Beyond the Mains
The National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) is celebrating its 75th anniversary, and it is no coincidence that it began in Chicago. where RegOs parent company, Bastian-Blessing, was once based. My company and other early leaders of the industry recognized early on that in order to be successful it was important to bring together marketers, producers, distributors, and manufacturers. They also realized that the best way for the industry to establish itself and grow was to promote appliances that consumed propane and created a customer base for home heat, hot water, and cooking.
I am honored to be able to share my vision of the future since my company was so critical in the formation of our industry. The U.S. industry is still relatively young, but in many parts of the world, such as Eastern Europe and Russia, the propane industry is very new. When the industry was in its infancy, as today, it relied on equipment that RegO (such as our multi-valve and pop-action relief valves, to name two) and others pioneered that allowed propane to be consumed as a viable source of energy.
Early on. numerous companies all played their roles in growing this industry, enabling it to blossom after World War II as the post-war growth of suburbia welcomed propane with open arms. Appliance companies developed a variety of propane appliances that would be sold, installed, and serviced by marketers who also supplied the gas. Valve and regulator manufacturers joined with tank manufacturers so propane could be safely stored, transported, and transmitted to these appliances. In fact, RegO still derives virtually all of its business from the propane industry and our companys future depends on its future.
Now if I were an accountant, lawyer, or engineer my thoughts would likely be very different about our industry. Fortunately, I am a marketing person, and my view of the future is based on my belief that there are no limits to what this industry can achieve.
In order for us to look into our future it is very important that we remember our past.
During the past 75 years, there have been huge fluctuations in the price and availability of propane, winter weather has varied greatly, the government has had varied levels of intervention, there have been other competing forms of energy, and marketer consolidation has gone in cycles. As an industry, we spend most of our time talking about these cyclical industry issues. We are very hard on ourselves, and sometimes we forget to look at ourselves through the eyes of the people who keep us all in businessour customers.
Our customers couldnt care less about the things we tend to focus on at industry meetings. They care about heating their house, taking hot showers, cooking a delicious meal, relaxing in front of a flickering fireplace, and enjoying a hot Jacuzzi. We need to realize that there are a lot more of these potential customers, and we need to get back to the days where discussing how to get new propane customers is the top priority of our industry.
Just take a look at the Energy Information Administration statistics for the Northeastern U.S. There are about 300,000 single-family residences relying on propane for heat and hot water out of 12.7 million. This data easily indicates that there are at least another 350,000 customers who should be using propane for heat and hot watermore than double the current customer base.
Realize what 350,000 new propane heat and hot water customers in one region of the country would do for the industry. We are not talking about a large acquisition; we are talking about brand new customers and everyone who benefits from that kind of growth.
To get those new customers, we need to embrace a positive attitude with leaders whose vision produces results like this in the future:
The Propane Education & Research Council will continue to build on its work as the marketing arm of the industry, targeting these new customers and convincing them to heat their homes and water with propane. It will quit funding regulator studies and start giving away hot water heaters to attract new customers. It will realize that there is nothing involving a regulator that will attract one new customer to propane. It will give away materials at no charge to marketers who will aggressively promote and attract new customers.
NPGA will remain the industry advocate in Washington so the rest of us do not need to spend our time dealing with the government, since this does not attract new customers. We will trust this very competent group of individuals at NPGA to handle the difficult and demanding task of dealing with legislative and regulatory issues. Everyone in the industry will belong to NPGA as they recognize that a minimal dues investment does provide maximum returns. New members from all sectors of the industry will become actively involved, and the industry will thrive and grow with fresh points of view and unique promotional efforts.
Marketers will discover that there is a huge opportunity to grow their businesses by adding new customers, and they will promote new customer growth instead of growth by acquisition. Efficient operations will mean working smarter; not cutting corners to save money. The Wal-Mart purchasing mentality will end and marketers will seek to purchase good quality products at reasonable prices. They wont gamble their business or jeopardize the industry with cheap products that could let them down in the future. They will reduce the number of propane products that can be found on the Consumer Product Safety Commission website by refusing to buy them in the first place.
Finally, all manufacturers and distributors will provide excellent products, services, and support for the propane industry, including product training. Training on equipment is as critical today as it was 50 years ago.
Is this the future of the propane industry? I certainly hope so, and it is up to all of us to shape our future. Propane is a unique and versatile source of energy and there are great opportunities for us to make it a part of more peoples lives. Instead of letting the future shape us, I challenge everyone to start shaping the future we desire in the propane industry, today.
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