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Propane’s Prospects

As the propane industry continues to evolve, propane companies and the public need to be educated about the issues facing the industry. The Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) leads safety and training efforts among propane retailers and consumers, educates consumers about propane’s many uses and benefits, and drives technology development to expand adoption of propane as a clean, affordable, American-made energy source. In a nutshell, the mission of the Propane Education & Research Council is to promote the safe, efficient use of odorized propane gas as a preferred energy source. PERC programs benefit a variety of industries including fleet vehicle management, landscaping, residential and commercial building, agriculture, and material handling.

Fuel Oil News Contributing Writer Maura Keller interviewed PERC President and CEO Tucker Perkins about the Council’s efforts to grow the propane market, including the development of propane-fueled equipment, appliances, and vehicles. Perkins is committed to meeting marketers’ rising expectations for transparency, customer service, and support. Below he shares PERC’s plans to meet the needs of the industry.

FON: What are the biggest issues/challenges affecting the propane industry — both now and in the immediate future that propane companies need to be aware of?

Perkins: This is a great time to be involved in the propane industry; we have both challenges and opportunities before us. The biggest challenge we face is to take on our competition, whether it is natural gas or electricity, with carefully crafted marketing materials and knowledgeable sales and customer service. Propane offers many advantages, and we must be prepared to position propane as an innovative fuel, an environmentally smart choice, and one that provides the best comfort and value to the user.

FON: PERC recently introduced its key strategic initiatives. What are the key initiatives that are gaining the strongest momentum? How are these initiatives working so far? Will the current initiatives stay in place or will new initiatives be launched? 

Perkins: Our main focus for the past six months has been to work very collaboratively with our industry partners like the National Propane Gas Association and state propane association executives to be very aligned on all of our market emphases. I am glad to say we are well on the path to that focus. We will use that collaboration to be even more effective in assisting propane marketers through providing literature, social media assistance, sales training, and anything else we can offer to help them be more effective at closing new sales and gaining new accounts.

FON: Can you explain PERC’s efforts to grow the market, especially the efforts that have to do with the development of propane-fueled equipment, appliances, and vehicles? 

Perkins: PERC’s efforts to grow the market include a thorough inspection of how propane fits into that market and then an assessment of the strengths and opportunities for propane. It’s exploring best solutions and asking questions such as, is there a technology gap that needs to be addressed? Is there a need for product development or product enhancement?  How do we get current and prospective OEMs to incorporate the best technology into the appliances or applications?  Once we are confident that we have a product that meets the needs of the marketplace, then we work with marketers to sell that product using relevant messages and sales tools.

FON: PERC is undergoing a reorganization of staff. Why is PERC reorganizing the staff? What will this mean for the organization and for the propane marketer?

Perkins: From time to time organizations must change to meet new demands. At PERC, we’re changing to meet marketers’ rising expectations for transparency, customer service, and support — especially when it comes to training the propane workforce, talking with propane users about safety, and persuading homeowners and business owners to switch to propane or expand their use of the fuel. We’ve put the right people in the right positions to deliver the best results for the industry. We also made a business decision to eliminate the positions of chief information officer, chief marketing officer, and senior manager of digital and social media.

We are always striving to be the best possible stewards of the assessment revenue, and that means always looking for ways to do our work better and cheaper. We believe the reorganization will make us more efficient and more effective.

We’re proud of the way we’ve communicated with marketers and the public about our work; today we’re committed to getting even better at it.

Next, we’re going to make PERC resources in safety, training, and marketing easier to find, easier to use, and easier to incorporate into your business.

FON: Why is consumer education such an important issue facing the propane industry? How can propane market players, such as heating oil marketers who are established propane marketers, work to improve consumers’ understanding of this fuel?

Perkins: The consumer is a key decision maker in choosing products for their home, but we believe that it’s only when consumers are informed that they can make the best decisions, especially as it applies to work with builders, remodelers, and HVAC professionals. The best way that propane marketers can improve consumers’ understanding of propane’s benefits is to offer clear and consistent messages across their sales and marketing teams, and in their daily interactions with customers and prospects.

FON: In what ways does PERC work with propane companies?

Perkins: PERC is committed to helping propane companies deliver an improved customer experience. We do that by working with our state associations to develop marketing materials that fit national and regional audiences; by providing marketing and customer service training through our Marketer Technology and Sales Training program, and by serving as advisors to help companies solve specific problems or go after local opportunities. Our propane catalog includes marketing materials such as case studies, photos and videos, brochures, fact sheets, and other materials to help marketers make the case for propane in every market.

FON: How is PERC working to enhance the safety and training programs in the industry? Can you explain some of PERC’s initiatives in this area?

Perkins: PERC is involved in every facet of training, including safety, technical, and sales. We have a very talented staff and propane professionals who volunteer to create best-in-class materials and events designed to support marketers’ training needs according to best practices and trends, and utilizing the latest in technology. The safety of its employees and customers is a top priority for the propane industry and PERC. PERC’s programs in this regard help to lift barriers to help maintain a well-trained workforce and a customer base that is educated on how to safely use propane appliances. This includes making our workforce training programs, such as the Certified Employee Training Program (CETP), available online, adding more videos, expanding digital access to our continuing education marketing materials, and providing training across a broad array of markets that include HVAC installations and propane-fueled engines. We work with a great network of trainers and well-established organizations to create and expand access to award-winning programs for both current and future propane professionals.

FON: Can you explain the key elements of PERC’s proposed marketing program? How do you envision this program will help the industry and propane company’s efforts? What are some of the marketing strategies PERC will use?

Perkins: The marketing program for 2018 continues to build on much of the success we have had in the past working with builders, architects, and engineers to inform them of the many ways propane can be used in residential, commercial, and industrial applications. We will continue our “Energy Pod Builder Incentive Program” for construction professionals who choose to use multiple propane applications in new home builds. We will also continue to train plumbers and HVAC professionals on how to safely install and service propane appliances in both new construction and remodeling projects. While our consumer program will be mainly digital, we will use other media to reinforce the message that propane appliances are innovative, provide comfort and value, and are the right choice for environmentally conscious builders and consumers.

FON: What do you think the future holds for the propane industry? What are the key topics that industry players need to stay on top of?

Perkins: The future for propane is incredibly bright, as consumers search for options that provide comfort, value, and are environmentally responsible. The more we can show consumers how propane delivers on those benefits, the more applications they’re willing to consider. More people are realizing this every day as seen through our “Straight Talk” testimonial videos of landscapers, fleet managers, farmers, school boards, business owners, and construction professionals talking about how switching to propane has enabled them to save money without sacrificing power and comfort. Beyond the traditional home and commercial opportunities, there is a growing market for clean-burning engines that can power cars and trucks, generate electricity, and irrigate crops. As consumers become more informed about the life cycle emissions of the products they use, the demand for propane-fueled appliances will grow. Finally, our supply picture is vibrant. More propane is being produced in the U.S. then ever before and our distribution network continues to develop closer to major population centers. It is a great time to be involved in the propane industry, whether you are a customer, supplier, or contractor.

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