One year after taking its first step into the propane business by opening a bulk plant in western Connecticut, Jennings Oil & Propane is far ahead of its projections for the business, says Jeff Jennings, president of the company, and co-owner.
An undeveloped parcel, approximately one acre in the Gaylordsville section of New Milford, Conn., had been owned by the company for many years. Likewise, Jennings said, the family had discussed venturing into the propane business for many years but waited till they felt the time was right. “We started talking about propane twenty years ago,” Jennings says, but they wanted to feel comfortable about financial and managerial resources before making the move.
Operational costs for a propane operation are considerable, Jennings notes, one of them being the purchase of propane tanks for installation at customers’ residences. The list price for a 120-gallon “tank package”—with regulator—is currently close to $700, says John Stietzel, propane operations manager. The company also had to invest in a crane truck for installing and moving customers’ tanks, and two bobtail trucks for deliveries. One of the trucks, purchased used, was fitted with a new barrel by Amthor Welding Services at its site in Gardiner, N.Y.
The company also hired a driver, Tom Schoeller, who makes propane and fuel oil deliveries.
One factor in favor of venturing into the propane business was the company’s long experience, and comfort, with bulk storage of heating oil. “We own and operate an oil terminal in Danbury, so we’re used to bulk storage,” Jennings says. The company rebuilt its oil terminal in Danbury, Conn., about a dozen years ago. Capacity was increased to 175,000 gallons of heating oil and 50,000 gallons of diesel, from approximately 60,000 gallons of heating oil, Jennings says. The number of loading stations was increased to four, from one, he adds.
The decision to build the bulk propane terminal was also prompted by the operational advantages it would create. “We wanted control of our own supply,” Jennings says. “The advantage of bulk storage is it gives us a cushion in winter. We fill the tanks before October.”
Other motivations included customer requests for propane service, and a propane trend in new construction. Jennings says residential construction in the area features propane for heat, hot water and cooking, as well as for running appliances such as refrigerators and dryers. Home builders like the versatility that propane provides, Jennings says.
The company makes propane supply runs to Selkirk, N.Y., and to an Inland Fuel terminal in central Connecticut. “It’s important to build relationships with suppliers,” Jennings says.
The new terminal features two 30,000-gallon tanks, and a two-story, 1,600-square-foot office building. Planning authorities in the town required the office building. “It was not fully our choice,” Jennings says, “but we don’t have enough office space in Danbury” so it worked out as a benefit.
The site was designed so that tankers can pull in, offload, and drive out following a one-way route encircling the terminal—no backing up required. John Bardin, who was long in charge of heating oil delivery, has been made plant manager of the new site.
Jennings Oil & Propane served as its own general contractor for the project, but a key subcontractor was Crown Energy Solutions of Windham, Mass.
The cost of developing the property, including the cost of the land, was approximately $1 million, Jennings says. The terminal opened in September 2017.
The site fills consumers’ bottles as well. To get the word out about the new site, which is alongside Route 7, a state road, Jennings Oil & Propane did mailings to residents of New Milford and nearby communities Kent and Sherman, and held a grand opening.
The Jennings family has been in the fuel business for several generations. Jeff Jennings’ father, Alfred, owned a fuel company with two partners before starting Jennings Oil in the mid-1980s, Jeff Jennings recounts. Jennings Oil started as a discount oil company with one truck that picked up oil and delivered it to customers. Jeff’s mother, Linda, helped run the family business out of their house in Danbury. “My father had ownership of an oil terminal in Danbury,” Jennings says, and after a time he made the tanks operational. Jeff, who has a degree in mechanical engineering, joined the family company in the mid-1990s after working as an engineer. The company had grown to six oil trucks by the mid-1990s, and it expanded into service and equipment installation and oil tank removal.
With the hiring of David Westerfield as service manager, the company expanded into AC installations and service.
Jennings’ parents retired about 15 years ago. Today, Jeff Jennings is a co-owner with his brothers Bob and Alfred Jr. (known as Skip). Their father continues as a source of information and advice, Jennings says.
The company now has 25 employees, having evolved from a discount oil company to a full-service oil and propane and AC company today.—Stephen Bennett
PICTURED (top): John Bardin, propane plant manager (left) and John Stietzel, propane operations manager, with the propane service truck.
PICTURED (bottom): A propane delivery truck operated by Jennings Oil & Propane.
Photos by Stephen Bennett