategies and personnel. A partner often brings me suggestions prior to me asking.

Santa: Huge. As we branch farther out into New England, we’ve created relationships with people that build the bulk plants for us, good contractors who we lean on to do that type of work for us. We lean on these other folks in the industry to help us satisfy the customer, so those are partnerships that are unique.

LP Gas: How has the pandemic changed your relationship, including communication, with industry partners?

Bertelsen: Although I miss having face-to-face [interactions], it really hasn’t impacted our efficiencies or our ability to get the vital information as needed. So the net result is about a net zero. I don’t want to diminish the face-to-face relationships, but as far as effectiveness and efficiency, we’ve been able to maintain it via webinars, Zoom and conference calls.

Hayden: The pandemic has greatly changed our communication with our industry partners. I long for an in-person industry meeting. I always feel there is often more learned between meeting than in the meeting. I have learned much in the hallways between meetings or on the patio of the Reunion Resort at the Growth Summit.

Santa: We have gone through the Zoom calls, and we’ve lived through that. Maybe in some areas of the industry, that’s going to become the norm, but things are kind of getting back to normal. With the contractors, we’re going out and meeting them on the jobs, and even customers with certain parameters. Everybody’s getting back to some weird normal.

LP Gas: How has your company persevered through the pandemic, and what do you feel 2021 holds?

Bertelsen: That is a great unknown as far as what’s going to happen in 2021. That really boils down to: When are we going to get a cure or something close to it? Matheson is taking a very conservative approach to COVID-19. [We are] very stringent, and masks and PPE are vital. We have a set of rules that we abide by both in-house and while we are out at our customers’ locations. So until there is something in medicine that will be able to handle this, we’re going to continue on that path. But, all in all, it’s business as usual – as close as it can be.

Hayden: We are having a good year and are looking forward to a good 2021. We have focused on alternative ways to offer better interaction options with our customers. Times like these certainly bring struggles, but those struggles also allow us to show our customers how we perform under pressure.

Santa: We were talking to [manufacturers] about converting over to propane, and pre-pandemic, the price between propane and oil was really advantageous. So our conversion effort is going to be stalled until prices get back to normal. People are skittish about where things are ultimately going. We’re asking them to make investments in their infrastructure, but they just don’t know where their business is going long term. Until COVID starts to become more clear and there’s an ending in sight, I think people are going to be sitting on the sidelines for a while.

About the Author:

Carly McFadden is associate editor at LP Gas Magazine. She is a graduate of Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and a native of Cleveland, Ohio. McFadden can be reached at cmcfadden@northcoastmedia.net.

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