The Actions We Take Affect Ourselves And Many Others

By Frank Thompson… I recently devoted some time to reflection upon my time in this industry. Twenty-six years insuring propane marketers. Twenty-six years of working with good people who make their living selling a fuel that is clean burning and renewable. Twenty-six years of learning the propane business and applying what I have studied and learned about risk management and insurance to the industry.
Frank Thompson Propane PT Risk Managment

Have I made a difference? I can look back at some monumental occasions when what I knew kept a company in business. For example, there was the explosion and fire that destroyed a major fuel distributor in 2006. Because I had asked them to increase their property values and business income, which they did, their business was able to rebuild and come back stronger than they were before.

Then there was the propane company that had a wholesale customer that owned its own storage tanks and regulators and used propane in its hot oil business. We suggested using a written contract limiting its liability to the safe filling of the customer’s tanks. They taught the customer’s employees the safe handling of propane and had them sign off. They also did a GAS Check in writing and gave them a duty to warn packet. A subsequent explosion did $10 million of damage, and the hot oil company only had $6 million of insurance. Our insured walked away from a $4-million demand.

But what about the everyday problems, the what-ifs or the close calls, that we hear about from marketers; have I kept my eyes on safety for everyone?

I recently spoke with Todd Buechler, AVP of Risk Engineering for Crum & Forster. We talked about what the propane industry is doing to help safeguard employees, customers, and marketers. Todd mentioned he would like to see companies focus more attention on driver safety to reduce vehicle accidents. Vehicle accidents and the cost associated with these losses continue to rise. The commercial auto insurance industry has seen nine straight years of unprofitability. With increasing auto premiums, more companies should focus on improving driver hiring, training, and using technology to help monitor driver activities, in a way to reduce accidents and expenses.

He mentioned that overall, companies are doing a better job with training, but there is room for improvement. Crum & Forster believes continuous comprehensive training is key. For example, some companies may focus on completing CETP Basics and Bobtail Delivery, but not incorporate the Vapor Distribution Systems class. The propane industry has one of the best comprehensive sets of training programs for an industry called Certified Employee Training Program, known as CETP. Todd reminded me that training should not end when the class is over. During this COVID-19 period, Crum & Forster partnered with Silverback Consulting to offer free virtual CETP and hazardous materials training classes. These virtual classes have been valuable since many in-person, classroom-type courses have been canceled.

The commitment to training needs to involve all employee positions in the company as this shows everyone that education and safety is important. No matter an employee’s years of experience, anyone can learn something new or need a refresher on safety procedures.

Todd also mentioned that it is important to verify company policies and procedures and determine if industry standards are being adhered to. You have probably heard the phrase, “inspect what you expect.” Getting a third party to assist with an audit is valuable as it may identify areas of deficiency. He recommended to take advantage of the risk management services that are offered by their insurance company.

I kept thinking about what Todd said, “The actions you take not only affect yourself, but the lives of so many other people.” So it is pertinent to take a moment to think about what you do and how you do it for the best safe outcome for everyone.

Frank B. Thompson is a chartered property and casualty underwriter based in Phoenix. He is the owner of PT Risk Management, an independent insurance company specializing in writing propane and petroleum risk policies throughout the U.S.

Off-Road Business Development Focus Of New PERC Director

Concrete cutters, forklifts, and commercial lawn mowers are three opportunities for propane that will be promoted by the new director of off-road business development at the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC). Matt McDonald, who joined PERC in May 2020, will lead research and development and training projects with a focus on new product development and communication strategy and outreach.
BPN Introduces PERC's New Director of Off Road Propane Growth Matt McDonald 082920

“I always have had an eye for opportunities for propane,” McDonald said. “An example would be large buildings going in where a lot of concrete is a major component in the building process. Propane is a perfect fuel for the process of cutting concrete in areas that are often enclosed. A fuel with very few emissions is best for the health of employees in this situation.”

A general manager at Ferrellgas for nearly six years, he also served as an aircrew survival equipment man in the United States Navy for four years. For McDonald, who was happy in his role at Ferrellgas, the description of the role at PERC just jumped out at him as something he absolutely wanted to do. “I am grateful for the opportunity to lead this market and excited for the new challenge. I know I am joining forces with an incredible team here at PERC and am eager to dive in and get started.”

“Matt’s passion for the industry, paired with his existing experience and expertise, made him a great fit for this position,” said PERC president and CEO Tucker Perkins. “We have no doubt he will be a great addition to the PERC team and look forward to watching him expand propane use in the off-road market in new, innovative ways.”

“Noticing opportunities for propane is key to Matt’s role,” said Cinch Munson, PERC’s senior vice president, business development. “He comes to us with a mindset already in place of looking for the many, many opportunities where propane can bring value in the off-road market. The machines and engines to cut concrete are one of many options where we can expand propane’s market share.”

FOCUS ON FORKLIFTS
“Matt joins us at a critical time,” Munson added. “Priorities for PERC in 2020 through 2022 in our strategic plan include a heavy focus on forklifts and material handling. We need to continue to innovate to be successful in this long-standing market.” He pointed to two key projects PERC is currently working on. “One is a retrofit exhaust treatment which lowers emissions on a forklift to nearly zero. Another is an ongoing project to create a hybrid forklift which runs on both electricity and propane. We continue to improve our case for propane with new engines and forklifts that fit evolving needs in the marketplace. We are cost-effective and environmentally friendly.”
Forklifts powered by propane most popular choice and provides growth opportunity for LPG industry reports BPN

Munson noted that material handling in warehouses, many of which have smaller and smaller aisles for moving around, demands smaller, nimbler machines to navigate the workspace. He feels that it is critical to have fewer emissions to keep those in the warehouse from breathing them in constantly.

“The hybrid forklift concept is very intriguing to many who use forklifts,” McDonald explained. “With electric batteries required to run forklifts often needing to charge, a propane system can be in place to keep the batteries charged while the forklift keeps running without stopping to recharge. The fueling of the forklift with propane requires very little time. It is designed to just pop an empty tank off and replace it with a full propane tank.” Size, length of shifts, and how the forklifts operate are key factors to the best type of forklift and best energy to utilize, according to McDonald and Munson.

“As propane engine technology has improved, new options for lifts include Class 7 lifts that have typically run on diesel fuel,” Munson said. “Propane engines with higher horsepower and higher torque make larger lifts running on propane possible.” He noted there are more waterborne cargo ships worldwide running on propane engines. “This market doesn’t affect U.S. domestic use as much as worldwide use since there are not a lot of cargo ships under the U.S. flag. Nonetheless, there are plenty of options for the large-scale engines to drive new markets.”

MORE GROWTH OPTIONS FOR PROPANE INDUSTRY
McDonald pointed out the propane lawn mower segment will be another segment PERC will continue to support although with less focus. “The propane industry captured a significant share of this market over the past decade,” he said. “City parks, state parks, and national parks all saw the value of a lower cost and environmentally friendly method for cutting grass across the country. While the growth has slowed more recently as motor gas prices have been lower, we will continue to make marketers aware of how to promote this market segment and all the details for selling and servicing. A commercial mower often uses as much propane in a year as a typical house.”

“Now, making the lens larger as we look for growth in the off-road market, there is a whole range of products in the marketplace to consider as growth options for propane,” Munson concluded. “We need to look no further than the rental yard for ideas for propane growth. There are various generators, the concrete cutters of all types, and many more products large and small that can be designed to run on a propane engine. We have a very clean and cost-effective fuel and we have much more to do to maximize its usage.” — Pat Thornton

New Propane Software Features Deliver Convenience, Efficiency, And More

BASE Engineering (Saint John, N.B., Canada) has added three new features to its ProControl3 Integrated Fuel Delivery System over the past year.
 
New Propane Software Features Deliver Efficiency to LPG Retailers and Conveneince to LPG customers reports BPNThe ProControl3 (PC3) is a handheld device for drivers that features truck remote control and safety features as well as complete delivery system management. Alone, the handheld allows hose-end remote control of the pump, tank valves, engine RPM, hose reel, and emergency stop. With the BASEstation HUB, BASE Engineering’s onboard computer hub, the PC3 can also record DOT pre-trip truck inspections, capture and display inventory levels on the truck, display an optimized customer delivery list, and perform several point-of-sale functions.

“The pandemic has sped the transition from paper to the cloud, off paper tickets and toward automation,” says Laura Lunn, marketing coordinator. The three features added to PC3 over the past year include the following:

MEC Smart Interlock Integration: PC3 can now interface with MEC Smart Interlock devices on a truck. MEC Interlocks respond to such things as a door being latched or a hose nozzle being seated in its storage housing. Now, the PC3 displays a list of up to five of the interlocks and their status.
New Propane Software by BASE Engineering introduces three new features to lpg fuel delivery system reports BPN
ProControl3 Enhanced Point of Sale: When interfaced to an electronic register, the PC3 now allows the operator to select products, meters, compartments, and set presets. When connected to an LCR, the system allows for full point-of-sale functionality from the PC3 handheld device.

ProControl3 Barcode Scanner: With this new barcode scanning feature, the PC3 illuminates and reads the barcode for identification of each vehicle or piece of equipment. So, the PC3 can capture the volume delivered for each piece of equipment.

BASE Engineering reports that with the increased operator efficiency delivered by the PC3, its current customer base reports making one additional delivery per route. “At the end of the day, PC3 is about increasing efficiency,” Lunn says. “It’s about gaining efficiency, saving time, and keeping the driver at the end of the hose pumping propane.”

BASE Engineering and its parent company, Marshall Excelsior Co. (MEC), will soon launch a series of weekly webinars called MEC/BASE University.
For updates about the webinars, and additional information about the PC3, visit www.baseng.com.
Taurus propane software Systems INtroduces new back office Propane Software for lpg industry reports BPN

Taurus Systems
(Bowdoinham, Maine) provides back-office software solutions to the propane, fueloil, and service industries. The company promotes to customers that its software interfaces with several mobile truck companies and credit card processors.

“We like to focus on the fact that we are an open company; we work with a lot of partners,” says Robert Bertulli, president. “Customers like to have the freedom to choose their own credit card processors, mobile truck partners, and tank monitoring options. We will go in and work with most of the customer’s existing equipment.”

“A lot of companies are looking really hard at tank monitoring due to difficult customers, such as summer homes or other hard-to-gauge usage,” he adds. “They want to make the ideal drop. With our software, they can become very efficient and get paid faster.”

Taurus-Plus Propane Back Office Software offers unlimited drop locations, with unlimited tanks, tax, and price tables for each location. It also features check-off boxes for propane use for each tank; tank rentals; and flexible pricing options. The software allows the user to automatically schedule deliveries based on K-factors, monitored gallons, Julian calendar, or weekly route.

“Our price point is a little better than anyone else’s for what you get,” Bertulli says. “We don’t oversell. We have a software option that’s right for your team.”

“With the propane industry’s staff working remotely during the pandemic, payment systems are now more in use,” he adds. “My customers and the Taurus team have been very busy during the pandemic.”

For more information, visit www.taurus-plus.com.

As someone whose father founded a fueloil delivery business in 1956 and whose brother owns one today, Steve Hill knows what a chore it can be to schedule deliveries. As a Microsoft certified software developer, he also knows how to come up with solutions.
Propane Software Degree Days Online announces new LPG features
Today, he and his brother, Bill Hill, are co-owners of Degree Days Online LLC (Manchester, Conn.), a company that provides fueloil and propane delivery management software. Steve serves as the software developer and Bill is the user liaison.

“I write the software for my brother,” Steve Hill tells BPN. “I used to write it for my father, who owned a fueloil company since 1956, but passed away nine years ago. With what I have heard from them, I have made it easy to use, intuitive, and easy to learn.”

Degree Days Online (DDO) is cloud-based, subscription-based software that provides fueloil and propane delivery companies a way to track customers and deliveries. DDO automates the delivery schedule and prints delivery tickets; gets the degree day data and makes calculations for each customer; keeps track of outstanding balances; and can work with QuickBooks Online to help with accounting. “We generate invoices in QuickBooks,” Hill explains. “Customers love it, because they don’t have to do dual entry.”

Because DDO is cloud-based, users can access it from anywhere, don’t need to install anything, don’t have to worry about updating the software, and don’t have to back up the data. Because DDO is subscription-based, it has a low initial cost and is affordable. DDO also has a mobile site for use on smartphones.

“We have seen a little bit of an influx of people coming to us because DDO is cloud-based and you can get at it from anywhere,” Hill says. “We have had calls from people who have in-office software, but want to change to the cloud.”

Hill reports that half of the new subscribers to DDO were using software that they were no longer happy with, and the other half had no software and were scheduling deliveries manually.
“DDO simplifies lives and saves hours of time,” Hill concludes. “During the winter, my brother used to write out 60 to 70 delivery tickets every evening after a long day. Now, DDO prints them out, along with driver instructions and directions.”

For more information, visit www.degreedaysonline.com.
Propane Software from Destwin Energy Systems offers two new online solutions for LPG marketers reports BPN

Destwin Energy Systems
(Sandy Hook, Conn.) offers two solutions for fuel dealers that enable their customers to do business with them online. One is the Destwin Fuel Dealer Solution (FDS), a cloud-based e-commerce system that integrates back-office data with a customer web portal. The second is the Destwin Connect Mobile App, an extension of the Destwin Customer Portal.

FDS allows a fuel dealer’s customers to view their account information and transaction history, pay bills, order fuel, enter price protection programs, review and update their contact information, and sign up for programs such as paperless billing and autopay programs—all online. “It allows customers to do business with the fuel dealer without the need for a phone call or office visit,” says Robert Kulawiec, chief operating officer. “The portal provides 24/7 access.”

FDS connects to the dealer’s back-end system for the account information it displays in the portal. “It’s not just a tool to pay a bill or order fuel. It interacts with the back-end system, receiving data from and sending data to it, increasing the efficiency of the fuel dealer’s business processes.”

With FDS, fuel dealers can also create and manage content called Marketing Messages within the portal that can be targeted to specific groups of users based on individual account characteristics. As an example, a will call account might see one message while an automatic delivery account could see a completely different message.

“We also interface with other third-party systems like document providers, tank monitors, and chat providers. The ability to interface with third-party service providers is an important aspect of FDS,” Kulawiec adds. “We can interface to different service providers or programs enhancing the customer user experience and adding features for the fuel dealer. We also interface to many gateways to accommodate our clients’ current and possible future gateway provider options.”

The Destwin Connect Mobile App is an extension of the portal. The app is individually branded with the fuel dealer’s colors and logo to provide a seamless transition between the portal and the client’s corporate site. Once published, the app is available for download from the App and Play stores and can be added to the consumer’s home screen, making access even easier and more convenient to use.
For more information, visit www.destwinenergy.com.
Propane Software from Blue Cow Software features several new lpg features for more convenience and efficiency reports BPN
Blue Cow Software
(Lynnfield, Mass.) updates its software products year-round, but the company planned to introduce two significant product enhancements at this year’s trade shows. Although the shows ended up being postponed, the product enhancements have been rolled out.

One is a “system check” functionality that analyzes the customer’s database and highlights any anomalies. It reviews every aspect of the customer’s database including information about customers, employees, forecasting, and trucks. When you set up a new account, did you leave out some necessary information? Has a ticket been created for a service job or fuel delivery, but the job hasn’t been done? Is there a truck license or an employee certification that is overdue? The system check looks at over 50 functions like these that could be possible action items and highlights them for the management team to act on.

“This came out at the perfect time,” says Nick Quaratiello, vice president of operations. “During the pandemic, with many office people working from home, there may have been less communication when performing daily tasks in the office. The system check functionality is a great tool to help our customers improve their business operations.”

The second major product enhancement was done in the Ignite Analytics product. A new “power dashboard” was created to present valuable operational reporting capabilities on every aspect of a fuel dealer’s business.

“The new power dashboard gives the management team a great new way to view how their business is performing,” Quaratiello explains. “It provides the data necessary to monitor your company’s overall health in an easy, customizable format.”

These enhancements are part of Blue Cow Software’s suite of integrated software products for the propane and fueloil industry. The products include a management software package; a real-time communication tool for drivers and technicians; a customer portal website and phone app that allows customers and staff to conduct business anywhere; a business intelligence tool; and a tool for scanning and saving documents.

“Working from home during the pandemic wasn’t a big shock for our customers as the Ignite suite of products are already designed to handle this type of situation and was one less stumbling block for our customers,” Quaratiello concludes. For more information, visit www.bluecowsoftware.com.
Propane Software Energy Engine offers online propane shopping like amazon reports BPN

Consumers want to shop online, even for fuel. There’s been a trend toward e-commerce in this industry for five years, and the pandemic has accelerated it. So says Mark Stillman, senior vice president and co-founder of Energy Engine LLC (Stroudsburg, Pa.).

“Ordering fuel is no different from anything else; customers expect to be able to do it online,” he notes. “They actually do want to shop as they do for a phone or on Amazon.”

“Now we’re in a digital-only world,” he adds. “Fuel dealers are seeing COVID turn fuel consumers into someone who wants to shop on their phone—not call, not visit. This has made dealers move faster toward e-commerce.”

Energy Engine’s solution for fuel dealers is a web-based e-commerce platform designed to serve the unique requirements of heating oil, propane, commercial fuels, and related energy product sales. This is not a portal designed only to allow existing customers to pay their bills, Stillman explains; it is a “full-journey e-commerce system that lives behind the dealer’s website.”

Like Amazon or other e-commerce sites, the Energy Engine communicates with the customer in an automated way. Consumers can register and log in; view online pricing; place online orders and receive e-mail confirmation; make online payments; receive email and text alerts regarding their delivery day; and receive email confirmation when the delivery is complete.

When a fuel dealer is ready to add the e-commerce platform, they need only provide their branded look and feel and their business rules. Energy Engine does the rest. The look and feel provided by the dealer includes logos and other materials that are used on their website. The business rules include things like prices, zip codes serviced, and additional products sold.

“Our onboarding is not a pain at all; dealers have fun,” Stillman reports. “They never thought they’d be in e-commerce, but now they’re selling appliances online and thinking about search engine optimization.”
New Propane Software introduced by propane industry leader ADD Systems to help LPG marketers in 2020 and 2021

“What we would tell a dealer most of all is, we’re now living in a world where the consumer comes first,” he concludes. “We have to focus on consumers and think about what they want. Online ordering has become ubiquitous; when consumers don’t get it, they get frustrated.”
For more information, visit www.energyengineus.com.

ADD Systems (Flanders, N.J.) does a major update to its software solutions every year, adding between 200 and 400 enhancements. This year’s updates are useful at any time, but have proven to be especially valuable during the pandemic.

“Clients were already adopting new technology for efficiency, but in the last couple of months, during COVID, they have reached out to us to install additional solutions,” John Coyle, vice president of sales, tells BPN.

ADD Systems’ software solutions for propane marketers include a back-office system, a browser-based user interface for staff, self-service portals for customers, a business intelligence solution, a mobile computing solution for delivery drivers, a mobile computing solution for service technicians, an integrated business intelligence reporting engine, and a process automation tool.

One of the latest updates is an enhanced communication module that handles e-mail blasts and texts to customers. One common problem this solves is the customer who calls multiple times in a day to see when their delivery will arrive. With this module, they will be automatically notified when their delivery is expected and again when it was completed. “An informed customer is a happy customer,” Coyle notes. “Plus, this allows CSRs to focus on other areas.” During the pandemic, this module has also helped inform customers about the COVID-related protocols being used during deliveries and service calls. “Our clients report getting high marks from their customers for keeping them informed.”

Another recent enhancement is an additional business intelligence tool. This is designed to cure the “paralysis by analysis” that some businesses can suffer when facing all the data that is available today. With the new Atlas Alerts Reporting tool, problems are highlighted so that the business can focus on targeting them. The user can define what is in tolerance and what is not. Then, rather than showing everything, this tool will display only what is not. “For example, you can have it show deliveries that are less than 60% capacity,” Coyle explains. “Then you can look at those deliveries. Did we make this delivery because we were in the area? Was it a vacation home, so we should put a tank monitor on it? Because Atlas shows only where the problems are, you can see them faster and solve them.” If a user does prefer to see regular updates, they can set up a subscription that they can quickly glance at to see that all is in tolerance.

“We pride ourselves on continuing to evolve the products,” Coyle concludes. “We saw where the market was heading, and then COVID sped things up. We expect that, post-COVID, marketers will have some employees continue to work from home. With our solutions, people working in the field or at home have access to all the information they would have in the office.” For more information, visit addsys.com.
Propane Software by Propane Mgt Systems PMS new features for LPG industry

Propane Management Systems
(PMS; Paducah, Ky.) offers two products that are backed with unlimited tech support for one flat annual fee.

One is PMS Accounts Receivable (AR), a complete customer management system for tanks, cylinders, and meters that includes contracts, degree days, geo-locations, and scheduling. This product also features a fully integrated payment system; a point-of-sale system; a routing package; a liquid inventory package; a physical inventory package; tank monitor integration; cylinder integration; and tank propane usage meter integration.

The second product is PMS Mobile, which features rugged propane and cylinder delivery truck tablets that provide greater control and automation of deliveries.

Both products are backed by unlimited tech support for one flat annual fee.

“People like us best for our service,” says Warren Van Wyck, general manager. “We answer the phone 24/7 and they don’t pay for phone calls. Most of the time, people call to ask about how to do something they haven’t done in a long time. Our package has a lot of stuff. If they don’t use part of it initially, but then want to use it later, they call to ask about it.”

The two products also communicate in real time. “When you enter a customer or a payment in AR, the drivers in the field see it instantly. When you create routing or check off deliveries, that is instant too.”

“Most people realize technology can help them, especially with COVID. It’s a way to eliminate contact,” Van Wyck adds.

“If you are thinking of doing a system, you should check all your options,” he concludes. “We don’t get beat on service or price. Beyond the obvious price, what kind of price are you looking at if you make a call for tech support six months from now? We answer the phone and we don’t charge for that.”

Visit www.propanemanagementsystems.com for more information.
Propane Software by Cargas Energy offers new embedded lpg reporting tool

A new embedded reporting tool is the latest addition to Cargas Energy (Lancaster, Pa.) software for propane dealers. The Advanced Reporting & Dashboard module helps fuel dealers understand their business performance, spot trends or anomalies, and quickly respond to changes—all without leaving Cargas Energy software.

“Before, we had static reports; now, we have an embedded tool that provides actionable insights that help marketers make decisions based on their most current data,” explains Dennis DiSabatino, Jr., vice president of the Cargas Energy business unit. “This helps marketers make decisions on a daily basis about deliveries and service.”

“The advanced reporting functionality is an easier way to filter and drill down into data,” adds Brian Weit, manager of marketing. “While the dashboards put key performance indicators at your fingertips.”

Cargas Energy software is browser-based, so it can be accessed from anywhere, on any device. That has proven valuable during the pandemic.

“Our technology platform has allowed our customers to thrive in this situation,” DiSabatino says. “Cargas Energy started from day one as a mobile technology platform. Our customers have leveraged that—there’s no need for people to touch and process paper.”

Cargas Energy found marketers moving in that direction anyway in a survey it conducted last year. In its inaugural “Top Technology Trends in Fuel Delivery Benchmarking Report,” the company surveyed fuel dealers and found that 31% were storing data on cloud servers; more than 50% were looking at tank monitors as a future investment; more than 40% were looking at customer web portals and mobile apps; and 75% said a cloud or web platform plays an important role when evaluating new software.

“It will be interesting to see how the pandemic impacts the results in 2021,” Weit notes.

“We’re here to help the industry,” DiSabatino concludes. “We’ve implemented secure tools to support your implementation remotely. We urge companies to adopt the cloud technologies that are out there to support remote work in this situation.”

For more information about Cargas Energy software, visit https://cargasenergy.com/. The “Top Technology Trends in Fuel Delivery Benchmarking Report” can be downloaded at https://cargasenergy.com/blog/top-technology-trends-in-fuel-delivery/.
New Propane Software introduced by Rural Computer Consultants (RCCI) includes 20 new LPG software modules

Rural Computer Consultants
(RCC; Bird Island, Minn.) was planning to introduce two new products at this year’s trade shows. Both of these products are modules that can be added to their Fuel Distribution System (FDS), a software package for the fuel and propane industry that can be customized with more than 20 modules.

The first module is E-Commerce +. “We already had e-commerce, but this is bigger,” says Freddie Ridler, sales. With this module, customers can opt in to receive text or email notifications based on many different scenarios with FDS. This includes when a delivery is on its way, when a delivery has been completed, when a payment has been made, when invoices are due, as well as many other notifications.

RCC has also partnered with DocuSign to begin handling forms. “This really took off the last three or four months with all of the shutdowns,” Ridler notes. “Yes, the propane business has been open, but offices have been closed.”

The second module is Dispatch Manager (DM). This takes the role of a dispatcher by building loads, mapping, and optimizing deliveries. DM sends this information to drivers so a dispatcher no longer has to give tickets or text them. It does this for all types of delivering—fuel delivery, service, and cylinder delivery. DM also keeps managers informed about where the drivers are and how much inventory is left.

Ridler himself was scheduled to deliver a talk at the NPGA Expo about CRM tools. “Long story short, this means texting,” he explains. “People always have their phone with them, so texting notifications are the hot commodity right now. When it beeps, you grab your phone and look.” For propane customers, useful text notifications include where the driver is, when the next payment is due, and when a payment has been submitted.

RCC’s FDS and its Mobile Office On the Go (MOGO; a mobile workstation for drivers and service technicians) have helped keep customers and employees safe during the pandemic. “Five or six years ago, we started adding cloud hosting, which gives our customers access to our virtual server so they can log in, access their data, and work from home,” Ridler notes. “Our good tech team and our ability to host data has been a big deal for us this year. We have ways to make this all as easy and painless as possible.”

For more information, visit www.rccbi.com. You can also view a video about RCC at www.rccbi.com/media/rcc_overview.mp4.

An upgraded e-commerce system and strong reports with actionable items are the newest enhancements available for Energy-Force, an integrated system of modules for propane or refined fuel businesses. That’s what K&K Management Solutions (Avon, Ind.) intended to promote at the spring trade shows.
KK Proopane Energy Force Software technology

“One thing we were going to focus on was the accessibility of data with built-in reporting,” says Mat Jones, sales. With Energy-Force, businesses can make better operational decisions with data. It generates strong reports with actionable items. “One example is our tank utilization report,” Jones explains. “You can run a report showing all the steel you have in the field. If there is a case where a 1000-gal. tank would be better than the 500-gal. tank installed, the report will tell you.” This reduces the number of deliveries to a tank and advises which tanks need to be “switched out.”

OptimizerPlus also does scheduling while you sleep. “The No. 1 thing propane marketers talk about is that they are tired of routing,” says Lynn Sheets, executive business consultant at K&K Management Solutions. “OptimizerPlus automates that.” It handles K-factor, call-in, and Julian tanks; adjusts for summer and fall fills; and utilizes imported tank monitor reads for efficient scheduling. “It’s all automated,” Sheets notes. “It follows your rules and decides the best delivery to make.” You can not “out think” the OptimizerPlus.

The company’s e-commerce module, Energy-Commerce, has been enhanced with PCI compliance. “Our customers don’t have to store credit card numbers; it’s stored at the merchant processor,” Jones explains. Energy-Commerce also allows customers to text ACH and credit card payments. It integrates with the Energy-Force system, so payments are updated and don’t have to be manually keyed in. “During the pandemic, we’ve had customers decide they need to utilize our E-commerce, because their customers are asking for it,” Sheets added.

K&K Management Solutions’ training has gone online during the pandemic. Customer training is being done via Cisco Webex and new customers are being brought live remotely, with no need for onsite setup and training.

“We’ve adapted and we’re moving forward with the way things are changing today,” Jones says. Sheets adds that is true of the company’s software, too. “Energy-Force is always evolving with the changing climate and conditions.”

For more information, visit www.energy-force.com. — Steve Relyea

Women In Propane: WINLPG Woman Of The Year Achieving Great Things

“From humble beginnings come great things,” is more than a proverb to Pam Indurjeeth, managing director at Oryx Energies South Africa. She integrates the inspirational narrative into a life dedicated to learning, connecting, and giving back to achieve success.
Women In Propane Pam Indurjeeth Oryx Energies S Africa 0720

For her accomplishments, Indurjeeth is the latest recipient of the prestigious Woman of the Year Award by the Women in LPG Global Network (WINLPG). In 2018, she was also recognized as the Woman of the Year by the Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) Safety Association of South Africa.

At Oryx Energies, one of the largest independent providers of oil and gas in sub-Saharan Africa, Indurjeeth represents an affiliate of a corporate group that plays a key role in the promotion of LPG in South Africa and rebalancing South African energy.

“As managing director, I see myself as the captain of the ship, defining, designing, and implementing a strategy aligned with key corporate objectives,” said Indurjeeth, who has been in the role since last August. “I thank Oryx Energies for creating an environment that has allowed me to expand my skills at an executive level.

“I am a key influencer in the industry lobbying with government and stakeholders; responsible and accountable for the results of Oryx Oil South Africa including assuring that HSSEQ [Health, Safety, Security, the Environment, and Quality] is paramount.”

Her involvement extends to serving on the boards of industry forums, initiating social and community improvement projects, and participating in the LPG Association of South Africa conference where she was the keynote speaker and a sponsor of WINLPG’s Vision in Energy event.

Indurjeeth’s thriving career began more than 20 years ago at BP Southern Africa where she spent 12 years in various management and operational positions. In 2013, she joined the Oryx Energy’s Group in operational and executive roles within supply chain and commercial departments before being appointed as deputy managing director by her predecessor and role model who guided her professional development and career acceleration, she said.

“About seven years ago, I was told I was going to succeed my managing director. I replied ‘No, don’t think so.’…Guess I underestimated myself,” she said. “I believe anything is possible if you have the right mindset, commitment, and dedication to achieve with the right level of discipline and resilience.”

While at BP, Indurjeeth attended a program she described as a game changer. “I was fortunate to have been nominated for a women’s fast-track program whereby I was assigned a coach through a program called ‘Conversations That Matter’—a phenomenal career highlight for me. It was a confidence boost; a self-branding experience that positioned my career platform.

“I can tell you now when I walk into a board meeting, it is 90% males. I have to be able to overcome that by not being intimated,” she said. “My advice: Women must not see success as an entitlement, they must earn it. Success is achieved through hard work, dedication, and passion. Create your own success story. I am fortunate to be supported and inspired by them, not intimidated by men.”

To inspire, support, and advocate a career move for potential leaders is one of Indurjeeth’s goals. It’s actually what she’s been doing for several years by playing a pivotal role in the coaching, mentoring, and advocacy of the Graduate Program and Women Empowerment, Diversity and Inclusion in LPG. Perfecting her current position is another goal.

Given the demands of her position, it is difficult to balance the demands of home and work, but Indurjeeth is a believer in the 5 a.m club. Motivated by “The 5 AM Club: Own Your Morning. Elevate Your Life” by Robin Sharma, she typically awakes at 5 a.m. to spend 20 minutes exercising (often running), 20 minutes reading, and 20 minutes doing something for herself.

“I’m often referred to as a skilled strategic, firm yet fair leader who’s extremely passionate about gender equality,” she added. “I remain optimistic for Africa and its strategic outlook.”

In the current context of the global pandemic, she’s intrigued and captivated by a quote: “When you can’t control what’s happening, challenge yourself to control the way you respond to what’s happening. That’s where your power is.” — Karen Massman VanAsdale

Technology Causes Rethinking Of Will-Call Customer Value

For years, many in the retail propane industry have looked with disdain on the “will-call” customer. These are the customers that do just as their monicker implies: they “will call” when they want propane. Consultant after consultant has told propane marketers these customers have no value and in fact represent a drag on company success. “They are portrayed as people with a 420 FICO score and a pit bull in the yard,” says Mark Stillman, senior vice president and co-founder of Energy Engine LLC (Stroudsburg, Penn.). “But their value is growing in the eyes of many who see changes in consumer habits and the potential this segment represents.”
BPN reports technology makes propane Will Call customers profitable and soon a thing of past said Blueox Energy’s Julia Miller

For years, consultants and other longtime industry veterans have encouraged strategies to convert “will-call” customers to “keep-full” customers. Stillman told BPN he doesn’t dispute the advantages of this switch and having customers on a routed schedule with company-owned tanks. “Of course, having customers whose tanks are filled on the company schedule have advantages, both to have efficient routes and good storage management. Company-owned tanks add value to any retail propane company,” Stillman said. “Nonetheless, will-call customers still have great potential to add plenty of extra value to a company, whether or not you are ever able to convert them to keep-full customers.”

Stillman points to evolving trends across almost every industry in how customers want to do business with service providers of all types. “In the past decade, we’ve seen brick-and-mortar businesses replaced by buyers who now prefer an online buying experience with fast delivery,” Stillman said. “Customers are taking control of the buying process, and companies who fight this trend will lose out in the long run.” He notes that the evolution in most cases is driven by technology. “Consider that smartphones were barely in existence a decade ago,” he said. “Texting and instant messaging were still used by a small minority back then. Amazon offers a new concept that has since grown exponentially and online buying has dramatically taken off. While many industries were ahead of the energy industry, it is no longer immune to the growing number of customers who are changing how companies will be successful in the future.”

“And then came the COVID-19 crisis, accelerating ‘digital first’ thinking and forcing everyone to grab their smartphones to do literally everything,” Stillman added. “Overnight, e-commerce has become our universal normal, from how we shop at Home Depot to how we order takeout food. This has raised the bar on consumer expectations because smart product and services companies across industries are really upping their game with progressive e-commerce systems.”

How is this affecting propane dealers? “It has moved the goalposts on what it will take to satisfy a customer. Gone are the days where you only take online payments and call it ‘digital engagement,’” Stillman said. “Customers want to participate and do as much as they can on their own. They want the same experience they are getting elsewhere, even at their local convenience store. Consumer-facing technology is the driving force of our collective future. But it remains a weakness for dealers.”

Stillman feels that perhaps most importantly, this three-month revolution of e-commerce has increased the demands of will-call customers. “They want convenience, they don’t want to use the phone, and they want ability to manage their account without your help,” he said. “Online e-commerce registrations for fuel customers jumped 60% from March 1 to June 1. These are new will-call customers coming onboard with dealers. The demand is there…are you ready?”
Propane Will Call customers can be profitable with technology a thing of past says Bob Stillman Energy Engine LLC VP to BPN

Stillman was set to speak at the NPGA Southeastern Convention along with Ted Jeffcoat, president of TLJ3 Consulting (Rutland, Mass.), and Julia Miller, vice president of business growth and development at Blueox Energy (Oxford, N.Y.), in a session titled “Will-Call Elevated.” But that was moved to a virtual session due to the cancellation of the convention. Attendees ranged from small independents to the largest MLPs.

The session was designed to show that will-call customer ranks are growing; however, they are seeking a different relationship with the seller, one that allows them to connect with you entirely online for a true e-commerce experience. Not meeting these customer demands will result in their loss to competitors or electricity.

According to Stillman, the panelists shared their experiences with how the COVID-19 digital consumer changes have become permanent and how dealers must quickly adjust. “Much of the dialogue with the audience centered around providing an enhanced online experience and how best to serve will-call customers,” he said. “Topics included observed buying habits, types of technology to deploy, and the challenges of upgrading your customer-facing ecosystem. In addition, many acknowledged the growing ranks of will-call and the emergence of customer-owned tanks.”

Propane is one of the last industries to face the changes in customer buying habits because it is part of the essential services category including health care, insurance, and telecom. “These segments are starting to feel the consumer pressure and will be more successful with an omni-channel business model,” Stillman said. “They want to take care of the customers who still want great personal service in person or on the phone, and they also want to take care of customers who seek a true e-commerce buying experience where they never have to deal with a human being. The nice thing is that with new e-commerce customers, you barely spend time interacting and they pay up front via credit card, which makes them much easier to manage than the will-call customers of the past.” He advised that this provides the path to more worthwhile customers in the long run and the feeling that will-call customers are “junk business” is a mind-set that needs to change.

Blueox Energy’s Julia Miller has worked closely with Stillman’s company and agrees that his suggestions are sound. “It is best to develop business practices that cater to the variety of customers in the market,” Miller said. “There is still a strong space for the full-service automatic delivery customer; however, trends in our area show that population is declining quicker each year and the will-call market is expanding each year.” Miller said Blueox Energy doesn’t value one type of customer over the other, because they all have their pros and cons. “The automatic customer is considered loyal and guaranteed business while the will-call customers when taken care of are proving to be just as loyal and tend to pay quicker, which improves cash flow.”

A believer in the value of company-owned tanks, Miller said Blueox is fortunate that not many people own their own tanks in the area. “However, if your will-call customers are shopping around, it is because you aren’t taking care of their needs,” Miller said. “You can’t apply the same automatic model to the modern will-call customer. There is an opportunity to reassess your business model and how you cater to your customers’ needs and there is good money to be made on both sides. If you are running your business right, there are no ‘dead-head’ miles; you are dispatching and taking care of these customers in conjunction with your full-service customers.”

Miller also told BPN that you can compete with “lowball” price competitors. “Lowball competitors have always existed in the automatic model too; it’s not a new concept,” she said. “Find ways to add value to your customer’s experience and price isn’t quite as relevant.” She suggests that in order to get there faster, send a text alert, and offer unique discounts or payment options. “There are also modern software applications that can automate the customer experience, which proves to give you a 12-cent advantage at minimum right out of the chute if deployed correctly.” If there is a lowballer out there, Miller feels there is a good chance they don’t really understand the business and have been lucky so far with market conditions. She feels that lowballers don’t offer a better experience for customers. “It just depends on who you want to be in the market.” — Pat Thornton