Good Relationships And Info Key To Successful Lobbying

When a bill that may affect propane marketers was introduced in the California legislature recently, a member of a legislator’s staff reached out to the Western Propane Gas Association (WPGA). That contact was a direct result of a volunteer meeting held during the state’s Propane Day, says Joy Alafia, president and CEO of WPGA. On that day in March, she and a number of propane marketers had visited with Sacramento legislators.
Lobbying Propane Autogas in State and National Legislators about propane autogas a CleanFuel BPN June 2019
“Some members may feel that industry advocacy days are a perfunctory task, but representatives are listening, taking notes, and in some instances, taking action as a result of our engagement,” Alafia recently told BPN.

“Some of our members have had long-standing relationships with their legislators, and we can count on these officials to understand our story,” she added. “Also, you never know what doors members can open by meeting with representatives.”

At the national level, too, strong relationships with legislators are important. Michael Baker, director, legislative affairs, at the National Propane Gas Association (NPGA), said that while he is proud of the work NPGA staff does year-round to stay in touch with legislators on all issues of importance to the propane industry,
he feels there is nothing more powerful than industry members meeting directly with legislators and staff.

National Propane Gas Assoc Lobbying Congress for clean fuel Propane better than Electricity with low cost and low emissions reports BPN“There are many industries that can’t get anywhere near the membership participation in congressional outreach who are impressed by our Propane Days event each year,” Baker said, speaking of the annual event held in Washington, D.C. “We work hard to stay in touch as much as possible on Capitol Hill. These visits from the membership get attention and get action.”

Cindy Belmont (Delta Liquid Energy, Paso Robles, Calif.), chair of NPGA’s governmental affairs committee, noted that onsite events such as open houses and plant tours are another way to build relationships with legislators. “Building the relationship and rapport is important, more so than exactly how you do it,” Belmont said. “You may not have a major issue you are seeking action on at all times, but a good relationship helps you to get action when you do.” (Belmont, third from left in photo above, is shown with part of the California contingent visiting Capitol Hill during Propane Days 2018.)

Tom Jaenicke (ATomiK Creative Solutions, Charlevoix, Mich.), immediate past chairman of the governmental affairs committee, has also found that to be true. “If you know the congressperson personally, you are going to be much more likely to be able to successfully ask for a specific action,” he said. “If you don’t know them personally, the next best thing is to get to know them. This could be through helping with their reelection or inviting them to an event such as an open house at your plant.”

According to Baker, there are four key steps in every congressional office visit. First is who you are: You have a unique story to tell and should start each visit with proper introductions not only of who you are, but also the role you play in the propane industry. Second are the issues: What are the issues that the congressperson needs to hear about from the constituent? Third is the impact of legislation: You need to have evidence of how current laws impact the congressional district. Fourth is the ask: You need to make clear the action you seek and ask them for that action.

Getting Ready
Belmont said it’s important to be prepared with the information you’ll need. “It’s very important to be well-versed in all aspects of the issues you will be talking to representatives about,” she said. “It’s also very important to know as much as possible about the Congress member.”

She stressed that knowing in advance where the Congress member stands on key issues is extremely useful to best craft the message you want to convey. “This will very much determine the order of items you want to talk about,” Belmont said. “If the Congress member has a stronger passion about an issue that ties to the third item on your list, that issue likely becomes the first issue for that visit. It will, of course, then affect how you make your case as you have knowledge of where they already stand.”
Lobbying Propane Clean American Energy BPN June2019
Alafia said WPGA provides fact sheets and a list of bills that the association supports or opposes to help marketers prepare for California’s Propane Day. “While WPGA may have a priority, volunteers in the meetings often discover what bills resonate with the representative,” she added. “Our members are nimble and can adapt their talking points to address the legislator’s interest.”Dressing the part is also key to success when visiting legislator’s offices. “Proper business attire is a must,” Jaenicke said. “It is a business meeting and you will be taken more seriously if you are dressed in business attire.”

Allocating Time, Resources
Jaenicke also feels it is best to use time and resources wisely when arranging numerous meetings with legislators. “If you have a dozen people, that is really more than necessary for a visit to a congressional office,” he said. “There will barely be time for introductions and finding everyone a place to sit. You want to get through the items you came to talk about and a group that is too large will hinder that. You will be more effective splitting your group of 12 into two or three groups in order to make more contacts.”
Alafia said WPGA tries to line up members with their respective legislators. “Elected officials want to hear from their constituents, particularly since they’re the ones with the power to vote the respective legislator into office,” she said.
Lobbying Propane As Increasingly Clean Fuel Of Choice for vehicle Fleets to reduce particulates and GhG reports BPN
“Next, we try to align based on interest and the strength of our volunteers. For example, if there’s a major hospital in an area, and a retailer has experience with autogas shuttle vehicles for hospitals, we would like someone to tell that story firsthand. Similarly, some California legislators want to hear from women. We’re proud of the fact that we have successful, woman-owned propane companies, and they too can share their unique perspective with legislators. Ultimately it comes down to opportunities for both a human connection and voting relevance with our representatives.”

Belmont noted that in her home state, many representatives have a lot of counties in which 20% or more of the houses have propane gas. “The representatives of these counties, whether in the statehouse or national office, will be more interested in propane,” she said. “Nonetheless, don’t forget they all have a vote and with cylinders, forklifts, and autogas, even the most urban counties have propane impacting the economy to some extent every day of the week. And regardless of who you meet with, when you meet with them, stay focused. You only have a finite amount of time to deliver your important message.”

Open houses and plant tours are another way to build relationships with legislators as well as their working knowledge of the propane industry. A number of retailers will make an open house event an opportunity to educate elected officials as well as the public about the many uses for propane with such props as school buses, trucks, appliances, forklifts, and other things that run efficiently on propane.

“They will be very open to attending an event at a business that has an economic impact on the community it serves,” Belmont said. “If the event will provide a forum for them to interact with other constituents, that is great too.”

Jaenicke, too, said legislators and staff members want to meet with people in the district and learn how they are affected by issues. “First and foremost, Congress members want to hear directly from their constituents,” he said. “They want to know what is on the mind of the people in your district.”

Alafia suggested that marketers follow up with legislators after a meeting of any sort. “We like to send personal thank-you cards as an added touch,” she said. “It also provides an opportunity to reiterate some of the points made to keep them top-of-mind. My final advice for members is to relax and have fun! You’d be surprised as the ‘propane expert’ how much members can teach legislators on the overall value of propane in changing lives for Americans with affordable, clean energy.”

Three Generations, One Focus: “Customers First”

Wholesale distributor R.E. Michel Co. has been expanding in many ways. Founded in 1935 to serve the heating oil industry, it expanded into propane appliances and equipment in 2005 and is continuing to grow that part of the business. Based in Glen Burnie, Md., the company has been adding locations across the country and opened distribution centers in California and Arizona within the past year. And, a family-owned and-operated company, it passed leadership to a third-generation president nine months ago.
RE Michel leading wholesale distributors of heating ventilation air conditioning and refrigeration HVACR and propane equipment parts and supplies
Through these expansions and other moves, the company has maintained a focus on customer service. Company executives say that is what has allowed it to keep growing for 84 years and to successfully transition to a third generation of leadership.

“As times change, the demands have also changed, but the guiding principles of customers first and having what they need, when they need it, all at a fair price has stayed in place,” says Ray Kazakewich, national LPG manager at R.E. Michel Co.

The 84-year-old company was founded in Baltimore as a supplier to the home heating oil burner industry. Since then, R.E. Michel Co. has grown to be one of the nation’s leading wholesale distributors of heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration (HVACR) and propane equipment, parts, and supplies. It now has 290 sales locations in 33 states providing products to professional contractors.

All of these locations offer HVACR products and a growing number of them also offer propane products. Seventy locations currently do, and the company plans to add propane products to all locations. In addition, R.E. Michel Co. has an affiliate, Dealers LP Equipment Co. (DLPE), dedicated solely to the wholesale distribution of gas equipment. DLPE serves 20 states in the South and Midwest. It distributes propane appliances like water heaters, gas grills, and hearth products as well as propane equipment like regulators, pipes, and tanks.

“We acquired Dealers LP Equipment in 2005 because we wanted to get into the propane industry,” Kazakewich says. “Many of our traditional oil customers had started propane divisions of their own companies, so it was a natural progression for us to follow them.”

Kazakewich joined R.E. Michel Co. as national LPG manager last fall. He grew up in the propane industry, in a family-owned business. He then was with RegO for 20 years in a variety of positions, most recently as global product manager.

“With the help of the great customers and employees at Dealers LP Equipment, we find ourselves within striking distance of $1 billion in sales,” he says of R.E. Michel Co.

The company locations have been adding propane products as the local customer base demands it; if customers in that area are purchasing propane products, the branch adds them. To make sure each branch has the knowledge base it needs, it hires experienced propane people, looks for current employees who have worked in the propane industry, and trains everyone up for the new skills required by propane products.

“Expanding rapidly into propane has been a major focus since we acquired Dealers LP Equipment in 2005,” says Gene Winters, vice president of operations. “Propane is the future.”

Bringing Value
To keep growing and serving customers, R.E. Michel Co. has increased its depth of inventory. The company also keeps these products close to customers, delivers them, and makes information about them readily accessible via printed catalogs and an app.

The depth and breadth of inventory are evident in its current catalog that offers access to 20,000 catalog line items. To handle these products, R.E. Michel Company has a 1.2 million sq.-ft. distribution center in Maryland.

RE Michel Company LLC third-generation leading wholesale propane HVAC equipment parts manufacturer committed to customer service firstDealers LP Equipment has its own full-line catalog and offers more than 11,000 LP catalog items. Its branch inventories are catered to local customers’ needs. DLPE has seven warehouses and call centers. The newest, in Pomona, Calif., opened in 2017. DLPE represents the core of the corporation’s propane business, with next-day shipping to 27 states. It has a key focus on introducing the latest technology to the market through key supplier partnerships.

“On both the propane and the HVACR sides, manufacturer lead times are being stretched,” Winters says. “A distributor needs deep pockets in order to stock the products and have them on hand when the customer needs it. We do and we focus on servicing the customer.”

To stock these products where the customers are, the company has been adding locations. Over the past year, R.E. Michel Co. has opened eight new branches. These include Muscle Shoals, Ala.; Gilbert and Phoenix, Ariz.; Pomona, Calif.; Cape Coral and Jupiter, Fla.; and Lewisburg and New Freedom, Pa.

“We’ve put the product closer to the customer,” Winters says. “We also allow them to buy one piece at a time, rather than a caseload.” “Our westward expansion has presented the biggest challenge, because of the logistics involved with trying to serve such a large area,” Kazakewich adds. “We have had to add distribution centers in Arizona and California to support sales and growth in those areas.”
R E Michel 3rd generation leading national wholesale propane equipment parts dist values golden rule with customers and employees reports BPN
The company also delivers. Rather than shipping the products via mail order, it has purchased delivery trucks and offers localized delivery. “One thing we are trying in three markets is, we bought trucks with cranes and we will deliver a tank to a customer’s jobsite overnight,” Winters explains.

“It used to be you would order a whole truckload of tanks, which was a cash burden,” Kazakewich adds. “We now offer one tank at a time, delivered to a jobsite. That’s a new way of doing things in propane; it’s already done in the oil business.”

To make information about the products readily accessible, the company offers an R.E. Michel Co. app and it plans to add a Dealers LP Equipment app in about three months. Like the current app, the new one will allow customers to pull up the full catalog, company locations, inventory, price, and technical data. “It’s another way we add value,” says Alex Beecher, corporate director of marketing.

The company also releases print catalogs annually. It offers an R.E. Michel Co. catalog that is HVACR only and a Dealers LP Equipment one that is propane only. It also offers Spanish language versions.

“We try to bring a lot of value to customers,” Winters says. “That includes the printed catalogs, the app, free delivery, technical training… We have identified 50 or 60 things we do to add value to the sale. We call it the Circle of Value. That includes, No. 1, putting the customer first and, No. 2, bringing value.”
3rd generation R.E. Michel leading national Wholesale Propane Equip Parts Dist Values Employees Awards 20 year employee service recognition
Third-Generation Leadership
One thing that has kept the Circle of Value at the forefront of the company’s activities is the continuity of leadership. Three generations of one family have led R.E. Michel Co. The family-owned and -operated company was founded by Robert E. Michel in 1935. It grew from 100 locations to nearly 300 under the leadership of Doc Michel (Robert’s son). It is now focused on further growth with current president Robert (“Bobby”) Michel (Doc’s son).

Today, former president Doc Michel is chairman. Beau Michel (Doc’s nephew, Bobby’s cousin) is purchasing director. J.B. Bailey (Doc’s nephew, Bobby’s cousin) is purchasing agent.

“Because of the natural progression of the family members through the business, we have been able to not lose touch as our customer base continues to evolve; I think that is something that some companies can struggle with,” Kazakewich says.

Another advantage to being a family business, he adds, is that a privately held company can move quickly. “We can spot an opportunity in the morning, get a plan in place, and begin working on it all in the same day. Speed is king.”

Bobby Michel began his career with the company in 1997, working in the warehouse. As he attended college, he continued working in the organization part-time. He returned full time in 2001, working in purchasing, and has been on board ever since. Before becoming president, he took on more and more responsibility. He met weekly with company executives and he was in all major meetings as decisions were being made.

“Doc has laid the groundwork for growth and Bobby is continuing that,” Winters says. “Founder R.E. Michel studied law, but found distribution more rewarding. He instilled in Doc a passion for servicing customers, and Doc handed that down to Bobby and 2200 employees. The customer has a choice of who to do business with, and we want to make it easy to do business with us.”

“The golden rule here is that an employee will never get in trouble with the ownership if they do something to service the customer—even if it costs the company money,” he adds. “We are in it for the long run.” — Steve Relyea

(©Butane-Propane News, June 2019)

Survey Reveals What Propane Marketers Want

Propane marketers expect a much quicker turnaround on orders of propane equipment than they did only four years ago. In response, wholesale propane equipment distributor Bergquist Inc. has launched a subscription-based two-day shipping program.
Bergquist Propane Equipment Dist surveys LPG marketers for opinions on service and shipping expectations reports BPN
Called Bergquist Select Ship, the new program was launched April 15, 2019. It is available for all customer deliveries in the 48 contiguous United States. Those who enroll in this yearly subscription plan will be guaranteed two-business-day delivery on more than 60 Guaranteed Stock Equipment items. Customers can enroll in the Select Ship plan for $499 per year per “ship to” location.

“The 60+ guaranteed inventory items are our most popular ‘tank set’ items,” explained Don Montroy, director of marketing at Bergquist Inc. “One of our of main segments of customers is propane marketers, and residential gallons are still the largest portion of their business. So, we wanted to provide a service they will get a lot of value from.”

If Bergquist does not have the Guaranteed Stock Equipment items in stock at the time of a purchase or does not deliver items within two business days, the customer will receive a 10% credit on those items. Bergquist customers enrolled in Select Ship also receive free freight on all standard equipment, vent-free heater, and tankless water heater orders with no minimum. (Other regular exceptions apply.)

“We’ve heard people say how convenient a one-time freight charge at the beginning of the annual subscription is, especially since they currently spend more than the $499 Select Ship subscription with multiple equipment distributors throughout a year,” Montroy said. “They don’t have to worry about meeting minimum freight thresholds, with multiple vendors and with each order, going forward.”

CHANGING EXPECTATIONS
The changing expectations of propane marketers were the impetus for the launch of Bergquist Select Ship. When the wholesale distributor asked a marketing consultant company to survey propane marketers in 2015, it found that 29% of Bergquist customers expected delivery the next day and 12% in two days. None looked for delivery the same day. When the company conducted a similar survey three years later, in 2018, it found that customers were anticipating quicker turnaround. By then, 13% of customers expected delivery the same day, 25% the next day, and 33% in two days.

The firm found a similar trend when it surveyed other propane marketers who are not Bergquist customers. In 2015, 10% of non-customers expected delivery the same day, 19% the next day, and 39% in two days. In 2018, 18% looked for same-day delivery, 46% next-day, and 32% two-day.

“We were sort of surprised by these findings until we sat back and analyzed them,” Montroy said. “In their personal lives, with personal purchases, people have come to expect that kind of service and quick delivery. That’s especially true with e-commerce. Between the first survey and the second, over those three years, people have come to expect better service in their personal lives and other areas of life as well. Now they expect it in their work life, too.”
Bergquist Propane Equipment Dist. surveys LPG industry offers 2-day shipping option Tells BPN what LPG marketers want 062019
QUALITY, AVAILABILITY MOST IMPORTANT
Expectation of quicker turnaround was just one of the findings of the survey conducted for Bergquist by marketing consultant company Winsby Inc. The survey also found that propane marketers are most interested in quality and availability when shopping for propane equipment. Price is ranked only fourth or fifth in importance. That’s true when choosing both a brand and a distributor.

When selecting a brand of propane equipment, propane marketers are most interested in reliability, performance, and availability of parts. In the survey, propane marketers were asked to divide 100 points among several different brand characteristics to indicate how important those characteristics are, relative to each other. Bergquist customers gave a total of 64 points to reliability, performance, and availability of parts. Non-customers gave 62 points to those same three characteristics. Delivery time was ranked fourth in importance, assigned 10 points by Bergquist customers and 11 points by non-customers. Price was ranked fifth, with 10 points from customers and nine points from non-customers. Five other brand characteristics included in the survey were ranked lower in importance.

When selecting a distributor of propane equipment, marketers want equipment availability and quality of equipment. Here, too, propane marketers were asked to divide 100 points among several characteristics. Equipment availability and quality of equipment were assigned a total of 50 points by Bergquist customers and 51 points by non-customers. Three other distributor characteristics were awarded a double-digit amount of points by customers and/or non-customers. Knowledgeable representatives were given 15 points by both groups; quick delivery was given 12 points by both; and price was given 10 points by customers and six points by non-customers. Eight other distributor characteristics were given only single-digit amounts of points.

“We were not surprised at all about price being less important to customers when choosing a brand or distributor,” Montroy said. “I think as our customers receive great experiences through some of their personal purchases, whether it’s two-day shipping, ample inventory when they order, quality products, or outstanding service from sales representatives, they expect it at work, too. Many people demand that kind of service. Time and convenience are just as important as anything else.”

ORDERING BY PHONE, ONLINE
The survey also found that most propane marketers prefer to order propane equipment by phone. Last year, 71% of Bergquist customers and 86% of non-customers said they prefer ordering by phone. Ordering online is the second most-preferred method, selected by 13% of customers and 11% of non-customers. Ordering by email, fax, or in person are preferred by only single-digit percentages of marketers. Between the 2015 survey and the 2018 survey, the percentages of customers and non-customers preferring to order by phone or online increased.

“I think many marketers still prefer to order by phone because they have questions that accompany their orders,” Montroy said. “We take tremendous pride in understanding propane equipment and the applications different equipment are used for, whether it is vapor or liquid transfer.”

“We definitely see a trend toward increased online ordering for more of the transactional items, or items that are typically more straightforward,” he added. “As more people become comfortable with e-commerce, we only expect that trend to grow.”

Another finding was that propane marketers expect to be contacted by a propane equipment salesperson monthly, but do not want to be contacted weekly. Last year, 54% of Bergquist customers and 38% of non-customers said monthly contact is what they expect. In addition, 63% of customers and 44% of non-customers said they consider weekly contact by a salesperson to be too frequent.

“We were excited to see that many propane marketers still like to have regular contact with sales representatives,” Montroy said. “We took that information as validation that us maintaining the availability of our staff to customers, whether in person, via email or phone, is important to their businesses and ours.”

The survey also noted that word-of-mouth is very important. In last year’s survey, 65% of Bergquist customers and 57% of non-customers said they prefer to find a propane equipment distributor through word-of-mouth.

“We were surprised, but delighted, to see how much word-of-mouth continues to play a role in propane marketers locating a distributor to partner with,” Montroy said. “We think good old-fashioned customer service is still the best way to do business and treat people.” — Steve Relyea

Canadian Federal Parties To Hear From Propane Industry

The Canadian Propane Association (CPA) gathered at its annual general meeting May 28, 2019 to set priorities and the agenda for the upcoming fall election to ensure the industry’s collective voice is heard. Noted was that propane is a low-emission, accessible, and affordable fuel that can support government policies to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, reduce costs, contribute to job creation, and help grow the economy.
Canada propane gas assoc meets with government to address levy and other propane-related issues including clean fuel autogas in vehicles reports BPN the propane industry's leading source for news and information since 1939
But these important contributions are being ignored by the government even as it says it wants to reduce GHG emissions while creating economic growth, the association observes. “The CPA supports a cleaner environment and reduced emissions, but the current government’s policies, including the new carbon levy under the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act, do not consider propane for its qualities to transition to a lower-carbon economy,” says CPA chairman Dan Kelly.

He explains that the levy, or “backstop,” that came into force April 1, 2019 affects consumers—particularly farmers—in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and New Brunswick—who will be required to pay an additional 3 cents per liter for propane because of the levy. As stated in the act, a registered distributor can generally deliver gasoline or diesel to a farmer for certain applications without the fuel charge being applied, however.

But there are no such allowances or exemptions for propane, which emits about 26% less GHGs than gasoline and 98% less dangerous toxins or particulate matter than diesel. “On one hand the government agrees that propane is a low-carbon, clean-burning fuel, but on the other hand it ignores propane, which can be used in numerous applications,” Kelly says. “This is contrary to what the government is intending to accomplish.”

“Propane is a lower emitter of GHGs than other carbon-based fuels, therefore it must be part of any government’s energy policy,” says Nathalie St- Pierre, CPA president and CEO. “Federal parties will hear from the propane industry this fall—our collective voices will be loud and clear: there must be fair and balanced policies that make sense as Canada looks to reduce emissions.”

Millions In VW Funding Available in Texas for Clean Propane Buses

(June 6, 2019) — From the $209 million allocated to Texas for TxVEMP, TCEQ has allocated $58M for its first grant round for buses. Entities operating buses 51% in a qualifying area replacing a model year 2009 diesel bus with new model year cleaner school bus may qualify for a Texas VW grant.
Millions of VW settlement dollars available for Clean Propane Autogas School Bus purchases reports BPN the propane industry's leading source for news and information since 1939.
The Propane Council of Texas, a non-profit 501 (c) 3 educational foundation, is dedicated to informing school districts, transits, and shuttle operators on cleaner-burning propane school buses, shuttles and transit buses. Propane autogas buses emit up to 90 percent fewer nitrogen oxides (NOX) than a clean diesel bus. NOx are a significant contributor to smog and pollution and those switching to more environmentally-friendly propane buses can not only contribute to greener schools and communities but save money by qualifying and applying for VW funding.

The Council is committed to helping schools, transit authorities and others who want to make the switch to cleaner propane autogas and apply for the grants by offering complimentary grant consultation and grant writing services for those that qualify for
VW in Texas that want to switch to propane.

Currently, more than 17,000 propane school buses are operating across the United States with over 3,000 in Texas, the leader in propane school bus adoption.

TxVEMP funding is going fast with over a one-third of the funds have already been applied for. School districts, transits, and shuttle operators in qualifying areas of Texas interested in making the switch to propane autogas can learn more about the benefits of propane school buses at www.fuelingtexas.com and contact the Council at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at (800)325-7427 as soon as possible for complimentary grant consultation and grant writing assistance.

(SOURCE: PR Newswire)