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Takeaways from a first-time Propane Days attendee

August 16, 2019 By    

Last month I attended Propane Days for the first time in my career. I’ve been in the industry for the better part of a decade now, but I’ve never devoted much attention to the lobbying effort outside of my home state. Meeting with members of Congress just seemed too far removed from the immediate concerns of a rural Pennsylvania retailer.

Zac Cromie is general manager-propane at Smith Propane & Oil. Photo by Brian Richesson

Zac Cromie is general manager-propane at Smith Propane & Oil. Photo by Brian Richesson

I knew we often had common cause, which I hoped National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) met with every success, but I needed to concentrate on keeping tanks full and trucks moving. But in the last few years, keeping trucks moving from April to September has gotten harder. And in the search for novel ways to sell more summer gallons, I stumbled on the slate of issues for Propane Days 2019. Every brief NPGA offered spoke to a growing concern in my small corner of the country and each issue could have direct effects on our sales and service. I decided to get involved. Here are a few takeaways I had from the experience:

Politicians know they’re in a service industry, but everyone else seems to forget it: I hate to admit it, but I was intimidated at the prospect of meeting with federal legislators. The hallowed halls of government didn’t feel appropriate for a person who splits his time fairly evenly between dank basements and ditches.

I was right about the setting, wrong about the rest though: Not one meeting felt forced, and every staffer and official was receptive to the industry’s concerns and attentive to our issues.

Congress’ collective reputation is less than stellar at the moment, which helped me to forget that actual congressmen and women often rose to that office by supporting small business owners and operators; by making them feel comfortable, important and defended. Then after an unusually long, in-depth meeting, it dawned on me: This is a business transaction. I had an explicit ask for every meeting – support this bill or add propane to this act – but the politicians had their own implicit ask: Vote for me. Let your employees know I support them. Let your customers know that I’m invested in their safety and comfort. Do this, and I’ll respond with support for propane.

A large part of what nearly 250 propane professionals from 39 states were doing in Washington, D.C., last month was demonstrating that we have the wherewithal to make good on our end of that contract.

A great meeting isn’t going to result in an immediate vote, but that doesn’t mean it failed: NPGA and the state associations prepared attendees to lead every meeting, to have a clear grasp of every issue and to leverage their knowledge and influence to propane’s advantage.

There were issue-specific webinars, experts and stacks of white papers available. Despite this uber-preparedness on the issues though, I left Washington more optimistic about propane’s awareness and brand than about any single issue. I lost count of the number of times I heard a variation of “Propane can do that? Tell me more.” Every issue brief had the potential to fundamentally change an aspect of the industry, but just as often they were used to simply raise propane’s profile.

Propane Days is an exercise in brand building. The propane professionals who descend on Washington, D.C., every June are telling uninitiated legislators: “Yes, propane can do that.” No member of Congress marched out of our meeting to rewrite the Jones Act. But I’ve every confidence that when it’s due for revision – through the efforts of NPGA, the state associations and hundreds of dedicated propane professionals over the last decade and a half – propane will have more friends to speak for it.

Zac Cromie is general manager – propane at Smith Propane & Oil in Loyalhanna, Pennsylvania.

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