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The Winter We Wanted?

In the home energy industry, marketers are always hoping for a long cold winter. This year that wish came true, but for many it may have been a little too cold. The stories are starting to come out about will-call customers being told it would be three weeks to get fuel or the companies who had customers on hold for hours. As usual, when it gets extremely cold, the gas companies shut off their biggest users and the burden of supplying commercial and industrial accounts fell on the distillate and propane industry. Once again in an emergency, our industry came through.

Lines at terminals were long, trucking capacity had reached its limit in several areas, high fuel prices stretched credit lines, new drivers were impossible to find and the equipment seemed to be breaking more frequently due to the extreme cold. I can’t remember a season where there were as many hours of service waivers granted, and for some periods there were over thirty states with waivers in place. With all the difficulties that marketers encountered, there were also some great success stories.

It seemed that over the past few years customers, particularly the millennial generation, were focusing more on online will-call purchases. This year, many homeowners realized the value of automatic delivery and smart marketers took advantage of the opportunity. One of those marketers was Michael Magnone from Hunt’s Point Fuel Corp. in the Bronx. I am on Michael’s email list, as are almost all of his customers. Every couple of weeks during the extreme cold, an email went out titled “Top 6 Reasons To Enroll In Automatic Delivery.” I called Michael to see how effective the emails were and he told me that he had converted close to 5% of his will-call customers to automatic delivery and calls are still coming in every day. He said it was easy to send the email blasts and it only took a few minutes to set it up. He said he will see benefits for years to come.

Another friend who has a propane and fuel business in Massachusetts sent me the following: “Recap of historic 2-week cold blast from 12/25/2017 thru 1/8/2018.”

My friend continued, “Weather was 36% colder during 2 weeks that included 2 Holidays, 2 Sundays and 1 major snowstorm.  826-degree days accumulated, averaging 55 per day equates to a 2-week average temperature of 10 degrees!    On 1/2/2018 within the 1st 15 minutes with 6-7 people answering phones we missed 45 calls!  By the end of the day we had answered well over 700 calls.  More than 15% of customer base.  On the service side we were at over 300 homes for everything from installations to no heat calls.” And he added, “Most important statistic is that we took care of our customers!”

I have asked several marketers how they did through the winter. All of them had some individual issues but, overall, they did well and took care of their customers. Some even grew their customer base as not every marketer was able to meet their customers’ needs.  There were two common threads for the successful marketers I spoke with and that was their employees and their leadership. The employees came through to service the customers and many worked for weeks without a day off.  Owners and managers also led by example and many drove trucks or pulled hoses to get through the difficult times.

As of this writing, reports are that Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow and we will have six more weeks of winter. I am sure many marketers will be glad for the extended winter, however many will also be anxiously waiting for spring to come.

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