NPGA Celebrates Industry's Resilience, Announces Current Projects

The industry’s resilience in coping with the pandemic and preparing for winter after unprecedented changes in upstream production, was the focus of the National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) 2020 Annual Meeting & June Board Meeting. Speakers noted how propane marketers have adapted, how NPGA has assisted, and how some current projects will help the industry continue to respond.

NPGA June 2020 Board Meeting overview by leading source of propane industry news BPNHeld June 15, the event was, for the first time, a virtual meeting. Originally scheduled to be held in Washington, D.C., it was moved to a webinar format due to uncertainty around restrictions on large gatherings and travel.

THE NEW REALITY

Reflecting on the change, and on the many happenings during his year as NPGA chair, Randy Thompson said, “A year goes by quickly. Mine started with lots of travel, and ended with lots of phone calls. It’s a different way of accomplishing business.” The founder and senior advisor at ThompsonGas LLC also highlighted one of the many contributions NPGA had made to the industry during the pandemic: getting the propane workforce listed as an essential workforce. “This saved the industry countless headaches,” Thompson said.
NPGA LPG June 2020 Board Meeting summary BPN
He and other speakers noted that in addition to the pandemic, the past year saw the industry deal with supply issues in the Midwest and the continuing challenge of the “electrify everything” movement. In addition, the association made two big moves of its own; it transitioned to new Leadership and sold the Certified Employee Training Program (CETP) to the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC).

“WHAT A YEAR!”
Denis Gagne, who succeeded Thompson and became the 2020-2021 chair of the board during the meeting, later said, “What a year!” He thanked Thompson for embracing “The Green New Deal and Electrify America” challenges during his term and pledged to continue addressing them. During his incoming remarks as NPGA chair, the Sr. VP of Supply and Acquisitions at Eastern Propane & Oil (Rochester, N.H.), said he faces challenges with confidence. “NPGA Leadership Team’s mission is committed to continue to work on issues such as decarbonization, advocacy, supply, and others yet to come,” Gagne said.
BPN the propane industry's leading source for news since 1939 recaps the NPGA June 2020 Propane Board Meeting LPG
He invited members of the industry to bring forward any questions or concerns they may have. “NPGA’s Leadership takes direction from its members,” he said. “We will address challenges as they occur and take the necessary steps on those items that merit action.” In addition to the Leadership, Gagne pointed to the talented and experienced individuals at NPGA, PERC, and the state associations. He also noted the strong collaboration between NPGA and PERC, which share a common goal: Industry growth.

During the president’s report, Steve Kaminski noted that recent events had demonstrated the importance of both propane and the propane industry. “The pandemic has reinforced propane as a safe and resilient source of energy for use in emergencies,” the president and CEO of NPGA said.

Kaminski then listed NPGA’s many accomplishments since the last board meeting, which was held in February. These include securing essential worker status; including propane in hours-of-service exemptions for transport of essential supplies; securing face masks for members; unwinding the 2020 NPGA Expo and fully refunding fees, sponsorships, and registrations; answering questions related to the pandemic; hosting webinars and leading discussions with legislators, transporters, and others during the Midwest supply situation; improving cooperation with PERC; and successfully advocating for hours of service modifications that are to take effect Sept. 29.
NPGA June 2020 Board Meeting summary by BPN the propane industry's leading source for LPG news since 1939
Many of these projects continue, and new ones are being added. During the board meeting, two soon-to-be-released resources were announced:

LPG supply chain webinars: A proposed scheduled webinar series aimed at promoting understanding of the LPG supply chain is to be available to all NPGA members. This is to include four webinars covering upstream production and downstream implications; over-the-road transportation; midstream logistics; and the 2020 harvest. As the webinars near, invitations will be sent to NPGA members and will be published in the NPGA Reports e-newsletter.

Registered apprenticeship program handbook: The Department of Labor has approved NPGA’s application for two job classifications in this program: driver and service technician. Now, the association is developing a handbook that will explain how the program works. It will include the requirements; the ways companies and individuals can participate; the different types of applications; the required forms; and the funding opportunities available to applicants. When this is completed, it will be available on the Member Dashboard at npga.org.
NPGA Recap of June Board Meeting BPN propane leader
NPGA’s next board meeting, the Fall Board of Directors Meeting, is to be held Sept. 27-29 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “I look forward to seeing you in person in Fort Lauderdale,” Kaminski told those viewing the webinar. “Our plan at present is to hold it in person with robust safety procedures.” — Steve Relyea

Beyond The Mains: Stay home, in comfort…

When there’s trouble in the world, many people will seek to add comforts to their homes. The propane industry is well positioned to meet that demand by offering fireplaces, fire pits, cooking equipment, hot water heaters, and similar propane appliances.
BPN the propane industry's leading source for news and information since 1939 presents Beyond the Mains June 2020 publisher letter

Casey Harvey has seen this in the past, and he is seeing it again during the COVID-19 pandemic. He is director of sales at Ray Murray Inc. (RMI; Lee, Mass.), a distributor of gas equipment and heating, hearth, and outdoor living products.


“We are absolutely seeing an increase in interest in both outdoor kitchens and fireplace products as people stay home, improve their quality of life at home, and look for ways to feel comfortable,” he tells BPN. “Fireplaces and outdoor living are really comfort food for the home! We saw this post-9/11 and we are seeing it again now.”

This interest can be seen in Google searches, he adds. In May, the number of searches in the U.S. for “outdoor kitchens” was double what it was at the same time last year. The number of searches for “fireplace remodels” was nearly double. Harvey notes that searches for the latter in May were already where they normally are during the peak season, which is late summer and early fall.

“We are ahead of the game in terms of interest, so I expect it to be higher that it was last year,” he says. “Search is the first place people go to learn about something, so that is a leading indicator.”

The interest in these appliances has been reflected in sales, too. Harvey reports that since stay-at-home orders were regional, the retailers and installers some areas continued going non-stop. In many places, landscapers were designated essential workers, so sales of fire pits are actually up since last year.

“Outdoor sales have been very strong,” he says. “Indoor is catching up. It was down for the first few weeks, but now it’s inching up.”

“People expect to continue social distancing and not going out, so they are seeing how they can make the most of being at home and with family. That is good for us.”
To support those who are selling and installing these products, RMI has long offered training in person. During the pandemic, the company has transitioned to delivering training online. Throughout the months of April and May, it offered live webinars covering propane equipment and hearth and grill.

Harvey suggests that propane marketers who are not currently selling hearth and outdoor living appliances, consider getting into it. They can start by contacting a distributor like RMI to learn more about the latest products and best practices.

“It’s a good time to think again about selling ranges, fireplaces, grills, and other gas products,” he concludes. “Propane marketers should be all over this next wave of appliance sales (and the corresponding gallons).” — Steve Relyea

Propane Industry Advocacy Continues During COVID-19 Pandemic

The pandemic has led to cancellations of travel and meetings, but the propane industry can and should continue to advocate for its interests in other ways. Four members of Congress delivered that message during webinars hosted by the National Propane Gas Association (NPGA), June 8-10.
 
Propane Days Political Advocacy continues during covid pandemic reports BPN leading industry trade publicattionThe webinars themselves were one way NPGA is carrying on its advocacy. Around the time members of the industry would normally have flown to Washington, D.C., for the annual Propane Days, the webinars allowed attendees to hear an industry advocate talk with the four representatives in a virtual forum.

“As we heard from the representatives, if they don’t hear from us about our issues, they don’t know what they are,” Michael Baker, NPGA’s director, legislative affairs, told BPN after he hosted the webinars.

The webinars featured members from both parties and representing districts in different parts of the country. They were Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL 13th), Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH 5th), Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR 5th), and Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (D-NM 2nd). Each has a position of a key committee with jurisdiction over issues that directly impact the propane industry. Each has also shown a willingness to advocate for the industry in policy debates.

During the webinars, Baker asked the representatives about Congress’ plans for future COVID-19 relief legislation, projected outcomes of the 2020 election cycle, and how the propane industry can advocate for essential legislative priorities during these unusual times.

Each of the four representatives said it is time to reopen the country and the economy, in a responsible manner. Looking ahead to the elections, each pointed to something that suggested good prospects for their own party, but added they are cautious about making predictions. On the question of advocacy, each said it is important for constituents to remain in contact with their representatives during the lockdown and when things are back to normal. It is always useful to build relationships with legislators and their staff, and educate them about the industry, so they can more quickly act whenever an issue comes up.
Propane Days advocacy Continues With Industry Members meeting virutally with Washington DC reps During Covid Crisis BPN reports july 2020
After the webinars, Baker shared with BPN his own thoughts on the issues he brought up with the representatives.

COVID-19 relief legislation: During the pandemic, NPGA has been busy working on emergency response. Relief legislation has been a part of that; the Paycheck Protection Program has helped businesses pay employees and get people back to work, and additional funding for LIHEAP has helped customers pay their heating bills at a time when many found themselves suddenly unemployed. “Overall, we’re pretty happy with the government response so far,” Baker said. “We will seek future legislation to help small businesses and, as winter nears, push for adequate funding of LIHEAP.”

The 2020 election cycle: “We’re keeping an eye on the election,” he said. “We have a game plan, no matter the outcome.”

Industry Advocacy: “The webinars were successful, but we are excited to do these meetings in person, when it is safe,” he said. “We really want Propane Days to return to normal. Propane Days is one of the most valuable tools we have. That said, when virtual advocacy is called for, we will use phone calls and webinars.”

Webinars like these were not new to NPGA. The association hosts quarterly webinars that enable supporters of its political action committee, PropanePAC, to communicate directly with members of Congress.

In addition, NPGA will soon roll out some new resources that will help facilitate propane marketers’ facility tours and visits to Congressional offices in their home districts. Already, the association offers members details about the committees legislators sit on and the issues NPGA would recommend a marketer talk about during the meeting. Baker explains, “We can provide tailored advocacy information to make sure members are prepped to deliver their message.”

“We can’t impress enough how important it is to go to Washington, D.C.,” he added. “It is nice to get updates, but it is more valuable to have over 200 in-person meetings on Capitol Hill. We are excited to get back to normal.” — Steve Relyea

New Propane Products "In The News"

DASHBOARD MODULE. Cargas Energy has introduced its new Advanced Reporting & Dashboard module. The reporting tool, embedded directly in Cargas Energy, allows New Cargas Energy Propane Delivery Software BPN June 2020users to get needed insights without leaving the software. The Advanced Reporting & Dashboards helps fuel dealers understand their business performance, spot trends or anomalies, and quickly respond to changes. The module includes ready-to-use reports and sample dashboards, with a drag-and-drop interface that makes it easy for users to build their own, and built-in graphs, charts, and visuals, interactive filters, and automated report emails. cargasenergy.com/reporting

New Propane Regulator Products by RegO BPN 0620LOW-PRESSURE REGULATOR. The LV5503BD series of dielectric low-pressure second-stage regulators, standard settings, are available from RegO Products. The large regulators for second-stage use are offered with 1/2-in. and 3/4-in. inlets and 3/4-in. and 1-in. outlets, for more volume at burner pressures of 11-in. w.c. It provides protection with dielectric isolation for copper tubing, and the only 10-year warranty. The regulators are made in the USA.
New Propane Product by Real Fyre BPN June 2020

GAS LOGS.
The Real Fyre Rural Oak Rumford Collection from R.H. Peterson features a vertically arranged log set crafted specifically to accommodate the tall opening designs of the company’s Rumford or Kiva style fireplaces. The logs feature intricate bark detail and wood fire realism. The Rural Oak Rumford Collection is available in three log styles including Rural Oak, Rural Aged Oak, and Rural Split Oak, two sizes (18/24-in. and 24/30-in.), with many control options available.

The State of the Delivered Fuels Industry

Kicking off the Energize 2020 Digital Conference last April, Steven Abbate, president of Cetane Associates (Kent, Conn.), provided an overview of the state of the propane industry amid the deadly coronavirus pandemic. “The propane industry is luckier than many industries,” Abbate said, noting that the gambling industry was taking a $261-billion per year hit on sports betting alone. Airlines, cruise ships, hotels, movie theaters, and live sports were also industries noted for the many billions being lost and massive job losses and likely bankruptcies to follow.
Energize Propane Webinar state of delivered propane fuels Abbate

Abbate shared data showing propane sales so far this year close to even with the previous year, despite COVID-19 losses throughout the economy. “The demand for stay-at-home services is up,” Abbate noted.

As further evidence of interest in stay-at-home services, Abbate shared data from Warm Thoughts Communications, a business serving many home heating companies, including many retail propane marketers. Their data shows organic traffic to digital clients’ websites is up 14%; pay-per-click campaigns for fueloil, propane, and HVAC are up 18% and the click through rate is up 13%; and total leads are up 10%. Warm Thoughts said that one of its campaigns for propane tankless water heaters had its best response ever the day after the governor of the state issued shelter-in-place directions.
Energize Propane Webinar fuel delivery steven Abbate BPN

As for business sales, a major focus of Cetane Associates, he noted two sales his company is overseeing are postponed and six more sales that were about to come into the market were delayed due to the coronavirus. “Reasons for selling have nothing to do with the virus at this point,” he explained. “All reasons involve the usual situations for most companies: owners are retiring without a succession plan within the company; the company couldn’t find enough drivers/service people; or owners sometimes want to go into another business.” Asked if sellers should hold off due to the virus, Abbate felt that in most cases they should move ahead if they are prepared to sell. “In a couple of cases, we’ve seen some potential buyers back out due to concerns about being able to close, but we’ve still completed some deals with very healthy sale prices.”

“Buyers may have more reasons to hold off on a company purchase. They should definitely take a closer look at the customer base of the retail company. Are there a lot of commercial accounts in the hospitality or entertainment business? How do you think overall receivables will be affected?”

Asked about multiples of EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization) companies are selling for, Abbate reminded his audience that many factors go into determining multiples, but said that smaller companies are typically getting four to five times adjusted EBITDA, while larger companies that typically sell 5 million gallons or more are getting eight to nine times adjusted EBIDTA.

When questioned whether a decrease in gallons due to weather would affect company values, Abbate said that his company adjusts weather to a 10-year average and that some companies adjust to a 30-year average. He reminded participants that gallons don’t necessarily increase value; gross margin does. “Smarter marketers need to increase margin with fewer gallons.” — Pat Thornton