Nearly 10 years ago, Conger LP Gas (Tifton, Georgia) started a process to market autogas, lawn mower conversions and agricultural programs. Replacing old diesel engines in irrigation systems with propane models that are more fuel efficient and cost-effective became a focus across the company’s 150 square miles of sales territory.
Large open houses that brought in hundreds of Tifton-area residents were introduced; a home show was created in 2018 to advertise propane appliances to builders and consumers; and a new location with a larger showroom — including a demonstration kitchen — was introduced in 2018 to help the company make community events and further education about propane’s many benefits regular attractions.
Energy Conversations Take ON A NEW Shape with COVID-19
The useful methods Conger LP Gas has found to expand its customer base and propane usage make the company a great example of a unique selling proposition. BPN caught up with Dan Richardson, president and chief executive officer of Conger LP Gas to discuss the company’s position in the marketplace amid concern that COVID-19 has at least temporarily delayed key tactics for sharing his message at showroom events.
“Well, we never dreamed COVID-19 would last this long,” Richardson said. “It’s certainly changed what we can do and how we can do some things. We don’t want to become a hotbed for COVID-19. Events at the new showroom and demonstration kitchen were going great, but we are trying to be socially responsible, knowing we can’t fully protect participants right now. We’re hoping to be doing events again soon. It is a great way to get our message out. Events, such as cooking classes with a chef, brought in many people who were not normally coming into the office.”
In addition to cooking classes, other events hosted by Conger LP Gas include a “First Responders” program, a “Paw Patrol” program, a demonstration with a life-flight helicopter, demonstrations with fire trucks and patrol cars and hosting a representative from the United States Army.
With the investment in a new 8,000-square-foot showroom and office after many years in a much smaller space, Richardson is looking forward to being able to host community events again.
“People who had not yet come to our office were saying they didn’t know about propane clothes dryers or other things we had to sell. We are still getting a residual positive effect from all the events we did. In the meantime, we’ve got to focus on other ways to attract customers,” he said.
“Quality and above-and-beyond service is something we always strive to provide. If you call us and have service needs, we want to be able to service that appliance in a reasonable amount of time. With others, it’s often eight to 12 weeks before the marketer can get to you. We like to be there within a week. We make contact via phone and try to shoot for a mutually agreed-upon date,” he continued.
Keeping the Positive Experiences of Propane Benefits Going
Richardson, who serves as a member of the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC), said he believes his company, like PERC, is trying to fit what the consumer is looking for, and not vice versa.
“PERC is trying to pull people into using propane and Conger LP Gas is as well. With 60% of the tanks we set going to homes that have never before used gas, I don’t think it’s in everyone’s best interest for retailers to just take customers away from each other. We spend more time looking for potential customers at homes that do not have a tank. Most of the 40% are those who already have a tank with us, but are expanding their use of propane,” Richardson said.
Richardson said he believes consumers are out there who will pay more for convenience. He notes, though, that like businesses in all industries, there are many companies that don’t make their customers feel their business is appreciated. He is concerned that when companies do research, too often, they spend too much time consulting experts rather than consulting actual customers and potential customers.
“People should go to consumers and just ask what they want and need,” he said. “It is also important that every member of the Conger team realizes they are part of the sales team.”
At the 2019 National Propane Gas Association Southeastern Expo, Richardson described to attendees how employees are happy to talk to friends and neighbors about the benefits of propane. He mentioned an employee who spent 20 minutes answering questions from a neighbor she ran into on a Saturday. “A lot of propane employees might typically just say to call the office on Monday,” he said.
Richardson feels that his concept for taking care of customers goes back to watching his dad, who was a serviceman from 1956 to 1990. Richardson also worked at the company for a couple of summers while growing up. “One example of a lesson learned related to a 40-gallon water heater. Do I want to make money one time with that water heater or sell more of them at a lower rate to gain more recurring business? In addition to the propane itself, there are other fees, including service work,” he said.
Richardson also believes that new generations of future customers are being groomed as they grow up in the community. “If we take care of a family well for many years, the next generation will be well aware of us when they are establishing a home of their own,” he said.
A Different Approach to New Market Segments
During the ongoing pandemic, Richardson continues to advocate his many propane-related offerings via social media.
Videos featuring Richardson talking to customers about everything from propane benefits to the importance of following COVID-19 protocols are still a way to connect with customers. “Like most of the country, we are hoping to be able to do in-person events again soon when it is safe.”
The pandemic is not slowing interest in new ways to save money on irrigation. “Conger LP Gas is the only retail propane company in Georgia that sells propane engines for irrigation systems,” said Bill Moore, an alternative fuels sales manager who has often traveled to county events to promote propane’s potential for savings with irrigation systems.
“For us, electricity is cheap and will be the go-to option most of the time, especially for farms along highways with easy access to electricity.” The opportunity for propane comes when farmers have fields where electricity is not easily accessible. Running lines more than a hundred extra yards rapidly becomes expensive. “This is where propane makes sense — especially when diesel engines are becoming much more expensive due to compliance with Tier 4 emissions standards that do not affect cleaner-burning propane.”
A return to normalcy may also bring back the annual South Georgia Home Showcase Conger LP Gas launched in 2018 with Short & Paulk, a company that operates five lumberyards and home centers in South Georgia.
This event was designed as a chance to talk to builders, contractors and architects who are often too busy to talk with at a jobsite. The first day of the show in 2018 was invitation only, and solely contractors were invited. Contractors and vendors could mingle on the show floor in the afternoon and at a dinner in the evening. The dinner included a presentation by Jesse Marcus, director of residential and commercial business development at PERC. He told the more than 300 attendees present about incentives available to builders.
The second day of the show was open to both contractors and the general public from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Almost 100 displays were set up by vendors, and many of the exhibitors also offered product demonstrations. An estimated 1800 people attended on the second day.
Educational events also helped draw contractors to the event with about a dozen continuing education (CE) classes, including some that earned attendees CE credits from the American Institute of Architects and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.
“Although the Home Showcase was curtailed in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19, we are still benefiting from positive relationships established in 2018 and 2019,” Richardson said. “A trust level has been built with many contractors we didn’t know as well before organizing these events. We look forward to being able to safely host these events again.”
Facilitating new ways to spark everyday discussions with everyday consumers about what really makes sense will result in a chance to take care of their energy needs. Unique methods to share propane’s environmental and economical benefits are taking place one customer at a time.