Those of you on the fuel oil side of the business probably know the New England Fuel Institute, known by most as “NEFI.” If your company is a heating oil retailer in the Northeast, your company is, or at one time has been, a member of this association, writes columnist Shane Sweet:
NEFI has been in the fight for a long time: It celebrated its 75th anniversary in December.
Six months ago, NEFI hired well-known heating oil and propane industry member Sean Cota as its new CEO. Cota, whose family has been in the heating oil and propane business in Vermont and New Hampshire since 1941, left the family business some years back, where he was the president and CEO, working side-by-side with his brother Casey for years following their father’s retirement. He’s worn many hats over the years, including chairman of NEFI from 2008-2010, chair of the Petroleum Marketers Association of America (PMAA), board member of the National Oilheat Research Alliance, and president of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association, to name a few.
NEFI, long a “heating oil only” regional trade association based in eastern Massachusetts, has had to contend with a changing industry, including consolidation of independent heating oil retailers, a clear prejudice against heating oil by government policy wonks and lawmakers, and the migration of many heating oil retailers into the propane business.
NEFI is a so-called ‘federation model’ association and has been so for decades. Unlike some of the national trade associations catering to the petroleum sector that engage their target fuel retailers directly, NEFI relies on the state heating oil associations for its dues-collecting base. Generally, the state heating oil associations of New England collect dues from retail heating oil dealers and then send those funds to NEFI. In some cases, state heating oil associations in New England required member heating oil retailers of the state association to also be members of NEFI, though changing market conditions have generated some variation in the arrangements over the years.
NEFI in recent years has also engaged members of the heating oil industry directly for support. On paper a six-state federation, NEFI has in the past had members in over 20 states, ranging from heating oil retailers in non-New England states to hundreds of “associate” member companies that sell products and services to retail energy marketers.
Recently I caught up with Sean and asked him how things are going.He obliged me with highlights from his to-do list. In no particular order:
- Engage retail heating oil marketers that benefit from NEFI’s work on both legislative and regulatory fronts; get these companies to support NEFI’s work as dues-paying members.
- Develop a suite of benefits for energy retailers and non-retailers alike, to get them involved and gain their support. Think dues, sponsorships, education and training classes, participation in the NEFI trademark events like its Expo, and its historically strong member services (a.k.a. “affinity programs” i.e., dental, health insurance, et al).
- Restore the association’s personnel and skill sets to prior levels.
- Structure its legislative and regulatory machine to support and augment the work of Jim Collura and Mark S. Morgan, Esq., NEFI’s legislative and regulatory experts, respectively.
- Expand communications, re-think strategy for message delivery, leverage technology, and reach out to a broader audience that matches its deliverables.
- Rebuild the Institute’s education plan to anticipate and meet the needs of retail energy marketers. The so-called “160 Hour Oilheat Technicians’ Course” had long been the footing for year-round education efforts; the relocation from the Institute’ Watertown, Mass., location, which predated Sean’s arrival, left NEFI without its signature on-site oilheat training lab.
- Establish relations with other groups with similar concerns and re-establish relations with trade associations in the region and beyond.
I’ve known Sean for 30 years. Being familiar with his M.O. as it pertains to work, I asked if he was getting any sleep his first six months in. Acknowledging that he had not left the office much, he responded with his textbook Yankee wit, “I’ve been under house arrest.” Contact him at email@example.com.
PICTURED: Sean Cota
Photo courtesy of New England Fuel Institute.