Retailer connects with customers through digital technology

December 11, 2017 By    

From left, AA Bottled Gas’ Larry Rogers, Gene Thigpen and David Pinkstaff. Photo courtesy of AA Bottled Gas

Providing stellar community service has always been a cornerstone for AA Bottled Gas Co., but the mediums for providing service have evolved.

Since its founding in 1954 in Jacksonville, Florida, AA Bottled Gas has expanded to a second location in Callahan, Florida, grown its retail operation to include barbecue supplies and expanded its digital presence.

As a propane retailer, AA Bottled Gas provides bottle filling, service and installation dispatch, and propane products. It also sells barbecue supplies that include rubs, sauces and grills (charcoal, not propane). Having barbecue supplies at the store originally started to support AA Bottled Gas president David Pinkstaff’s hobby of cooking, but quickly developed into a marketing opportunity.

Pinkstaff started an annual cookout event that was an immediate success. The company has been hosting the event for about three years. One year the cookout boasted 800 cylinders filled, 8,000 attendees and over 30 grills cooking food for hungry customers.

“You can spend $1,000 on advertising on the radio that [the customers] will forget in a week,” Pinkstaff says. “Or you can give them a rib or a chicken wing and they will remember you forever.”

Growth and customer outreach does not end with events.

In 2015, Tiffany Rowe joined the company and set out to enhance its meager digital presence.

“Why don’t you turn the Facebook page over to me and let me see what I can do with it,” Rowe recalls saying to Pinkstaff. At the time, the page had fewer than 200 followers.

Today, AA Bottled Gas’ Facebook page more than 3,000 followers. According to Rowe, it gains about 1,000 followers per year. The newfound digital reach expanded how the company does day-to-day business.

Facebook connects the company to customers on a first-name basis, something on which AA Bottled Gas prides itself. Often times, Rowe will use the company page to post about her life, saying it helps show the customer there’s a real person on the other end. The page is also used to provide customer service, with just a 13-minute response time to all communications.

“You have to be willing when somebody messages you,” Pinkstaff says. “You have to answer their questions right then.”

During Hurricane Irma, the company found a new purpose for Facebook, as it provided a much-needed lifeline to the community.

Before the hurricane hit, the company’s Facebook page made the community aware the store was providing service. According to Pinkstaff, the store filled 894, 20-pound cylinders the day before Irma made landfall. After the hurricane, and while phone lines were down at the store, Rowe used Facebook to let customers know the store was open. In the days following Irma, AA Bottled Gas even took orders over Facebook, which kept business moving.

“That was when David’s opinion of Facebook might have changed,” Rowe says.

“If you don’t do it, I think you’re nuts,” Pinkstaff says about Facebook. “Especially if you’re a small mom-and-pop that doesn’t have a lot of ad dollars.”

Founded: 1954
Founders: Doyle and Hazel Colding
Owners: David and Teresa Pinkstaff, Larry and Vickie Rogers, Gene and Linda Thigpen
Propane sales: 950,000 annual gallons
Headquarters: Jacksonville, Florida
Employees: 16
Facebook likes (as of Nov. 9, 2017): 3,062

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About the Author:

Joe McCarthy was an associate editor at LP Gas Magazine.

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