A note to hustling propane retailers, other industry members

January 11, 2011 By    

A letter arrived in the mail over the holidays with a package for a young girl.

My 15-month-old daughter immediately hugged the soft blue Smurf as it appeared from the box, while I unraveled the paper on which the letter was written. Few people actually take time to handwrite letters anymore. It’s so rare that you must appreciate opening and reading one because it might be the last.

Its content was based on days past. The words, written by a former co-worker, conjured up vivid memories of an old job, in an old town. But mainly, it focused on the people – those who remain and those who are no longer with us.

The employee is approaching 30 years on the job, showing similarities to the longevity and experience often seen in the propane industry. In the letter, he put those years into perspective by naming co-workers who have passed. That number in his small department has reached 10. “Sad when you mark the years by funerals,” he wrote.

How true how fast time moves. Maybe the concept wasn’t noticeable before becoming a parent, but it is now. The proof is in the photos from a newborn’s first year. Examples elsewhere are aplenty – from a parent’s decision to retire and leave the career field for good to a simple, young tree that shoots for the sky right in front of your eyes.

January is the best time to reflect, as we begin a new year. A note to hustling propane retailers and other industry members: As time marches on, take the time to stop and look around you.

Winter wallops
Our curiosity accompanies major weather events – about how propane retailers made it through.

December brought a wicked snowstorm to the Upper Midwest, where parts of Minnesota were hit particularly hard. However, state associations in that region were hearing of no snow-related problems from members.

Instead, Minnesota was more concerned with a disruption to part of the Enterprise pipeline that closed several terminals in the southern part of the state, Minnesota Propane Gas Association Executive Director Roger Leider said. Fortunately, they were back online in days and running smoothly.

In Wisconsin, “Everybody I’ve talked to seems to be happy that it turned cold finally,” said Betsy Ahner, executive director of the Wisconsin Propane Gas Association. She also noted how the cold year-end temperatures followed a “nonexistent” crop-drying season.

The East Coast and parts of the South faced its own December blast of paralyzing winter weather, but propane retailers were proceeding pretty much as usual, state associations reported.

A bigger problem continued in the Northeast as parts of the TEPPCO pipeline remained offline.

Busy buyers
The last few months of the year brought a number of acquisitions to our attention, and it got us wondering whether companies have been busier than usual.

While Daniel Dixon at Propane Resources believes the pattern has been normal, he cites the capital gains tax as a potential factor in the decision-making process.

“Before the November election, some proactive owners were likely looking at a capital gains tax increase in 2011 by the White House,” Dixon wrote in an e-mail.

“While that still may be in play in the future, it does not appear to be happening at least for two-plus years now. That additional tax could have had some sellers considering.”

Propane push
In our September 2009 issue, we examined the trend of consumers choosing propane over heating oil, specifically in the Northeast. That trend coincides with increased demand for expertise in converting homes to alternative energy sources, according to the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC).

PERC is offering construction professionals a free online training course called “Retrofitting Homes from Heating Oil to Propane.” For more details, visit www.propanetrainingacademy.com.

About the Author:

Brian Richesson is the editor in chief of LP Gas Magazine. Contact him at brichesson@northcoastmedia.net or 216-706-3748.

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