Propane Mowers Cut Steady Market Share

While December and January are usually busy months in the propane industry, Jeremy Wishart, director of off-road business development at the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC), points out it is also the best time of the year to be talking to lawn and landscape professionals about switching to propane mowers. Decisions will be made between now and April or May, he said. “By the time the mowing season starts again, it is likely too late.
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”Wishart has witnessed the evolution of propane lawn mowers from holding virtually no market share six years ago to now capturing 5% for models with 36- to 72-in. decks. While market growth has been steady and incremental, he said he believes it may be heading for a major growth spurt. “The propane school bus market is growing rapidly now, but it had very steady incremental growth beginning about 10 to 12 years ago. The propane mower market growth only started upward about six years ago,” he said. “The growth in propane school buses is now exponentially higher and I think the same thing will happen with propane lawn mowers as larger players see the benefits.

”In 2011 there were only three original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) when PERC launched a dealer demonstration program and encouraged manufacturers and dealers to push propane mowers. Until then, OEMs typically buried propane mowers at the back of their catalogs and produced propane models only by special request. PERC sought to convince OEMs to aggressively promote the benefits of propane-fueled alternatives, and not just grudgingly offer them as a specialty. The council funded production of 300 mowers to jump start the market. The jump start continued with the Propane Mower Incentive Program that offered an incentive of $1000 toward the purchase of a new propane mower, $500 toward a conversion kit, as well as additional incentives offered in some states. Several lawn and landscape companies became early adopters of propane, which promised a positive beginning.

“I thought there was a mistake in calculating numbers at the end of the year,” said Doug Duschene, owner and CEO of Bozeman Site Services (Bozeman, Mont.) after his company’s first year operating propane lawn mowers. “The savings were so significant.” Duschene started researching propane mowers several years ago and was immediately interested in how much pollution could be reduced. Initially several employees were intimidated by the challenge of switching to a new system since traditional fuel had been working well. Now, the company culture has changed for the better, not only due to cost savings but also due to time savings.
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Employees are now able to serve their customers over four days a week instead of five and have three-day weekends. They advise other companies to not be intimidated in making the switch to propane mowers, to realize they will not compromise equipment reliability, and to understand it will be a cost-saving endeavor after the initial investment.

“Today there are 14 OEMs of propane mowers and a lot more businesses spreading the word,” Wishart said. “Change is always tough, but as companies hear others talk about the cost savings, time savings, and less damage to the environment, they become more interested.” He noted that as more and more companies in large metropolitan areas and cities like Chicago have made the switch, other companies in surrounding areas learn about it. Landscape companies like to hear about ways to save money, and articles describing benefits such as fewer maintenance issues like dirty air filters, fouled spark plugs, and water fouling the fuel get their attention. “The next thing you know, companies near Chicago and up in Milwaukee are investigating propane mowers,” Wishart said.

Sebert Landscaping in Chicago is one company that is all-in with propane lawn mowers. “Now it has become a way of life,” says Ralph Meyer, the fleet manager who is also in charge of all equipment purchases. “I’d like to see the whole landscaping industry move to using propane.” Meyer initially bought three propane mowers to compare with his company’s diesel-powered units. He found that carbon emissions were 25% lower. “We wanted to be more environmentally friendly but certainly like the cost savings, no spilling in fuel transfer, no venting, and lower maintenance. At this point, 70% of our fleet of 300 mowers runs on propane.”

Mike Trump of Trump Lawn and Landscape in York, Pa. is also pleased with its move to propane mowers. “It seems like more people would jump on board,” he said. Trump was initially attracted to the green aspects of propane mowers, but also certainly appreciates the savings for the fuel. While there were initial concerns, employees now like the fuel containers that are easy to put on and take off. “They like not always having to run to get gas and having no mess.”
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“There were roadblocks in the early days that are no longer presenting as much of a challenge,” Wishart outlined. “With more manufacturers, the benefits are being promoted and sales are growing. In addition, the manufacturers have taken it upon themselves to be proactive in training equipment dealers and technicians to be able to service propane mowers.”

Landscapers and other grounds maintenance professionals are also initially concerned about propane prices versus diesel prices, he said. “Diesel prices are posted at every gas station, but propane prices are more of a mystery, and initially many think in terms of grill cylinder costs. Once they get the real quotes and understand they can usually lock in a contract price, they become more interested.”

In Louisiana, Rotolo Consultants now has 90% of its mowers running on propane. Sustainability, performance, and profitability are three things they consider to be positives, according to Brandt Martin, vice-president of operations. Martin likes the fact that propane is provided in portable containers that his staff can just attach to the machine. “It works better to have a self-contained canister that lasts all day. The endurance on a 43-lb cylinder has proven to give us 8.5 hours of mowing operations,” he said. The company has been so pleased with the benefits of propane that it has now also switched to a fleet of 70 service trucks running on propane.   —Pat Thornton

(SOURCE: BPN magazine, January 2018)

IC Bus Awarded School Bus Contract by Franklin Schools In Alabama

Lisle, Ill.-based IC Bus will provide 44 CE Series propane school buses to Franklin County Schools in Alabama under a contract award. The buses will have Power Solutions International’s (PSI; Wood Dale, Ill.) 8.8-liter LP engine. Purpose-built for the school bus industry, the CE Series with a PSI propane engine is designed to provide diesel performance with higher torque at lower engine speeds.
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“IC Bus is honored to partner with Southland International Trucks in providing Franklin County Schools environmentally friendly, reliable, and safe transportation,” said IC Bus vice president and general manager Trish Reed. “We are seeing strong sales of our propane-powered school buses throughout the country and this sale is another example of continued interest in our alternative powertrains to transport students to and from school.”

The manufacturer notes its buses’ high-torque, low-speed design benefits stop-and-start applications to allow immediate acceleration after stops and greater hill-climbing capability.
This not only improves starting and climbing, but also eliminates excessive noise, heat, and vibration associated with constant engine revving. The vehicles are built at the IC Bus assembly plant in Tulsa. Deliveries will start this summer and will be complete in time for
back-to-school transport in the 2018-2019 school year.

“We chose IC Bus propane buses for our school transportation needs because we’ve done business with Southland International Trucks for a long time and we trust them to be our partner in providing products and service,” said Franklin County Schools’ assistant superintendent Donald Borden. “We’re pleased to partner with IC Bus as these new propane buses will improve our community environmentally, while also reducing our operating costs.”

Missouri Propane Council Elects Industry Leadership

Several local propane professionals were recently elected to serve as Directors and Officers of the Missouri Propane Education and Research Council (MOPERC).
The Council recently installed its new leadership at the group’s winter meeting January 4, 2018 in Ridgedale, Mo. The slate was approved at the MOPERC fall meeting in Jefferson City, Mo., and includes representatives from across the state who serve in various capacities.
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Officers elected were:
• Chair –Roger Hoff, Hoff Brothers LP-Gas, Perryville, Mo.;
• Vice Chair—Luke Fitzpatrick, MFA Oil, Jefferson City, Mo.;
• Treasurer—Nick Goodrich, Goodrich Gas, Crocker, Mo.

Five incoming Directors were appointed or reappointed to three-year terms:
• Luke Fitzpatrick, MFA Oil, Jefferson City (reappointed);
• Marty Lerum, Propane Resources, Mission, Kansas (reappointed);
• Kevin Pearson, Ferrellgas, Nixa, Mo.;
• Wayne Terpstra, Custom Truck and Equipment, Kansas City, Mo.; and
• David Young, Gas Equipment Company, Highland, Illinois (reappointed).

Outgoing Directors were recognized for their service to the Council. They were chairman Eric Kolkmeyer, Energy Transportation Systems (pictured second from left), Bates City, Mo., and Randy Warner (pictured far left), Ferrellgas, Liberty, Mo.

MOPERC is a not-for-profit organization authorized by the Missouri legislature to administer a statewide check-off program. Proceeds are used for industry training, consumer safety, appliance rebates and market development programs. The Council is composed of 15 volunteer Directors and is administered by executive staff. Since its inception, MOPERC has helped thousands of Missouri homeowners replace water heaters, furnaces and other appliances with new, more energy-efficient models. The Council created a groundbreaking Lawn Equipment Assistance Fund (LEAF) which has helped dozens of Missouri lawn contractors and landscape companies acquire propane-powered lawn mowers, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and saving on operational costs.

During the business portion of the meeting, the Council increased the budget for water-heater rebates by $40,000 and agreed to increase the LEAF budget by $50,000 due to demand. MOPERC’s fiscal year ends June 30. Steve Ahrens, Jefferson City, Mo., serves as MOPERC President.

According to the U.S. Census, approximately 9% of Missouri’s households use propane for heating, hot water and cooking. Recognized for its environmental benefits, propane is also widely used in agriculture, manufacturing, tourism and transportation as a safe and versatile energy source. Propane, called “autogas” around the globe, is the world’s most popular alternative energy.

Without Social Media Use Policy, Companies Are Exposed to Risk

The Internet has revolutionized the way business is conducted, and continues to change our lives with each passing day. Social media has also transformed our culture, perhaps equally or more profoundly than the invention of print, radio, and television. A recent Pew Research Center study found that two-thirds (67%) of Americans report getting at least some of their news on social media — and two in 10 reporting they do so often.
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Today, social channels have grown to serve a variety of personal and professional purposes. These platforms provide an avenue to build a brand image, communicate with and cultivate loyal customers or, better yet, serve as brand advocates. However, a business without a clear social media policy in place 1) risks damage to its brand, 2) faces potential risk from the unintended consequences of a misinterpreted post, 3) risks removal from a social media platform due to site policy violation, 4) risks its site getting hacked, or 5) could even face legal challenges if a post misrepresents the truth or breaks the law. In today’s information age, social media is laden with potential business liabilities that make having a social media policy in place a prudent business practice.

A social media policy shouldn’t just focus on making sure your team doesn’t mess up. When there are clear guidelines in place confusion is eliminated and they help employees understand what they can or cannot do on social media. A social media policy can help empower employees to participate more enthusiastically.

A review of social media policies from a variety of companies reveals that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Some social media policies are lengthy and explicit; others are short and give wide latitude to what may be posted online. Forbes magazine asserts that in a world where information is shared instantaneously, it is essential that businesses develop a comprehensive policy that includes guidelines, best practices, and training tips for employees.

It is important that companies ensure their social media policy meets the lawful guidelines as outlined in Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, upheld by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Employment and labor law consulting firm Littler Services outlines important “Takeaways for Employers” as a result of the NLRB’s August 18, 2016 decision in Chipotle Services LLC. These takeaways provide useful guidance for drafting rules commonly seen in a social media policy, as well as the enforcement of policy guidelines.

The board’s decision in Chipotle provides a roadmap for employers when drafting a policy. The following are key takeaways:

1. Employers should avoid broadly prohibiting employees from using the employer’s logo or name in non-work-related social media communications. Such action may be deemed to infringe upon employees’ Section 7 rights. Instead, employers should consider narrowly tailoring any restrictions on the use of the corporate logo to prevent improper use.

2. Although the administrative law judge ruled that the prohibition in Chipotle’s social media policy on harassing or discriminatory statements did not violate the act, employers should still consider defining these terms by referencing harassment or discrimination policies.

3. Policy language that is general or establishes subjective standards, such as “confidential” or “inaccurate information,” could raise a red flag for the board and reviewing courts unless accompanied by examples that make it clear to employees that policy does not extend to protected speech. 

4. Employers should not expect that a disclaimer saves an otherwise overbroad provision in a social media policy, especially if that disclaimer is only general in nature and appears at the end of the policy. 

5. Employers should consider consulting with counsel when drafting or updating their social media policy.

In addition to being a fun and rewarding method for sharing information, social media presents certain risks, and ultimately the business is responsible for what is posted on its channel.
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The Society for Human Resource Management shares a sample social media policy that has been ruled lawful by NLRB. The sample policy addresses posting guidelines and enforcement actions that will be taken if the policy is not followed. It clearly outlines rules that employees must adhere to when using social media at work. These common sense rules include the following:

• Be respectful;
• Be honest and accurate;
• Post only appropriate and respectful content;
• Retaliation is prohibited, and;
• Observe guidelines for how employees must interact with media contacts.
The key for business leaders is to have a social media policy and make sure that employees are familiar with it. Employees need to understand that a policy is necessary to shield their company from potential brand damage, legal action from a misguided post, or any number of unpleasant scenarios. The following social media guidelines are shared from the policies of several noteworthy businesses:

Coca Cola: Only subject matter experts should respond to negative posts. Employees may come across disparaging posts about the company or its brands, or see third parties trying to spark negative conversations. Unless they are a certified online spokesperson, they must avoid the temptation to react themselves. An employee should pass the post along to official market spokespersons who are trained to address such comments.

Ford Motor Co.: The social media policy consists of five core principles. 1) Be honest about who you are. 2) Clarify that your opinions are your own. 3) Show respect and humility in all communications. 4) Show good judgment in sharing only public information, and 5) Be aware that what you say is permanent.

Platte County (Mo.) Economic Development Council: When in doubt—don’t post. Our platform will not be used for political or religious purposes. Post responsibly, positively, and without malice. Do not reference coworkers, colleagues, or partners without permission.

To keep your brand safe, Forbes Human Resources Council highlights eight social media recommendations from human resource professionals that should be addressed in an employee social media policy:

1. Educate Employees About Social Media. This includes, but is not limited to, the social media site’s terms of use, conditions, and limitations.

2. Remind Employees of Blurred Personal/Professional Lines. How one represents one’s self on a “personal” social media account can often bleed into their “professional” interests. This may result in a negative professional consequence.

3. Present Views in a Professional Manner. Remember, employees are ambassadors for your organization. Make sure they post in a professional manner, avoid controversial views, and understand the social conventions practiced on different platforms, i.e., posting birthday photos on Facebook vs. LinkedIn.

4. Respect Professional Boundaries. Respect professional boundaries of coworkers. A post about a coworker could be misconstrued as “cyberbullying,” which makes for a hostile work environment.

5. Keep Workplace Issues or Conflicts Confidential. Remind employees that they are representatives of the company. Any complaints or concerns can be properly addressed and mediated without an online audience of customers, partners, or competitors.

6. Clarify Whose Opinion Is Expressed. Always use a clarifying statement when the post expresses an employee’s personal opinion, “The opinions expressed on this site are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of my employer.”

7. Represent an Employer Across All Platforms. A social media policy should apply to all platforms, and to everything employees post online.

8. Non-disclosure of Confidential or Proprietary Information. Businesses should clearly state that employees should not disclose company information that is confidential or proprietary. There should be a defined department or person to contact should a question arise about what information falls into those categories. And, tie-in your code of conduct policy so that it is understood that violations could result in discipline or separation of employment.

Today, social media is an essential part of business that continues to transform lives. Remember, a social media policy is a living document that needs to be revisited each year and updated accordingly. Additionally, legal counsel and review may prove beneficial in drafting a social media policy that is lawful and legally binding. —Andrea Young

Deadline Passes for ELDs, No Enforcement Delays Seen

(January 9, 2018) — The compliance deadline for installing electronic logging devices (ELDs) was Dec. 18, 2017, and although the National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) has received questions about a rumored delay to the compliance deadline, no guidance has been published by the Trump administration or the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to that effect.
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NPGA cautions against false claims the administration or FMCSA intend to publish guidance to local law enforcement recommending that while citations could be issued for failure to install and utilize ELDs by Dec. 18, fines associated with citations will be postponed until April 2018.

ELDs connect with a commercial motor vehicle engine to automatically record driving time to ensure adherence to hours-of-service (HOS) regulations. ELDs do not change or alter HOS regulations or driving time limits. The devices are required for all commercial motor vehicles, but there are several exemptions.

ELDs are not required for short-haul operations with drivers operating within a 100 air-mile radius of their normal work reporting locations and where the driver returns daily within 12 consecutive hours. Drive away-tow away operations are exempted provided that the vehicle driven is part of the shipment. Commercial motor vehicles older than model year 2000 and drivers who use paper record of duty forms for not more than eight days during any 30-day period also are exempted.

(SOURCE: The Weekly Propane Newsletter, January 8, 2018)