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Upfitted van brings propane equipment offerings on-site

September 15, 2021 By     0 Comments
MEC’s upfitted Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van. Photo by Jessica Hampton

MEC’s upfitted Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van. Photo by Jessica Hampton

Deciding that in-person discussions and demonstrations are a far better route for effective marketing, Marshall Excelsior Co. (MEC) has deployed a customized van to take its sales presentations direct to the customer base.

“During the height of the pandemic, we were trying to put together a package that could help us stay in front of customers to display new products that we were developing,” explains sales application engineer Mike Tartaglia, adding that Zoom and GoToMeeting are good alternatives for weekly product presentations. “But we were finding that they can’t substitute for in-person discussions and demos.”

Taking the show on the road

Their solution was to purchase a 2019 Mercedes-Benz extended body Sprinter van outfitted “as a rolling trade show” to highlight MEC’s product lines, consisting of a full range of equipment serving the LPG and NH3 (ammonia) industries.

Tartaglia served as the chief project engineer who designed and put together a lot of the van’s special features at the company’s headquarters in Marshall, Michigan, while Jessica Hampton, MEC’s communication and marketing specialist, developed the graphics package for the vehicle’s interior and exterior.

Jim Zuck, MEC’s director of marketing and regulatory compliance, joined Tartaglia and Hampton in brainstorming the project and developing the concept.

The van is laid out to run on an internal battery when parked at marketer locations, and a “shore power plug” additionally allows MEC staffers to run electricity from external sources while visiting customers and attending association meetings and trade shows.

Inside the van are representative samples of the products MEC has to offer plus a full layout of what BASE Engineering, an MEC company, manufactures. The van is specially equipped with two televisions that are used to run product videos and presentations for customers to view. Along both countertops are product displays of the MEC and BASE lines set up for convenient customer access.

“With this layout,” says Tartaglia, “we are quickly able to park in a marketer location and open the doors and turn the TVs on to have customers view the demos and products we have on display. We are also able to send tables and tents separately to events to host more outdoor space outside the van and accommodate for social distancing.”

MEC has taken the van to truck-builder open houses, state association meetings and end-user customer locations. Photo courtesy of Marshall Excelsior Co.

MEC has taken the van to truck-builder open houses, state association meetings and end-user customer locations. Photo courtesy of Marshall Excelsior Co.

Propane crowd-pleasers

MEC plans to showcase the van and its accompanying roadshow at the National Propane Gas Association’s Southeastern Convention & International Propane Expo, which takes place Oct. 18-20 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta.

Thousands of attendees and more than 250 suppliers of goods and services are expected to be present at the Expo, representing every segment of the propane industry. Organizers report that it will encompass the world’s largest array of propane-related products and services, all in one location. More than 40 educational sessions and workshops detailing products, business techniques, safety and more will be conducted, as well.

MEC executives are primed for the presentation based on a solid pattern of current onlooker participation.

“Reaction has been good when customers have seen the van,” says Tartaglia.

On-site stops are particularly popular. “Customers have been able to observe products in the van that they may not have seen in person yet due to the pandemic,” he adds. “It has led to interest for our new products.”

Among MEC’s top van-based products thus far are its ME1000 internal combination valve, ME845 Versa-Fill bypass valve, ME905DD Accu-Max + Digital Dial, the BASE Engineering BASEstation demo and the BASE Interlock integration demo.

Customers can demo products they may not have seen in person yet due to the pandemic. Photo by Jessica Hampton

Customers can demo products they may not have seen in person yet due to the pandemic. Photo by Jessica Hampton

A rewarding method

The “rolling trade show” carries product displays, as well as two televisions to play product videos and presentations. Photo by Jessica Hampton

The “rolling trade show” carries product displays, as well as two televisions to play product videos and presentations. Photo by Jessica Hampton

Two people are always onboard when the van hits the road. At selected trade shows and open houses, additional staff may travel separately to be a part of the event.

The MEC team has motored to truck-builder open houses in Michigan, Minnesota and Illinois along with attending state association meetings in Michigan, Wisconsin and North Carolina. Team members have also visited end-user customer locations throughout the Midwest and Southeast.

“We do stay at hotels during our travels,” says Tartaglia, “although I have joked about adding a couple hammocks inside the van to save on cost.”

Cost figures associated with purchasing and subsequently customizing the van remain proprietary. From conception to completion, it took about four months of design and labor to get the project road-ready.

“It has been fun to drive the van and pass either bobtails or propane transports and having the ability to honk and give a friendly wave to the drivers,” Tartaglia reports.

“If companies are looking for a fun way to show their products, I would recommend that they also put a vehicle together,” he says. “It has been a rewarding method to get in front of customers and to continue the personable part of the propane industry.”

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