Tom's distinguished career in propane, spanning five decades, makes him an invaluable resource for our clients and the industry. He's done everything from driving bobtails to running marketing and sales for Ferrellgas, one of the largest Propane MLPs in the country. He also founded NRG Distributors, a gas appliance distribution company based in Michigan, which was eventually sold to Ray Murray, Inc. Tom continues to hold a mechanical contractor license and closely follows advancements in propane heating equipment and appliances. He is passionate about packaging all that experience and knowledge into helping our clients figure out ways to grow their gallons.Tom is a frequent contributor to LP Gas Magazine. He facilitates a Benchmarking Council Group for NPGA and is chair of the NPGA Government Affairs Committee. All this activity barely leaves him time to tend to his small vineyard and commercially licensed winery in northern Michigan. Tom also likes to travel to faraway and exotic locales, like our headquarters in New Jersey.
Susan is an unmistakable champion for the heating oil industry who spearheads Warm Thoughts’ Partnership for Realty and Oilheat Success. PRO$ has operated in 9 states to help Realtors overcome obstacles in the sale and marketing of oil-heated homes. Under her guidance, PRO$ has connected with literally hundreds of thousands of Realtors nationwide, coordinating thousands of in-office presentations, appearing at hundreds of trade shows, establishing a recognizable presence on social media, and getting much needed support materials into the hands of real estate agents.
As a former real estate veteran and award-winning top producer herself, Susan is passionate about helping other real estate professionals, and makes herself available all hours of day and night. Utterly authentic, this “Jersey Girl” always finds common ground, whether in the hills of rural Ohio, downtown Baltimore, or toney Greenwich, Ct. She is a master of social media, with over 4,000 Facebook followers, and helped launch Warm Thoughts’ very successful social media consulting program. When Susan is not in the field presenting the PRO$ program, she is passionately committed to saving animals, as founder and president of Rosemarie’s Rescue Ranch, Inc. (rosemariesrescueranch.com)
After years of focusing on growth principally through acquisition, Bottini engaged Warm Thoughts to help aggressively grow its business organically.
Warm Thoughts refocused the Bottini brand, and helped the company put together a sales and marketing plan that emphasized growth in customer count and quality. We executed a new digital strategy, including a new website, SEO, social media and pay-per-click for both full-service and discount brands, which dramatically increased leads and web visits. We helped overhaul sales compensation, implemented training and invigorated customer communications efforts with newsletters, e-blasts, and more. We managed merger communications to maximize retention,drove a surge in budget and auto-pay accounts, and helped increased delivery fees on propane accounts with little customer pushback.
Highlights: Exceeded growth goals in propane and sales accounts, dramatic improvement in customer quality and lead generation, 500% increase in social media engagement—all within client's budgets.
Warm Thoughts manages over 150 websites and digital campaigns for propane, heating oil, and HVAC-related businesses across the country. Access to proprietary data shows us what works best to create experiences that drive leads and communicate your brand in a way that resonates with customers. Data guides us to create impactful “websites that work” with measurable results. Our services include:
Wilson Oil & Propane has evolved from a small oil delivery company to a mid-size diversified energy and home services company that sells oil and propane, HVAC services, duct sealing and discount fuel (in their separate Lawman’s division). Over the years, Warm Thoughts provided strategic and tactical support in the evolution of both the Wilson and Lawman’s brands, engaging a multifaceted modern marketing approach that utilized digital, traditional and social media, sales and customer service training, and coordinated customer communications. We helped pioneer their Homeshield offering, a bundled approach that has supported better new customer retention. They also extended the brand with creative use of truck wraps highlighting their auto-gas and charitable giving programs.
Highlights: 300% increase in customer base, successful launch of propane and discount fuel division, bundled selling approach which has resulted in substantially higher than norm program enrollments (service plan, budget, auto pay, price cap).
Sail Energy is a new consolidator that so far has acquired five propane and oil companies in New England. Sail faced multiple challenges as it sought to create a consistent brand identity while preserving or transitioning local acquisitions. Working with Sail’s executive team, Warm Thoughts crafted a brand strategy for integrating each acquisition that has facilitated significant retention, introduced new product lines and positioned each for growth.
Warm Thoughts executed a complete overhaul of the company websites, launched SEO, PPC and Facebook initiatives, repositioned service plans for profit, utilized direct mail and ambitious customer communications programs and PR.
Highlight: Exceptional retention of acquired customers, cost-effective leveraging of creative across all locations, 300% increase in social media presence, increase in service plan profitability by over $100,000, TV coverage of “spread the warmth” campaign.
Social media is an inescapable factor in our lives, and businesses who fail to tap its power are missing out on a significant opportunity to build their brand, engage with customers, and generate leads. On-line reviews are increasingly influential in attracting new customers. Warm Thoughts has generated tremendous success for clients by understanding how to attract more followers to them, and, even more important, engage . We manage your social interaction, with creative posts created just for you, and strategy honed by our success with dozens of fuel companies. We manage your reputations 24/7. We can also help you tap into very effective advertising opportunities on Facebook and elsewhere. We’ve increased our clients’ effectiveness by over 700% . We have over 300,000 people liking the pages we manage, including the most successful in the propane and oil industry. And we can make your social media presence a source of pride and strength for your company- whether we are doing all the work, or coaching your team.
It is much harder to manage your social presence in a way that impresses your audience and gets them to interact with you. That’s not something your typical customer service rep, or “salesperson who is always on Facebook,” or even marketing director necessarily understands. . It is easy to post items that make you feel good.
Located in southern California, Hyde’s began as a family-owned appliance repair business. Now in its third-generation, Hyde’s has managed to grow their business year after year and continues to celebrate the opportunity to give back to their community with their annual “Celebration of Giving” program.
By partnering with Warm Thoughts for nearly two decades, Hyde’s has improved profitability through service plans, communicated with customers via newsletters, bill inserts, and door hangers and entered the digital marketing space. As a result, they’ve has grown to become one of the region’s largest and most diversified HVAC companies.
CMC is a leading provider of management and services for industry-leading utilities, and one of the few certified Women’s Business Enterprises serving the energy-efficiency industry. Warm Thoughts has provided strategic account management for CMC as it has dramatically increased its footprint and revenues.
Print projects include designing RFP templates, infographics, logos, style guides, sell sheets, cards, brochures, invitations, truck graphics, trade show displays and direct mail. Digital projects include website design, development and maintenance, SEO, reputation management, eblasts and other promotions.
Highlights: Redesign of the CMC Energy corporate website, a re-branding project for the CMC Energy Connecticut site, several projects for CMC’s 40th anniversary (2017) and the acquisition of Clean Markets (2018).
Warm Thoughts has supported Ehrhart's evolution, transitioning the brand to Ehrhart Energy, orchestrating its marketing plan and introducing their tag line,
It's not just business. It's personal. Warm Thoughts dramatically improved the company's digital performance with a new website, effective SEO and pay-per-click campaigns, and expanded social media. We’ve also integrated radio, direct-mail campaigns, newsletters, surveys and eblasts to engage customers across multiple channels and have instituted better tracking to make smarter marketing budget decisions.
Highlights: Successful implementation of a delivery charge that added hundreds of thousands of dollars to its bottom line. Plus 200% increase in website traffic, surge in monthly payment programs, re-balancing of promotional budget more aligned with goals, and reduction of customer losses.
Carroll Home Services has been a success story in a dwindling heating oil marketing in Maryland. And Warm Thoughts has been part of that story for over 10 years.
Warm Thoughts orchestrated sales and marketing plans that resulted in tens of thousands of new customers for Carroll, increased retention, and supported its diversification into HVAC services, plumbing, and propane. We re-branded its Alliance discount division, and supported its significant growth.
Over the years, our efforts have used virtually every tool in the traditional & digital marketing toolbox, including organic social media, PPC, Facebook advertising, eblasts, highly targeted direct mail, billboards and radio advertising. We've conducted market research, trained sales and customer service personnel, and supported the brand transition to CHS when the company was acquired by the Star Group several years ago.
Highlights: successful diversification of business, acquisition of tens of thousands of new customers while driving cost per lead down by 25%, market research that changed approach to HVAC sales.
Parker Gas is a second-generation family business with 5 locations in North Carolina, and a cylinder exchange program called “Rapid Exchange.” As the propane market has come under pressure from heat pump and natural gas conversion, Parker looked to Warm Thoughts to amplify its marketing effectiveness.
Warm Thoughts identified key areas that would be important to improving Parker’s competitiveness. We completely overhauled its website and digital promotional strategy, which has led to a dramatic increase in visits and leads. We substantially improved customer communications by sending a newsletter several times a year to build relationship and positioning with customers to cross sell appliances. Warm Thoughts also helped Parker implement a delivery fee, first testing the concept to give them more confidence, and then managing all customer communications. We also developed a new website with a promotional campaign to significantly increase traffic to their Rapid Xchange business.
Highlight: Helped implement a delivery fee that has netted them hundreds of thousands of dollars.
With 16 locations throughout Louisiana, O’Nealgas needed an agency to pull all their marketing under one roof. With deep experience in the propane industry and an understanding of their customers, Warm Thoughts was the right choice.
O’Nealgas began the process with updating their website from something that looked nice and everybody liked, to a fully optimized marketing tool that would generate business. Our objectives were to help the company grow by acquiring new customers and selling more to their existing customer base. A combination of direct mail, newsletters, digital advertising and social media was deployed to help O’Nealgas achieve their goals, all with a budget that made sense to their corporate structure. Heavily focused on ROI, our efforts have been achieving real results for the past two years.
Energy United is an electric cooperative and the second largest electric utility in North Carolina, serving more than 120,000 homes and businesses. It also owns Energy United Propane, which has multiple locations in both North and South Carolina.
Warm Thoughts was first engaged by the propane division to significantly improve its customer communications and digital marketing. We created a new website, developed a customer newsletter and managed customer communications when it was time to merge one of its acquisitions into the Energy United brand. It also executed an aggressive “Opt-Out” budget plan promotion, which resulted in a 300% increase in plan enrollments virtually overnight!
Based on the success of its efforts, the parent company also engaged Warm to lead a brand review and create a new website for the electric cooperative.
Highlights: Overnight transformation of customer quality, seamless transformation of acquisition with few customer losses, integrated electric and propane digital presence under the single brand umbrella.
Warm Thoughts Breakthrough Groups™ offer the opportunity to learn from our industry’s leading strategists and from top fuel companies as well.
Volatile prices, pressure from conversions, changing customer behaviors, aggressive competition, fewer gallons per customer… Our market is changing as never before. We need to find real breakthroughs that will allow us to thrive in a new world. Breakthrough Groups provide an opportunity to cut through the noise and work one on one with your peers to solve your biggest challenges.
We meet three times a year to share ideas, benchmarks and explore new opportunities in a supportive, confidential and industry-focused environment. Unlike other groups, participation is limited to non-competitors so substantive discussion occurs and honest relationships develop.
Tap into the extensive experience of your facilitators, peers and other experts associated with the program and gain the chance to expand your own horizons and gain valuable insights into the issues you’re facing and achieve real breakthroughs.
Warm Thoughts leads the way in developing and executing state association programs that generate strong results for association executives and members. Considered the leading marketing and communications provider for heating oil and propane associations around the country, Warm Thoughts is:
But don’t take our word for it, read what they have to say:
“Warm Thoughts has been a fantastic partner in helping us maximize our NORA funding. They have developed innovative programs that have exceeded our expectations.”
- Eric DeGesero, Fuel Merchants Association of New Jersey
“Warm Thoughts hit the ball out of the park for us. They basically reinvented our approach to rebates, and in so doing, invigorated my membership, grew gallons and opened our eyes to a new way to approach marketing.”
- John Jessup, North Carolina Propane Gas Association
For companies that offer products and services to the propane, oil or HVAC industries, Warm Thoughts is a tremendous strategic ally. Twenty-five years of experience in the space gives us a unique window into how these companies make choices about vendors and allies and the best ways to reach the right players. Our creative team works wonders to get your products and services to market with the best possible positioning.
Poore’s Propane and Oil in Delaware is principally a propane marketer, which also delivers oil and equipment service through a subsidiary, Service Energy. For years, Poore’s focused on growth through community propane projects and diversification. It is the largest Blue Rhino supplier in the country, offers tank refurbishing, septic system replacement and more. When Poore’s decided to refocus on residential growth, it replaced its agency with Warm Thoughts who put together a new brand strategy, bringing Service Energy under the Poore’s banner to reduce market confusion. Warm Thoughts diagnosed substantial underperformance in its SEO and PPC programs and developed a new website and social media campaign that substantially outperformed its previous efforts. It provided sales and customer service support. Warm Thoughts also designed Poore’s successful service plan and budget program, and supported its tank refurbishing business.
Talking with people in our industry lately has got me thinking back to when I was a kid. I would come home whining to my dad about the trials of youth. “I got benched today, Dad” or “I can’t spin the oil filter off my car” or “She dumped me,” I’d say. (By the way, that last one happened a lot.) Dad would always respond with, “So what are you going to do about it?”
I always remembered these words when I was general manager of the fuel division of one of the country’s most diversified energy and residential services companies. They ring just as true now that I’m consulting with energy companies across the country.
The challenges we face are BIG. There is no shortage of reasons why it’s so difficult to succeed in today’s market. The key question remains, “what are you going to do about it?” And while there are good solutions, you don’t always find them within your own company.
When I first attended a Warm Thoughts Breakthrough Group meeting, I was struck by how different they were from a typical association gathering. I know. I was President of the Del Val Dealers Association not once, but twice (some people might think I’m a glutton for punishment). There is a different level of frankness, because there are no competitors present. And people only join these groups when they are really interested in accelerating their learning curve and finding more innovative solutions – and sharing their experience – warts and all. By the same token, now that I’m moderating some of these groups, I’ve been struck by how many innovative things different companies are doing. Each company seems to have its hands around a few things that are really smart. When you combine that all together, it can be very valuable.
Breakthrough Groups always start off with a series of questions: What are the most difficult challenges you are facing today? What are you doing about it? What’s working and what’s not? At a recent meeting focused on sales and customer service strategies, a bunch of interesting things came up. Here are a few.
Want to make your day less happy? Mystery-shop your company. We made calls to our member’s companies pretending to be interested in an air conditioning tune up. In 70% of the cases, the person answering the phone gaffed in some major way.
Remember the old adage; never quote before showing value. Guess what? In 75% of the cases, when we called as a prospective oil customer and asked, “what’s your price?” the person on the phone simply quoted a number. We said “thanks,” and they said, “have a nice day.”
You cannot win with this approach, unless you are the lowest priced company or you are too busy to sell service. Your people are so bombarded with price shoppers that they treat everyone as if they are going to hang up right away. They treat everyone like coal, so they miss the diamonds. Rather than spending twice as much to generate more leads, get the right salesmanship happening at your company.
Think outside the box when hiring your next rep. We are seeing great levels of success hiring fuels sales reps from outside the industry. One of our members picked up a new salesman from Service Master. He’s lit their world on fire, in part because he was already well trained on selling service plans and programs. Another member, who also brought me in to do sales training for his team, recently scored with a former Owens Corning salesman. Maybe it’s because these guys have a good understanding of how to compare pricing options, or because they’ve learned to succeed in a hyper competitive market, but this sales rep is also lighting it up. And these guys have no hesitation about making outbound calls and “Dialing for Dollars.”
If you have salesmen who are getting mostly salary rather than mostly commission, you would do well to reconsider. When this question was raised recently, the consensus was clear. Every company that moved to a commission heavy structure for either equipment sales or new fuel account sales saw a nice increase in sales. Every single one.
Are you paying people some type of retained gallons agreement? Do they get paid a penny or two on the gallons their customers continue to buy? Our Breakthrough Group members would say, “save the money.” These programs are designed to get salesmen focused on retention or build some ongoing handcuffs. But the truth is, the individual customer is still not worth enough for the salesman to modify his ongoing activities and do proactive retention. Spend the money instead on a monthly bonus structure that escalates their pay when they hit their monthly goals. The trick is to impact on their behavior every month. If they are going to have retention responsibilities, that’s what a partial salary is for. There are some companies however, that are starting to provide spiffs for keeping customers who had called to cancel as well.
While the details vary considerably from one company to another, there is one constant; fuel commission schedules are tiered and based on the value of the account signed. Did the rep bring in a service agreement, EFT, EZ Pay Plan, automatic delivery, etc.? There’s different compensation for each.
But different incentives are not enough. Nothing beats tight management. An automatic account on a fixed price is much more likely to leave after a year than an automatic/budget/service plan/EFT. Over time, this has a HUGE impact on the profitability of your business. So, do you track the quality of accounts and set goals? Do you train them to “sell the package”? Are your customer incentives structured to support this?
In one of our groups, we benchmarked whether customer losses followed particular patterns and what should be done about it. Sure enough, the most substantial drop off occurred in years one and two. Seems like common sense. But it is riveting to see the actual numbers and calculate the impact over time.
The rent-a-customer syndrome has to do with the nature of today’s “shopper” customers, and also the way many new customer deals are structured. Regardless, if you can get them to stay with you for three years or more, you’re much more likely to keep them for many more years to come. So how do you impact this “magic period” to increase the likelihood of retention? What is your strategy to retain them? Do you have a new customer integration process in place?
The ideas about this vary, but everyone agreed it makes sense to focus special attention and resources on this “magic period”. One company designed a very cool “welcome packet” to make a good first impression. They followed that with a “how are you doing” call, which also gave them an opportunity to try to upgrade customers to some additional service and ask for referrals. They sent a customer survey. They partnered with some local companies to give customers a discount at movie theaters and restaurants. They kept track of when their “new customer deal” ended and made another contact before it expired. This was on top of their regular communications, like newsletters, e-letters, etc.
One company did some investigation and found that rather than jump the customer up to their regular price after their deal was over, it made more sense financially to give them something – ½ off an air conditioning service plan, a lower price cap fee, a ouple of $25 coupons. The trick is actually starting to track your losses carefully and the impact of such offers. Sometimes, this “step down” approach is justified, especially in very competitive markets. In other cases, you’d be better off saving that pool of money for the smaller percentage of customers who really need something more to stay.
When you consider the “all-in” the cost of signing a new account is easily between $500 and $800 in most places, spending some to get them over the 2-year hump can be very productive (even if it feels like you shouldn’t have to do it.)
Somewhere in this collection of stones, I hope you found a gem: a concept or process that you can implement today, a reminder of something you already knew or did that may have slipped from your focus, or simply an incentive to act.