Family Time, Respect, Can Help Attract and Retain Drivers

The trucking industry has been forced to deal with a shortage of qualified drivers over the past few years, and the propane industry has not been exempt from that. Dave Barrett, owner of Barrett Propane (Prescott, Ariz.), tells BPN he doesn’t hire delivery drivers often, but when he does, he sometimes finds it difficult to identify a satisfactory pool from which to choose. “I’ve been lucky enough to find quality drivers in the past, but I’m never comfortable going into the search due to the small number of available, qualified candidates,” he commented. (See May 2015 BPN, p. 29 for more propane marketer comments on the driver shortage.)
Propane Insdutry Driver Shortage

For the propane industry, the shortage of trucks and drivers was just one aspect of the “perfect storm” of events that led to the supply and infrastructure issues of the 2013-1014 winter season. But Kevin Burch, president of trucking company Jet Express (Dayton Ohio), sees different factors that have led to his industry’s perfect storm, including an aging workforce, that has led to an overall shortage of drivers. Jet Express handles up to 400 truckloads per day throughout the U.S., primarily for the “just-in-time” automotive industry.

Noting that the average employee age at his company is around 56 or 57, Burch said that “We haven’t done a bad job on driver entry; we’ve done a pathetically poor job.” He made his comments during a recent Transport Topics webinar titled “What Is Really Behind the Driver Shortage?” Although the event didn’t focus on the propane industry, several of the themes were relevant.

Poor communication is one factor behind the driver shortage, Burch stated. “We need to get the interest back and tell people what we do, why we do it, and how important it is.” In addition to the aging workforce, he mentions poor driver entry programs, an improving economy, loss of drivers to the construction industry as a result of the strengthening economy, and government regulations such as the Comprehensive Safety Analysis (CSA) program that provides scores to commercial motor vehicle carriers and drivers on how well they comply with safety rules.

“I think this storm has been a long time coming, and I think we may have been just a little slow to react to it,” noted webinar panel member Alphonso Lewis, who is a driver for YRC Freight (Overland Park, Kan.) based out of Montgomery, Ala.

He noted that respectful treatment and flexible family time are two methods of attracting drivers to work for a company and keeping them on with the business.

Lewis added that many parents encourage their children to become doctors and lawyers. “Why are we not encouraging people to become professional drivers?” he asked. “This is a great career that provides a great opportunity for your own life to raise kids and send your kids to college.”

Not simply home time, but quality home time, will be one of the most important factors in enticing young people to pursue careers as drivers. Those just starting out in their careers often have young children playing in sports leagues. Even though he loved driving when he was younger, Lewis added that wanted to be able to see his son play sports during the week and spend time at home. Earlier in Lewis’ career when his son was younger, his dispatcher would allow him to start work earlier and leave early to catch his son’s games.

“I thought that was a dedication from them, to me, to relax that schedule,” he said. “It makes me take pride in the company itself. Sure enough, I want to stay there. I think the industry has to focus on and understand that these are family-oriented people.”

Drivers also value good communications, and the webinar focused on respectful communications between drivers and their supervisors. Burch told a story of a tall driver who told his dispatcher that he felt cramped in the small truck he was given to drive, and he was having trouble getting in and out of the truck. Burch heard the dispatcher tell the driver to go to a different company if he didn’t like the truck he was driving.

“I overheard that and told the dispatcher, ‘That chair you’re sitting in, maybe it doesn’t fit your body…You want me to tell you that if you don’t like that chair, you better go home?’ People say they communicate, but do they really ask what’s going on?”

Lewis agreed but added that the communications situation between drivers and supervisors has improved. Drivers who are treated with respect tend to stay with their company.

“Even if you call me by my name, tell me good morning, thanks for the job you’ve done, occasionally during the week, it makes the driver feel better, he wants to work harder, and wants to go the extra mile for you. That respect really goes a long way.”    —Daryl Lubinsky

Propane Marketers Insurance: Soft or Hard Market?

By Dave Belmont

   All industries experience cycles of expansion and contraction; similarly, the insurance industry is cyclical in nature. Let’s go back in time to the year 2003: Most of the property and casualty insurance industry was transitioning from a “soft market” to a “hard market.” Insurance products were difficult to get as more insurance companies pulled back on what they would write, and those that were writing policies were commanding their price and terms. Prior to 2003, the last hard market was in 1985, and from 1970 to 2012 we had three hard markets. They lasted about three years each.
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Presently, with solid underwriting profits and the lack of fires and natural disasters, the property and casualty insurance industry is generally healthy. We are in fact experiencing a “soft market,” where product is readily available and at a fair cost. Insurance companies are more willing to write business. Currently at least seven insurance companies are actively writing propane marketers, and as we all know, competition is good at keeping costs down. We all need to work hard to keep these companies interested in writing business for the propane industry.

The business of insurance is based on the Law of Large Numbers. The Law of Large Numbers relies on the principle that the larger the pool, the more predictable the amount of losses will be in a given period. Therefore, the function of insurance is to safeguard against financial loss by having the losses of the few paid by contributions of the many that are exposed to the same risk. This is called “spreading the risk,” and without it insurance companies will not do well. Risks and uncertainties are part of life’s great adventure. Accidents and natural disasters happen without notice, and insurance acts as a financial bridge during these troubled times. That is why insurance is such an important part of the global economy.

Insurance companies make their money based on underwriting profits (premiums collected minus claims cost and overhead), cash flow, and investments. While investments for insurance companies may currently be lacking due to low interest rates, the underwriting profit and cash flow are sufficient. As premiums are collected and losses are manageable, the cash flow can be very positive. A large part of insurance companies’ overhead is reinsurance. Reinsurance is an additional policy that is purchased by an insurance company over its own written business either on a treaty basis or on a facultative basis.

Treaty reinsurance is a pre-negotiated agreement between the primary insurer and the reinsurer. The primary insurer agrees to cede all risks within a defined class or classes to the reinsurer. In return, the reinsurer agrees to provide reinsurance on all risks ceded without individual underwriting. Underwriting is done during negotiation of the treaty contract. An example of treaty reinsurance is an insurance company purchasing reinsurance for a specific class of business, say propane marketers, to cover any general liability or auto liability loss over $500,000.

Facultative reinsurance is usually for a single risk. Each risk under a facultative contract is individually underwritten by the reinsurer. A good example of the use of facultative reinsurance is a property risk with a very high total insurable value (TIV, or maximum possible loss). The primary insurer does not have the capacity itself to provide the requested limits. To provide the coverage, the primary insurer submits the risk to the reinsurer to facilitate (allow) the coverage. If the reinsurer agrees, coverage is written and a facultative reinsurance contract is created.

Reinsurance is a very crucial part of an insurance company’s business plan, and without it, it may take on too much risk on its own, putting itself in financial jeopardy. Reinsurance is also one of the largest factors in the starting of a hard market. When reinsurance is expensive, difficult to get, or nonexistent, it reflects on us all as the insurance we purchase gets more expensive or more difficult to get.

Some industry experts say that it would take at least a $100-billion natural disaster to create a hard market overnight. Otherwise, it will just take time. You might ask, what can we do to help at least delay a hard market? As insurance consumers, we are all affected by losses, whether they are our own or somebody else’s. Remember, the risk is spread by the insurance company. We all have little control over natural disasters, other people’s losses, and the operations of an insurance company, but what we can help with is underwriting profit on our own policy.

Insurance companies are sensitive to losses that are frequent or severe in nature. Take a more active, strategic approach to managing your company’s risks and claim activity. While it is sometimes difficult to prevent a random and unforeseen loss, we can work to prevent frequent losses. It is a proven fact that companies that do not take an active role in their safety plans have a higher frequency of losses than those that do, and as frequency increases, the chance of having a severe loss increases also. So let’s all do our part to delay another hard market and to keep insurance companies interested in writing propane business.

Dave Belmont is a principal of Adler Belmont Dye Insurance in San Luis Obispo, Calif. He is a certified insurance counselor and a 27-year veteran in the insurance business.

Wholesaler United Pacific Energy Turns 25

Each year provides something monumental that leaves an imprint. In 1990, David Humphreys had to make one of the biggest decisions of his professional life. He could walk in his father-in-law’s shoes and assume his propane operations, where Humphreys’ own industry career began, or he could take a risk and strike out on his own with the hope that, looking back, it would all be worth it.
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Humphreys, a new father and a new name in the propane industry, had been working for his father-in-law, Wayne Harlan, a pioneering California LP-gas entrepreneur. Harlan had shared the ins and outs of propane, but was retiring and selling his business interests. The gentleman had an outside offer he described as “cash in a bag.” Humphreys, rather than taking over what had already been built by Harlan, instead took a huge leap and stepped out on his own with a new company to serve the industry.

Launching his own enterprise from the ground up, Humphreys went to work for his own wholesale propane supply and distribution company, United Pacific Energy. The privately held company, based in Reno, Nevada, is celebrating that accomplishment, marking its 25th anniversary this year.

Humphreys, with 35 years in the LP-gas industry, has experience in both retail and wholesale operations. From 1979 to 1985 he worked for Cal Gas as a delivery driver, a service technician, and a retail manager. From 1986 to 1990 he was employed by Coast Gas in dispatch, personnel, and sales, learning all phases of wholesale.

United Pacific Energy became a third-generation enterprise when David Humphreys Jr. joined the firm three years ago. The company is a wholesale supplier of propane and butane to retail businesses and industrial, agricultural, and government customers, providing flexible solutions for managing their energy requirements that include pricing, delivery, and storage in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada.

United Pacific Energy has grown to purchase its own railcars and transports. Its assets also include the Sheldon United Terminal in Suisun City, Calif., which not only has tank storage but can accommodate more than 100 railcars onsite and offers direct sales and throughput. The facility can load 100 trucks a day. Other assets include terminals operated by the company in Rialto and Redding, Calif., which buy from a diverse list of suppliers.

United Pacific’s sales figures are closely held, and the company’s culture calls for quiet efficiency. Nonetheless, the family-owned firm has come a long way from the one-man operation David Humphreys Sr. launched in his bedroom 25 years ago.

The late Wayne Harlan, Humphreys’ father-in-law, passed in 1997. Like many of his generation, his work is described as centering on a handshake. His word was his bond. With more than 50 years in the propane industry, he began his career, like many other industry luminaries, with Ransome Manufacturing in 1937.

In 1941, he became a partner in Hanford Butane Service in Hanford, Calif., in the south-central San Joaquin Valley. By 1946 he converted his partnership interest into a shareholder interest in United Liquid Gas. In 1953, United Liquid Gas merged with Van Horn Butane to become Van Gas, then one of the largest operations on the West Coast. Van Gas was later acquired by Suburban Propane.

Meanwhile, Harlan’s ventures, then based in Watsonville, Calif., became Coast Gas Inc., where he served as chairman and president in charge of day-to-day operations. Founded in 1948, Coast Gas, which had about 175 employees and major terminals in Watsonville and Bakersfield, Calif., was later bought out by a Fresno-based acquisition group.

In addition, Harlan in 1955 began promoting the expansion of the propane industry, serving as a lender and consultant for business startups and providing equipment. He founded Watsonville Leasing Co. Later he purchased Pacific Energy Group, subsequently selling his interest.

A recent initiative at United Pacific Energy is the addition of butane to its LPG mix, both selling and distributing product to refineries by rail and truck. Virgil Majeski joined the company last year as vice president of marketing to head up that effort. Majeski brings 23 years of experience in the petroleum industry, ranging from refinery processing to large-scale LPG and blend stock marketing with companies such as Arco, BP Amoco, BP Products North America, and Plains Midstream Canada.
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In addition, like other energy companies with operations in California, United Pacific has entered into a compliance regime with the California Air Resources Board for the state’s cap-and-trade program. As an importer from outside the state for winter supply, the company falls under CARB reporting.

As noted, United Pacific is now a third-generation operation, with David Humphreys Jr. joining the company about three years ago. The University of Arizona graduate is in charge of overseeing sales and operations, which in late 2012 were combined under one roof in new headquarters in Reno. He started his industry career under more modest circumstances, however, as an intern at Pacific Propane in Castroville, Calif. while attending college on a tennis scholarship.

We’re lucky to be coworkers,” says David Sr., whose son was just 2 years old when he started his company. David Jr. agrees. “We can just meet out in the hall and brainstorm. I think it’s great that my family has been in the propane business for three generations. I’m proud of what my grandfather accomplished and that my father started his own company from scratch and built it up to what it is today.”

For his part, David Sr. credits his longtime employees for their contributions to the success of his enterprise. “I have a great crew, and haven’t had to deal with a lot of turnover. I had an idea for a wholesale company that I considered would be my dream business, and so far it’s worked out.”

Promoting Propane Products Keeps Appliance Business Ahead of Competition

Hocon Gas uses advertising and customer satisfaction surveys to help keep its appliance business ahead of the competition.

Competition for propane business has become fierce for Hocon Gas, which is headquartered out of Shelton, Conn. and serves customers in Connecticut and three New York counties. About 10 fuel oil companies have begun selling propane to retail customers in that area in recent months. In response, Hocon Gas owner and president David Gable realized that Hocon had to be a step ahead of the newcomers, so he designed and built showrooms to look like customers’ own living rooms.  
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Hocon vice president of operations Bill Cummings believes his company’s appliance showrooms at its five locations are the best in the state, and the Home Builders & Remodelers Association of Connecticut agrees — the association presented Hocon Gas with its Best Small Showroom 2014 award for the company’s Guilford, Conn. location.  

Cummings said his company’s appliance stores get a strong volume of business, and he believes the reason for that is that Hocon Gas installs and services the appliances it sells, including grills, water heaters, patio heaters, fire pits, and a complete line of fireplace and stove products at its Hocon Hearth House business, which is located at each of Hocon Gas’ five locations. Fire logs and fireplace inserts are top-selling items.

A membership to the Hocon Hearth House is automatic when a customer purchases an appliance from Hocon Gas, allowing the customer to have security after his or her purchase. “For us to keep our advantage in this competitive environment, we have to be able to give the customer service from ‘showroom to living room,’” Cummings explained. “That means when customers come into the Hocon Gas showrooms and pick out the appliance they want, Hocon Gas orders their appliance, installs it, and services that appliance as long as the customer remains a customer at Hocon Gas. We’re trying to be the 100% company provider. We actually do get calls from competitors’ customers who want us to do service for them.”

Advertising and customer satisfaction surveys are additional methods the company uses to stay ahead of the competition. The company began filming “Better Connecticut” segments that air on a statewide television station and tell viewers what’s going on at Hocon Gas. The company’s first Better Connecticut segment simply introduced viewers to the propane business, highlighting the many products that use propane.

After Hurricane Irene and Super Storm Sandy went through the area, generators became a hot-selling item. The area had four documented multi-day power outages in two years. Hocon leaders learned that customers wanted more information about how to operate the generators correctly, so the company produced an additional segment on generators, providing service tips such as making sure the area around the generator is clean, and making sure not to place objects on top of the generator. Cummings noted that checking the oil is one of the most important generator maintenance tips.

“We were making a lot of service calls with customers telling us the generator would not work and that they must be out of fuel,” Cummings stated. “But when Hocon Gas technicians arrived at the customer locations, the generator would have adequate fuel levels but would be out of oil.” Cummings added that he often hears from people who became Hocon customers as a result of seeing the TV spots.
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For another television segment that highlighted outdoor living, Hocon showed a customer’s back yard that included a pizza oven, a patio heater, a pool heater, and an outdoor fireplace. All of them used propane for fuel. Hocon later showed an autogas segment on the Better Connecticut show, which included an autogas open house that the company organized with Clean Cities of Connecticut. The event showcased cars, Chevrolet Silverado and Ford F-150 pickup trucks converted to propane with systems from ICOM and Prins, Exmark lawnmowers that use propane, a Blue Bird bus with a Roush CleanTech propane system, and LEHR propane-fueled outboard motors, which Hocon also sells. Representatives from Roush CleanTech, Clean Cities, and Exmark were among those who provided presentations. Cummings said Hocon invited all of Connecticut’s municipalities and companies he could find that ran fleets in the state of Connecticut to attend.

Another television ad featured a couple that spoke about how Hocon Gas quickly delivered propane to them during a 2013 blizzard that struck their home town.

Customer satisfaction surveys also help Hocon Gas in its gallon-growing efforts. The surveys get customer feedback on their interactions with Hocon drivers, service techs, and showroom and office staff. Cummings sends a handwritten response to every participant who returns a survey to get more detail on areas the customer thought needed improvement. Cummings believes the learning that takes place is valuable. Customers have returned so many surveys that Cummings has fallen a bit behind on his responses.

“It started off somewhat slow, but I’m well into the hundreds of responses now, and I probably have 50 that I have to get done in the next couple days,” Cummings said. From the surveys, Cummings said he has learned “mostly that customers want to feel like they mean something to us, and we agree. Ninety-nine percent of our surveys come back with strong support of our people and the job we do.” But some customers listed concerns such as long telephone hold times at some of Hocon’s larger branches. Customers requested a narrower timeframe of when a service tech was expected to arrive at their homes.
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“This feedback points us in the direction to assess our current process and improve on it. I can then take the feedback and go back to the branches and get a better idea of what’s going on,” Cummings noted. “More often than not, our folks knew of the situation already.” Several customers have told him that they were pleasantly surprised that he responded personally. “In today’s world of instant messaging, the old method of personal human contact is still valuable.”

The company also uses billboards, radio ads, and newspaper ads for promoting their services. Two Hocon billboards in the eastern side of New Haven showcase the Hocon Hearth House in Guilford. Cummings likes the heavily traveled I-95 corridor for billboards because of the heavy traffic buildup that often occurs there.

“If you make a few sales off a billboard, that billboard is going to stay there forever,” Cummings said. “A lot of people tell me they see the billboards.”

If you ask Cummings whether propane marketers should start an appliance business, he will tell you it depends on the market area. “You can sell appliances if you can service and install them,” he stated. In his area, he has done well with tankless water heaters. Fireplace products have also done well, but not cookstoves. “The box stores have 400 on their floor. It’s not even worth it for us to try.”

But Hocon has made a strong effort to increase its marketing programs, and the business uses the Web for various promotions. Last November, the business posted an offer on its website, along with the websites of a local television station and Climate Partners, a local home heating and cooling company, for a “Holiday Home Heat Makeover.” The makeover included a complete home heat assessment along with a new furnace and installation. People were invited to submit their stories, and Hocon would choose the most compelling to win the contest.
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“We were shocked at the number of responses,” Cummings noted. “We had over 10,000 hits on our website, from the TV station to ours through Climate Partners. We went through close to 300 bona fide applicants.” A military veteran won the award. “So many needed it. Obviously, we couldn’t help them all, but we told them we’re here. We consider those to be potential leads in the future.”    —Daryl Lubinsky

Propane Friendships Across International Boundaries

By Susan Sorrells

At a NPGA Benchmarking Council group site visit in Scotland, one participant noted that the U.K’s desire to make autogas an option for the public is dictating the desire to promote and expand the use of autogas, while the opposite is true in the U.S.

It all began on a golf course at a meeting of the National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) Benchmarking Council in Phoenix. Julie Johnson of Johnson Propane in California, Randy Camp of CoEnergy in Oregon, and Scott McPhail of McPhail Fuel Co. in California, members of Benchmarking Group G, were discussing the importance of site visits as a part of the value of the Benchmarking experience. Although the meetings themselves are a great way to problem solve and to exchange new ideas, site visits are an important extension of the information gleaned at these meetings. They allow the members to see how their colleagues have put these ideas into practice in their own businesses.
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As the group continued the conversation about this subject, Johnson mentioned that her family had a connection in Scotland that was made through the propane industry and that Scotland would be a great site visit. Julie’s father started his business, Ted Johnson Propane, in Baldwin Park, Calif. in 1965. He soon became active in many of the trade associations such as the National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) and the Western Propane Gas Association (WPGA). In the 1980s, Billy Laing, president of Gleaner Propane, a family-owned business in Elgin, Scotland, traveled to the United States and was hosted by WPGA. The association then contacted Ted Johnson, who brought the Laings into his home, and the two families became lifelong friends. When Johnson asked her mother about the possibility of a site visit in Scotland, she emailed Laing, who replied that he would gladly schedule it.

She contacted the other members of Group G and found there was strong interest in this unique site visit. Johnson then conveyed this enthusiasm to Laing, who developed a tentative agenda. He contacted Calor Gas, the largest distributor of butane and propane in the United Kingdom, and Calor was also enthusiastic about hosting the NPGA Benchmarking group. Calor officials suggested that they host their visitors at their facility at Grangemouth, between Glasgow and Edinburgh.  Alistair Todd, the group’s contact at Calor, worked with his staff to organize presentations by the company’s national corporate managers for the U.S. contingent. According to Laing, “What is encouraging is their willingness to meet with you and build an industry understanding/friendship.”  
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The other location that Laing suggested in his preliminary schedule was the St. Fergus Gas Plant in northeastern Scotland near Aberdeen. He described the historical importance of the plant, saying, “The history of this is that the plant was initially developed by British Gas and Shell. The plant has three main pipelines coming ashore from various locations in the North Sea from a number of wells. The main operators are Total, Shell, and Apache. Other petroleum producers, Esso, BP, Conoco, Petro-Canada etc., feed into the pipeline network. The various products are then separated and sent onto other plants at other locations, Mossmorran in Fife.” However, the final schedule omitted the visit to the St. Fergus plant and instead substituted a visit to Mossmorran in Fife.

As plans progressed through 2013 and into 2014, another important visit was added to the itinerary, attendance at the United Kingdom Liquid Petroleum Gas  (UKLPG) Annual Conference at York, England on Oct. 6, 2014 at the Royal York Hotel. Not only would delegates from the U.K. attend this conference, but also delegates from many countries throughout Europe. The trip was developing into a great opportunity for gaining insights into the challenges of the propane industry in the U.K. and in Europe as well as gaining insights into the industry in the United States, since the propane industry in all countries in today’s world is molded by a global economy.

The members who committed to attend the “site visit” were Camp with CoEnergy, Milliken with Seacoast Energy Solutions in Maine, Johnson with Johnson Propane, and me.

Milliken’s prior experience is in the large oil company and biodiesel realm where he held senior management positions with Arco Products Co., Sunoco, BP Amoco, Irving Oil, and World Energy Alternatives. All participants hold key management positions in their companies.  

In early October, with great anticipation, the group set out for the U.K. with the plan to meet in York for the UKLPG National Conference.
Sorrells photo2The UKLPG is the trade association for the LP-gas industry and represents producers, distributors, equipment and service providers, and vehicle converters. The organization also works closely with the European Association for the LP Gas Industry (AEGPL) and the World LPG Association (WLPGA). The meeting was well attended by members of all associations, and many of the subjects addressed by the speakers were relevant in a global market. The presentation by Howard Cox, founder of Fair FuelUK campaign, an organization that fights for lower fuel prices at the pump and supports autogas, included footage of Tessa Munt, MP, driving an LPG car and advocating for autogas.

Michael Kelly, deputy managing director of WLPGA, described the global state of the propane industry and warned delegates at the conference that the industry faces “a tipping point of change rippling through the industry which would force it to think more strategically about its place in the energy matrix, particularly in developed countries like the U.K.” His presentation covered many avenues of increasing sales such as in the areas of appliances and autogas. He described the opportunities available in emerging countries but provided examples these countries may offer for future growth of the industry in locations such as the U.S. and the U.K. For example, Turkey has 17% of its vehicles running on propane, Poland 11%, South Korea 10% and India 8% while only 1% of the vehicles in the United States and the United Kingdom are fueled by propane. Samuel Maubanc, general manager of AEGPL, explained the importance of national trade associations working together, and that by working with the AEGPL, UKLPG delegates have a better chance to have a greater voice beyond the markets in the United Kingdom.

Julie Johnson, the representative from NPGA’s benchmarking group, described the development of her family’s business and the importance of working with industry associations such as NPGA. She also stressed the importance of interfacing with government to create an environment conducive for the growth of the propane industry. This message was echoed in other presentations. The next morning the group left for Edinburgh, Scotland to visit the Calor Gas facility in Grangemouth.

Calor Gas was formed in 1935 and is one of the United Kingdom’s largest suppliers of LPG. Ritchie Gill, a Cornish man who worked in the United States in the early 1930s and had learned about propane, brought this new knowledge back home to the United Kingdom where he founded Calor Gas. This company is now a part of the SHV Gas Group, a private Dutch company. It also has an autogas subsidiary with Shell.

The morning was spent listening to a series of presentations on Calor’s operations and evolving business plans. The afternoon continued with more presentations, and the day ended with a tour of the plant.  

The following morning, the group was taken to the Mossmorran Gas Refinery located on the outskirts of Cowdenbeath, Fife. The Mossmorran facility is part of the North Sea Brent oil and gas field system. The group visited the refilling station for bulk propane delivery that was just bought by Avanti from Shell Oil. Avanti, which became a newcomer to the LPG industry in the U.K. in 2011, is owned by UGI.

The next morning the group left for St Andrews, known for the place where golf was born. The official “site visit” was over, and it ended where it began, on a golf course. Back in the U.S., the members of Group G often reminisce about their trip to Scotland and the knowledge gained. They now are applying this knowledge to their own businesses and sharing it with fellow members of Group G.

Camp stated, “I was a little surprised by the attitude toward autogas in the U.K., where it appears that the OEMs’ desire to make autogas an option for the public is dictating the desire to promote and expand the use of autogas, where here in the United States it is the opposite. Here we are promoting autogas in hopes that the growth we are making will cause the OEMs to jump on board. I also was very impressed with the cylinder operation at Calor. What we were able to see there has caused us here at CoEnergy Propane to look at the distribution of cylinders a little differently. This is also true in how they promote the sale of propane appliances.”

Bob Milliken added, “The insight shared on autogas has contributed to our intent and planning to launch autogas at our company headquarters location.”

But everyone in the group who made the “site visit” to Scotland agrees that the greatest value of all of the trip is the value described by the group’s gracious and wise host, Billy Laing, when he organized this unforgettable excursion. This is the irreplaceable value of creating new industry understanding and friendships that cross all national boundaries.

Susan Sorrells is owner of Shoshone Propane (Pahrump, Nev.).