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.