What is your burner tip business model?

Increas­ing res­i­den­tial propane sales may mean adjust­ing your approach

Does your present busi­ness model fully sup­port res­i­den­tial propane growth by max­i­miz­ing the num­ber of burner tips in exist­ing homes and in new homes being built?  Don’t let your energy com­peti­tors, mainly elec­tric­ity, con­tinue to gain mar­ket share because you have turned your back on the chal­lenge.  You should feel respon­si­ble for the shrink­ing res­i­den­tial mar­ket and not wait around for your propane com­peti­tors to solve the prob­lem for you.  Here are some ideas that can turn energy switch­ing in your favor.

Review your busi­ness plan to make sure it sup­ports all res­i­den­tial uses of propane.  You should be actively look­ing for ways to stop energy switch­ing in your cur­rent cus­tomer base and work­ing to make sure that homes being effi­ciency upgraded or newly built are using propane in all avail­able appli­ca­tions.  One or a com­bi­na­tion of the 3 fol­low­ing burner tip busi­ness mod­els will help you accom­plish this.

Sell, install, and ser­vice res­i­den­tial propane burner tips.  The res­i­den­tial propane burner tips inside the home are the big 5: heat­ing, water heat­ing, cook­ing, clothes dry­ing, and fire­places.  Rough esti­mates are that only10-15% of propane mar­keters fall into this cat­e­gory of sales, ser­vice, and instal­la­tion.  Mar­keters offer var­i­ous excuses why they aren’t into this level of com­mit­ment, includ­ing lack of trained employ­ees, licens­ing issues, lia­bil­ity, and ser­vice issues, and the list goes on.  Yet, I can name many propane mar­keters who sell, install, and ser­vice propane appli­ances and heat­ing equip­ment and do it well.  Some of the mar­keters only sell zone heat­ing equip­ment, such as wall fur­naces and smaller space heaters, while oth­ers have a com­plete HVAC depart­ment that installs forced air fur­naces and air con­di­tion­ers, boil­ers, and other types of heat­ing and air con­di­tion­ing sys­tems.  Some­times this busi­ness is under a sep­a­rate cor­po­rate or LLC umbrella so the busi­ness can be more closely mon­i­tored.  The hearth shop con­cept is also pop­u­lar with some mar­keters where they deal mostly in gas fire­place projects and higher end out­door cook­ing equip­ment.  Many propane mar­keters aban­doned appli­ance sales when big box stores came on the scene.  Big box stores have some of this busi­ness, but not every con­sumer wants Chi­nese cheap prod­ucts and ser­vice and instal­la­tion from some­one they don’t know.  Your propane cus­tomers trust you and the ser­vices you offer or they wouldn’t be buy­ing propane from you.  Sell­ing, installing, and ser­vic­ing res­i­den­tial propane burner tips is the best way to con­trol the con­trol­lable and add more burner tips and related usage to the res­i­den­tial tanks you have in the field.  Finance plans and other pro­mo­tions can increase your cus­tomer loy­alty and referrals.

Part­ner with con­trac­tors to sell, install, and ser­vice res­i­den­tial propane burner tips.  There are var­i­ous lev­els of com­mit­ment in this model depend­ing on the rela­tion­ship you have with instal­la­tion and ser­vice con­trac­tors in your area.  It allows you to be in the sales, instal­la­tion, and ser­vice busi­ness with a hand-picked part­ner you and your propane cus­tomers can trust.  A pop­u­lar arrange­ment is to have more com­pli­cated and lengthy instal­la­tions han­dled by the con­trac­tor part­ner, while the orig­i­nal sale and ser­vice after the sale is han­dled by the propane com­pany ser­vice per­son­nel.  This arrange­ment can take advan­tage of the strengths of both com­pa­nies and bring added referrals.

Pro­mote con­sumer aware­ness, favor­a­bil­ity, and pur­chase of res­i­den­tial propane burner tips.  This is the eas­i­est busi­ness model to imple­ment but very few mar­keters are as active as they should be.  In fact, most mar­keters, big and small, are sit­ting by the side­lines while their energy com­peti­tors, espe­cially elec­tric, are eat­ing their lunches and low­er­ing their per cus­tomer usage rate.  Yet there are more effec­tive, low cost ways to pro­mote increased burner tips than ever before.  Some propane com­pa­nies don’t go inside a customer’s home because of lia­bil­ity fears but that shouldn’t stop them from pro­mot­ing con­sumer aware­ness, favor­a­bil­ity, and pur­chase of res­i­den­tial appli­ances and other burner tips from qual­i­fied con­trac­tors in the area.  Propane com­pa­nies have web sites, social media, email, PERC mar­ket­ing mate­ri­als, and good old fash­ioned state­ment stuffers they can use to pro­mote the value of more propane burner tips in the home even if they don’t sell, install, and service.

The NPGA Bench­mark­ing Coun­cil has com­mit­ted to an inter­nal bench­mark­ing study of the ser­vice busi­ness at each of their mem­ber com­pa­nies in 2013.  Mem­ber com­pany ser­vice busi­ness involve­ment fol­lows the gen­eral pat­tern, rang­ing from near zero to some very sophis­ti­cated sales, instal­la­tion, and ser­vice oper­a­tions.  Mem­bers are look­ing for ideas on mak­ing their ser­vice a more prof­itable part of their busi­ness and maybe they will be able to add some burner tips too.

Tom Jaenicke is the owner and prin­ci­pal advi­sor at ATomiK Cre­ative Solu­tions, LLC, a com­pany that pro­vides mar­ket­ing ser­vices, tech­ni­cal advice, con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion solu­tions, and busi­ness devel­op­ment assis­tance to energy com­pa­nies and sup­port orga­ni­za­tions.  He can be reached at 810 252‑7855 or tom@atomikenergysolutions.com.


Propane marketers partner with Rinnai to add burner tips to homes

Ear­lier this year a small group of propane indus­try mem­bers, led by Randy Doyle from Bloss­man Gas, began meet­ing with Rin­nai to explore ways to add gas load to their res­i­den­tial propane cus­tomers and attract more res­i­den­tial propane busi­ness.  All propane mar­keters have been suf­fer­ing through warm win­ters, con­ser­va­tion, and the load shav­ing effects of a bad econ­omy, but this group came together in a part­ner­ship with Rin­nai to find ways to over­come losses due to energy switch­ing, espe­cially to elec­tric­ity.  The Part­ner­ship “Group” is explor­ing ways to add burner tips to each exist­ing propane home and to max­i­mize the num­ber of burner tips in new homes being built.  The Group is com­mit­ting to try harder to con­trol the controllable.

Rin­nai appeared to be a log­i­cal choice for an ini­tial part­ner­ship with the propane indus­try mem­ber group.  Rin­nai is the num­ber 1 sell­ing brand of gas tan­k­less water heaters in North Amer­ica.  A sub­stan­tial amount of Rinnai’s tan­k­less water heater busi­ness is in propane mod­els.  When you exam­ine Rinnai’s global mar­ket­ing per­spec­tive, it also offers a wide range of kitchen and laun­dry appli­ances, heat­ing and air con­di­tion­ing units and other unique gas equip­ment for res­i­den­tial use.  Many of these prod­ucts are not cur­rently being offered for sale in the U.S., and the Group is explor­ing that port­fo­lio of prod­ucts to see where new burner tip oppor­tu­ni­ties may lie.

The Group also func­tions with Rin­nai as an advi­sory group on new prod­uct devel­op­ment, design, and com­mer­cial­iza­tion.  The Group’s objec­tive is to “organ­i­cally grow Res­i­den­tial gal­lons by dis­plac­ing other fuel sources, mainly elec­tric­ity, with propane burn­ing appli­ances that are:  1) high qual­ity; 2) depend­able; 3) func­tional; 4) inno­v­a­tive; and 5) priced com­pet­i­tively to meet the wide range of cus­tomer needs served by the propane part­ners.”  This objec­tive is meant to help all propane mar­keters will­ing to com­mit to try­ing harder, along with the Group.  Rin­nai seems to have lots of poten­tial to assist with the objective.

Some of the Part­ner­ship Group’s Lead­er­ship Team Randy Doyle, Bloss­man Gas Mike Pea­cock, Rin­nai Heat­ing and Energy Devel­op­ment Man­ager Tom Jaenicke, ATomiK Cre­ative Solutions

 There are over a dozen ini­tia­tives under study by the Part­ner­ship Group with 7 of them deal­ing directly with bring­ing unique new res­i­den­tial propane prod­ucts to mar­ket.  The Group is also look­ing at effec­tive ways to mar­ket to the res­i­den­tial chan­nel, sales train­ing for the propane indus­try, and plumber edu­ca­tion to make them believ­ers in tan­k­less water heaters, and the oppor­tu­ni­ties list goes on.


What the Rinnai/Propane Part­ner­ship is not 

This is not a plan to inter­rupt or inter­fere with the nation­wide dis­tri­b­u­tion sys­tem that Rin­nai has estab­lished.  Rinnai’s dis­tri­b­u­tion sys­tem has been suc­cess­ful to date, but there may be ways to make that sys­tem even more pro­duc­tive and effec­tive as we go for­ward.  I am sure dis­trib­u­tors will have full voice in those types of deci­sions, if it comes to that.   This is not a buy­ing group to get cut rate prices from Rin­nai or its dis­trib­u­tors.  Price is not the issue here.  The issue is hav­ing the right prod­ucts in the hands of the right mar­keters with the right knowl­edge to sell those prod­ucts to propane con­sumers.  If more sales vol­ume ends up bring­ing bet­ter pric­ing, so be it.

This is not a move to cut PERC from the pic­ture or dupli­cate its efforts.  In fact, PERC Pres­i­dent Roy Willis and Brid­get Scan­lon, PERC Direc­tor of Res­i­den­tial and Com­mer­cial Mar­kets, have given full sup­port to the Group’s efforts and recently become involved in the Group meet­ings to find ways to assist and pro­vide PERC resources if needed.  Oth­ers from the PERC staff and Swan­son Rus­sell, PERC’s adver­tis­ing agency, also have been involved in the meet­ings.  PERC has bud­geted heav­ily in the auto­gas and engine fuel mar­ket for next year, but seems eager to help in the res­i­den­tial area where new gal­lons are avail­able.  Propane mar­keters are start­ing to speak up about the need for more help from PERC in pro­tect­ing and grow­ing the res­i­den­tial mar­ket, the largest seg­ment of the retail propane mar­ket in the U.S., and PERC seems to be listening.

If you are inter­ested in join­ing the Part­ner­ship Group or find­ing out more about it, con­tact Randy Doyle at rdoyle@blossmangas.com or me.  Our motto is:  “There is no rea­son for an all-electric home in the U.S.”

Tom Jaenicke is the owner and prin­ci­pal advi­sor at ATomiK Cre­ative Solu­tions, LLC, a com­pany that pro­vides mar­ket­ing ser­vices, tech­ni­cal advice, con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion solu­tions, and busi­ness devel­op­ment assis­tance to energy com­pa­nies and sup­port orga­ni­za­tions.  He can be reached at 810 252‑7855 or tom@atomikenergysolutions.com.

Sales process training added to popular PERC program

Sell­ing advanced propane tech­nol­ogy becomes a top priority 

The research & devel­op­ment pipeline at the Propane Edu­ca­tion & Research Coun­cil (PERC) is begin­ning to pro­duce advanced propane tech­nol­ogy prod­ucts at a rate that war­rants stronger empha­sis on com­mer­cial­iza­tion, in other words, sell­ing these prod­ucts in the mar­ket­place.  After an ini­tial fund­ing delay, the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of tech­nol­ogy train­ing, Mar­keter Tech­nol­ogy and Sales Train­ing (MTST), is being launched.

One of PERC’s first attempts at com­mer­cial­iza­tion was Mar­keter Tech­nol­ogy Train­ing (MTT). PERC has suc­cess­fully trained over 1500 propane mar­keters in the MTT pro­gram to date.  Over 60 ses­sions of the pop­u­lar pro­gram have been con­ducted in 31 of the 38 propane asso­ci­a­tions across the coun­try.  Now PERC is dou­bling down on the train­ing by adding improve­ments that include inte­grated sales process train­ing and expan­sion of the post-classroom expe­ri­ence with webi­nars, enhanced Mar­ket­ing Resource Center

pres­ence, and a “hot line” for quick response to sales chal­lenges.  This expanded and improved pro­gram has been renamed Mar­keter Tech­nol­ogy and Sales Train­ing.  The MTST train­ing pro­gram is designed to help propane mar­keters rec­og­nize new mar­kets as well as max­i­mize exist­ing ones as a way of off­set­ting lost gal­lons and increas­ing over­all propane sales.

Pat Hyland, Direc­tor of Indus­try Pro­gram for PERC, is excited about the sales oppor­tu­ni­ties that the MTST pro­gram will bring to propane mar­keters.  Pat says “The tim­ing is right for the more aggres­sive MTST pro­gram, with propane prices favor­ably posi­tioned in com­par­i­son to other energy sources, an abun­dant propane sup­ply, and a pipeline full of advanced tech­nol­ogy propane prod­ucts spilling into the marketplace.”

For those who attended the old MTT pro­gram, expect lots of changes in MTST.  The half day mod­ules have now been expanded to day-long ses­sions per mod­ule due, in part, to the expanded sales process train­ing included in each one.  Each mod­ule will have cus­tomized learn­ing objec­tives that include:

• Under­stand­ing the mar­ket oppor­tu­nity
• Under­stand­ing the ben­e­fits of propane over com­pet­ing energy sources
• Know­ing the tar­get mar­ket
• Under­stand­ing the sales strate­gies
• Know­ing how to pre­pare for prospect meet­ings
• Cre­at­ing effec­tive call open­ings
• Know­ing the tar­get ques­tions to ask a prospect
• Cre­at­ing a step by step sales action plan
• Under­stand­ing gate­way sales oppor­tu­ni­ties
• Know­ing avail­able resources for use after training

Amy ImparaAmy Impara is the owner of Sales Trans­for­ma­tion Now, Inc., the new PERC part­ner in the devel­op­ment and deliv­ery of the MTST pro­gram.  Amy is excited about the oppor­tu­nity to work with the propane indus­try and says, “Propane mar­keters will learn proven sales tech­niques that focus on best prac­tices used by suc­cess­ful com­pa­nies in real world sit­u­a­tions in many other indus­tries.”  Amy will be per­son­ally han­dling much of the MTST train­ing across the country.


I assisted PERC and its pre­vi­ous part­ner in the devel­op­ment of some of the mod­ules in the old MTT pro­gram and filled in as a trainer.  I recently par­tic­i­pated in a “Teach Back” ses­sion with Sales Trans­for­ma­tion Now to pre­pare myself to teach MTST, if needed, and I will tell you that the improved train­ing is just what the propane indus­try needs.  Inno­v­a­tive propane prod­ucts are here now, and it is time that propane retail­ers take on the chal­lenge of tak­ing them to mar­ket.  If you don’t, who will?  Con­tact your propane asso­ci­a­tion or go to www.propanecouncil.org/MTST today to see when MTST is sched­uled in your area.


Tom Jaenicke is the owner and prin­ci­pal advi­sor at ATomiK Cre­ative Solu­tions, LLC, a com­pany that pro­vides mar­ket­ing ser­vices, tech­ni­cal advice, con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion solu­tions, and busi­ness devel­op­ment assis­tance to energy com­pa­nies and sup­port orga­ni­za­tions.  He can be reached at 810 252‑7855 or tom@atomikenergysolutions.com.


PERC Training Courses Reach Construction Professionals

The Same Train­ing is Start­ing to Catch on With Propane Mar­keters too

The Propane Edu­ca­tion & Research Coun­cil (PERC) is its 5th year of build­ing an arse­nal of train­ing courses for con­struc­tion pro­fes­sion­als.  Orig­i­nally the courses were designed to train archi­tects about propane and the ben­e­fits of related appli­ca­tions.  The propane indus­try had long felt that archi­tects were an impor­tant first step in the res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial con­struc­tion process but had no way to reach this audi­ence.  The aver­age propane mar­keter can be intim­i­dated by the archi­tect com­mu­nity and unsure of the role they play in energy deci­sions.  PERC took the smart approach and did research to qual­ify the archi­tects as energy deci­sion mak­ers and find out the best ways to reach them.  The research showed that archi­tects need con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion to main­tain their State license and are espe­cially recep­tive to online train­ing.  It was also noted that no other energy provider was pro­vid­ing this type of energy related train­ing to archi­tects.  With the door wide open, PERC stepped in the first year with one course on under­ground propane tanks and over 300 archi­tects took the course.  The propane indus­try went from –0– out­reach to reach­ing over 300 archi­tects the first year.

What does the train­ing pro­gram look like now?  The Propane Train­ing Acad­emy has been estab­lished online and cur­rently houses 22 free online courses on a vari­ety of top­ics includ­ing new tech­nol­ogy that PERC grants helped develop.  Last year almost 5,000 con­struc­tion pro­fes­sion­als, includ­ing res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial archi­tects and builders, remod­el­ers, engi­neers, and HVAC and plumb­ing pro­fes­sion­als signed up for the courses.  Included in those num­bers are 200 propane pro­fes­sion­als who found the train­ing a valu­able resource for con­nect­ing to the con­struc­tion mar­ket and propane end users.

PERC is able to cap­ture infor­ma­tion dur­ing the train­ing reg­is­tra­tion process and the amaz­ing results point out the true value that this train­ing is bring­ing to the propane indus­try.  An over­whelm­ing 70% of the con­struc­tion pro­fes­sion­als sign­ing up for the courses plan to build with propane in the next 12 months.  Of the builders with no pre­vi­ous expe­ri­ence in build­ing with propane, over half of them plan to build with propane in the next 12 months.  This points to the effi­ciency and effec­tive­ness of train­ing the con­struc­tion com­mu­nity and will result in incre­men­tal sales and gal­lons when you con­nect with those builders in the field.  All of the con­struc­tion pro­fes­sion­als train­ing with PERC at trade shows, through Buildwithpropane.com, and the Propane Train­ing Acad­emy are posted as leads on the Propane MaRC.  Find them and cre­ate new gallons.

Train­ing for your­self and your employ­ees can make a dif­fer­ence in the way you approach the chal­lenges before you.  Much of the coun­try had an unusu­ally warm win­ter that is now quickly turn­ing into sum­mer.  Warmer than nor­mal tem­per­a­tures, the con­tin­ued weak econ­omy, accom­pa­ny­ing con­ser­va­tion, and propane prices sig­nif­i­cantly higher than the pre­vi­ous win­ter have brought gal­lon sales down 20 to 40 per­cent for many propane retail­ers.  Some of those gal­lons are likely to come back with a nor­mal win­ter and an improved econ­omy but some gal­lons are gone for­ever.  For some retail­ers it may be time to face the real­ity that it is time to make a choice; down­size my busi­ness or cre­ate new gal­lons.  Cre­at­ing new gal­lons means cre­at­ing new users and increas­ing the num­ber of propane appli­ca­tions with cur­rent users.  That is true propane mar­ket expan­sion in the energy sec­tor, ver­sus steal­ing cus­tomers from your weaker propane com­peti­tor.  Cre­at­ing new propane users is a strat­egy while steal­ing cur­rent users is a tac­tic. While you may have oppor­tu­ni­ties in your mar­ket­place to use that tac­tic, it shouldn’t be your only one.  Add train­ing for your­self and your employ­ees to your tac­tics list.  The train­ing avail­able at the Propane Train­ing Acad­emy should be incor­po­rated into your slower deliv­ery sea­son, if cre­at­ing new and expanded res­i­den­tial propane users is part of your strategy.

Make spring­time learn­ing time, not down time at your propane busi­ness.  The train­ing avail­able at www.buildwithpropane.com/training will make propane retail­ers bet­ter pre­pared to sell to the con­struc­tion com­mu­nity and to end users.


Tom Jaenicke is the owner and prin­ci­pal advi­sor at ATomiK Cre­ative Solu­tions, LLC, a com­pany that pro­vides mar­ket­ing ser­vices, tech­ni­cal advice, con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion solu­tions, and busi­ness devel­op­ment assis­tance to energy com­pa­nies and sup­port orga­ni­za­tions.  He can be reached at 810 252‑7855 or tom@atomikenergysolutions.com.

Taking Propane to the House

Time to con­nect with the res­i­den­tial con­struc­tion industry

Ignor­ing your res­i­den­tial propane busi­ness and pre­tend­ing it will get bet­ter some day with­out your help is no longer an option, unless you are only in your busi­ness for the short term.  Charg­ing higher mar­gins and other oner­ous penal­ties (in your customer’s eyes) like tank rent and deliv­ery fees to make up for short gal­lon through­put per cus­tomer will only carry you so far before you run out of excuses for your banker or your Board of Directors.

Let’s look at some other rea­sons why your res­i­den­tial cus­tomers are not using as much propane as you want them to use.  The res­i­den­tial propane busi­ness has been under down­ward pres­sure from sev­eral dif­fer­ent fronts includ­ing con­sumer con­ser­va­tion due in part to a weak econ­omy, energy switch­ing (to elec­tric­ity, renew­ables), adop­tion of stricter build­ing codes, higher effi­ciency heat­ing equip­ment and appli­ances, a weak home build­ing mar­ket, and a dis­tinct com­mu­ni­ca­tions gap between propane mar­keters and con­struc­tion professionals.

The future is not going to get any eas­ier as both energy codes and heat­ing sys­tem effi­ciency stan­dards undergo his­toric changes in 2012–13.  The spread­ing adop­tion of energy codes which are 30%+ more strin­gent than even 2006 codes and a new fed­eral reg­u­la­tion that will man­date high effi­ciency fur­naces and heat pumps in all US mixed and cold cli­mates will bring impli­ca­tions for propane that include:

• Smaller capac­ity heat­ing sys­tems
• Lower propane con­sump­tion rates for heat­ing due to equip­ment effi­ciency and enve­lope improve­ments
• Increased impor­tance of water heaters as an anchor appli­ca­tion in the home
• Increased impor­tance of smaller propane appli­ca­tions in the home
• Oppor­tu­ni­ties to gain mar­ket from heat­ing oil fur­naces, which also face effi­ciency hikes
• Increased chal­lenges from elec­tric heat pump sys­tems (air-source, ground source, mini-split), in both new and exist­ing applications

Add to these chal­lenges the fact that the aver­age home with propane as a pri­mary energy source is already down to less than 2 propane appli­ca­tions of the 5 indoor appli­ca­tions avail­able.  Over half of those homes have an elec­tric water heater.

This long list of chal­lenges sum­ma­rizes the need to re-energize your rela­tion­ship with con­struc­tion pro­fes­sion­als.  This means devel­op­ing or strength­en­ing rela­tion­ships with builders, remod­el­ers, heat­ing & cool­ing con­trac­tors, and plumbers serv­ing your propane mar­ket.  While it may be sev­eral more years before the hous­ing mar­ket and the econ­omy return to nor­mal lev­els, con­struc­tion activ­ity has started to come back in pock­ets across the coun­try. This is doc­u­mented by the NAHB/First Amer­i­can Improv­ing Hous­ing Index pub­lished monthly by the National Asso­ci­a­tion of Home Builders (NAHB) and other sources.

There is no bet­ter time to let con­struc­tion pro­fes­sion­als know all the rea­sons why propane should be their pre­ferred energy choice when build­ing, remod­el­ing, or per­form­ing effi­ciency upgrades for their clients.  The Propane Edu­ca­tion & Research Coun­cil (PERC) has pro­vided propane mar­keters with a great vari­ety of mar­ket­ing mate­ri­als and tools geared toward the build­ing com­mu­nity.  There are research reports, train­ing courses, fact sheets and more that can pro­vide energy answers for you and the con­struc­tion pro­fes­sion­als with whom you work.  Join and become active in your local Home Builders Asso­ci­a­tion and make sure your State or Regional propane asso­ci­a­tion is doing its part in clos­ing the com­mu­ni­ca­tion gap with the con­struc­tion com­mu­nity.  A good place to get the big pic­ture is by attend­ing the NAHB Inter­na­tional Builders Show in Orlando, FL on Feb­ru­ary 8–11, 2012.  Con­tact Aisha Parker at the PERC office and sign up to spend some time in the gas indus­tries booth that the propane indus­try shares with the Amer­i­can Gas Asso­ci­a­tion and gas prod­ucts man­u­fac­turer partners.

Expect PERC to put a big push on Tak­ing Propane to the House in 2012 to fos­ter direct engage­ment between you and your con­struc­tion pro­fes­sional clients.  With approx­i­mately 70% of all retail propane sales being used in build­ing struc­tures you could say that you are not in the propane busi­ness – you are in the build­ing busi­ness.  It is time to pay more atten­tion to it…..unless you are just in it for the short term.


Propane marketers are tuning up their websites

A major shift away from Yel­low Pages adver­tis­ing is tak­ing place

When is the last time you picked up the phone book to look up a busi­ness in the yel­low pages?  Even in small town Amer­ica, it is just too easy to use your favorite search engine to search online with your com­puter or smart phone.  Propane mar­keters have been slow to shift from Yel­low Pages adver­tis­ing.  For decades Yel­low Pages has been what made the phone ring in propane offices across the coun­try.  Most mar­keters did post an oblig­a­tory web site a few years back when it seemed to be the thing to do to keep up with com­peti­tors, but most looked at it as an addi­tional mar­ket­ing expense rather than an even­tual replace­ment for their time hon­ored friend, the Yel­low Pages.

My, how times have changed.  Many propane mar­keters are now cut­ting Yel­low Pages back to min­i­mum lev­els or doing away with that form of adver­tis­ing alto­gether.  They are invest­ing some of those sav­ings into updat­ing their web sites because more leads and con­tacts are being gen­er­ated from that source, includ­ing the phone calls that Yel­low Pages used to attract.

In my work with the National Propane Gas Asso­ci­a­tion (NPGA) Bench­mark­ing Coun­cil, I am a facil­i­ta­tor for one of the 9 groups of mar­keter mem­bers. My group of 13 mem­bers had decided to bench­mark their com­pa­nies’ web sites and learn more about social media.  Ben Gutkin from Warm Thoughts Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, www.warmthoughts.com, was brought in to put on a one-and-a-half day web site eval­u­a­tion work­shop for our mem­bers.  Each mem­ber reviewed their own web site and stud­ied other mem­bers’ web sites prior to the meet­ing so all could be active par­tic­i­pants in the eval­u­a­tions.  Ben per­formed an excel­lent and insight­ful eval­u­a­tion of each web site with the mem­bers pro­vid­ing input along the way.  The eval­u­a­tions were inter­est­ing, edu­ca­tional, and some­times bru­tally honest.

The review included the home­page, over­all design, con­tent, and archi­tec­ture.  Ana­lyt­ics or mea­sure­ments of effec­tive­ness were reviewed with mem­bers who were sub­scribed to such ser­vices (highly rec­om­mended).  The home­page is the most crit­i­cal com­po­nent of the web site.  You have an aver­age of 3 sec­onds to make the right impres­sion on vis­i­tors or they will switch their search to your com­peti­tors’ sites.  Some of the more impor­tant ques­tions that need to be answered on your home­page are:
• Does the site have the prod­ucts and ser­vices I’m look­ing for?
• Does the com­pany ser­vice my area?
• Are they some­one I want to do busi­ness with?
• How do I con­tact them?

In other words, do the vis­i­tors know what you want them to do, and have you given them a rea­son to do it?

Your phone num­ber needs to be promi­nent on your home­page.  For those propane com­pa­nies that have call cen­ters answer­ing most cus­tomer and prospect calls, it is more impor­tant to have added fea­tures on your web site such as new cus­tomer sign up and auto­mated bill pay­ing.  These fea­tures help to make up for the per­ceived short­com­ings of call cen­ter performance.

Those com­pa­nies that have local field offices answer­ing the calls find that extra fea­tures on the web site are use­ful but not as impor­tant as a friendly knowl­edge­able local voice walk­ing the caller through the process or invit­ing them in to han­dle in person.

In either case, the phone num­ber is a crit­i­cal part of your web site home­page.  It is impor­tant to pro­mote your web site to draw vis­i­tors.  Your web site is an afford­able way to give vis­i­tors rea­sons to call you. That is why web sites are replac­ing Yel­low Pages in mak­ing the phone ring in your office.

The work­shop also included an update on how social media can fit into a propane retailer’s mar­ket­ing plans.  The mes­sage here is that social media will become an impor­tant fac­tor in propane mar­ket­ing in the future but don’t go there until your web site is oper­at­ing at peak per­for­mance and you have a plan to keep it that way.  Social media is to web sites what web sites were to Yel­low Pages five years ago.  The mar­ket­ing change cycles are get­ting shorter as elec­tronic media inno­va­tion leaps for­ward.  Make sure your 2012 mar­ket­ing plan is not look­ing too “Yel­low” around the edges.

Tom Jaenicke is the owner of ATomiK Cre­ative Solu­tions, LLC, a com­pany that pro­vides mar­ket­ing ser­vices, train­ing, tech­ni­cal advice, and busi­ness devel­op­ment assis­tance, pri­mar­ily to the propane indus­try.
He can be reached at 810 252‑7855 or Con­tact Tom.