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Disappearing Acts

David Copperfield is a popular magician who makes things disappear. At certain moments, when I have been surprised to hear that certain longstanding companies that I’m familiar with have disappeared, I can’t help but think of David Copperfield’s special abilities.

But Copperfield seemingly makes things disappear without a trace. When a fuel marketer acquires another fuel marketer, the name of the acquired fuel company is often retained, for at least a period of time, as a method of preserving identity, customer recognition and customer retention: Preserving a trace.

I have asked some wholesaler representatives about the consolidation that’s been happening. (Wholesaler reps are like the local barber, often knowing more than anyone about what’s going on in the industry.) And I have reached out to some former owners and asked them why they are selling up. I get answers like high medical costs, taxes, wages, owners retiring and the difficulty of retaining help—and of finding help in general. I’m sure that many of you still in the family business have been faced with some of these issues. Help seems to be the #1 issue. It seems that, as more of the industry veterans retire, there are not enough replacements.

It seems also that change in this industry has become somewhat of a challenge for many, but let’s get real, who in their right mind would ever want no change? If that were the case, we would still be hand-writing work orders, filing delivery information manually and doing efficiency tests with the old liquid analyzers.

Let’s be honest, whenever a company is sold, regardless of its type, change is a major part of the transition. There are new people, new ideas, new ownership, management, and new ideas, intended to lead the company down a path of new growth and profitability.  

I’m also learning that more mechanical and oil companies are doing away with their stock rooms that consist of many thousands of dollars in parts and relying on their wholesaler to maintain all their HVAC parts inventory. Some will say they don’t want to have all of their eggs in one supplier’s basket, but I have seen this work very efficiently and with the advent of the bar code systems, very accurately.

Let me say that many of you who know me know that I come from the old school, where there were the old rotary-type burners and older control technology. Believe me I’m in favor of the new technology. I have also tested some of the new prototype equipment and I’m all in.

I believe that you will see the photocell and control will replace many of the CAD cell controls in the near future and that a Babington-type burner will become a reality.

Another area undergoing change is field technical support. Back in the day when a problem arose, the service manager would get a call for assistance. However, since the two-way radios have been replaced with cell phones, techs will call the product technical support line for assistance or refer to YouTube. In closing this article, when it comes to change, I believe that everyone should buy and read the book Who Moved My Cheese. Hint: It wasn’t David Copperfield.

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