Tank monitors reduce company’s deliveries

January 29, 2016 By    
Stephanie Robb, right, serves as vice president of South Florida Gas. She and her daughter Elizabeth are pictured with one of the company’s tank monitors.

Stephanie Robb, right, serves as vice president of South Florida Gas. She and her daughter Elizabeth are pictured with one of the company’s tank monitors. Photo: South Florida Gas

Retailers can sometimes predict how much propane an appliance will burn based on that appliance’s average consumption rate.

Propane pool heaters are a little less predictable, though.

South Florida Gas, a retailer based in Fort Myers, Fla., knows this concept well.

“You can predict usage levels with water heaters, but not as much with pool heaters or these appliances,” says Chuck Robb, president and CEO of South Florida Gas. “We can’t know if a customer has visitors come down to Florida from up north and needs to heat the pool. Those pools use about 4 gallons of propane an hour, which adds up.”

Robb says most of the company’s pool heater customers also use South Florida Gas to heat their homes’ water. Fuel run-outs related to pool heaters aren’t emergencies, but customers’ erratic consumption patterns yield a number of off-hour calls. This affects South Florida Gas’ bottom line.

To combat the unpredictability, Robb says South Florida Gas teamed with TankLink in October 2014 to add tank monitors to accounts that were difficult to track. The company gradually added monitors to tanks until about 1,000 monitors were in the field by July 2015.

Robb says about one-sixth of the company’s customer tanks now have monitors. About 90 percent of the tank monitors went to customers who use propane to heat their pools.

Since adding the tank monitors, South Florida Gas can check the status of them from the office. Robb says a new part of his daily routine is checking the TankLink website first thing in the morning to note any significant changes in customer accounts.

“It makes a lot of sense putting these on big users and sporadic users,” Robb says. “We didn’t want to become a ‘gas taxi.’ Of course, there are some accounts you shouldn’t put these on, like will-call customers. These devices aren’t free.”

According to Robb, South Florida Gas’ tank monitor provider charges a monthly fee to use its monitors. The tank monitors have helped to decrease the number of delivery stops South Florida Gas makes by about 25 percent, he adds.

Robb says it’s too early to guess exact savings from the tank monitors, but he at least knows his company is seeing its customers fewer times each year. This equates to less overtime for drivers and lower fuel costs.

The technology also affirms that South Florida Gas has grown its gallon sales a little.

“The monitors are doing a great job, reducing unnecessary trips,” Robb says. “But we also see that we still need one more bobtail and driver to get all the jobs done.”

Robb recommends propane companies add monitors to customer accounts that have high or sporadic usage levels.

South Florida Gas Overview

Founded: 1995
Headquarters: Fort Myers, Fla.
President: Chuck Robb
Employees: 14
Customers: 6,000
Propane sales: 1.3 million annual gallons

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About the Author:

Megan Smalley was an associate editor at LP Gas magazine.

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