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.
In the last six weeks, the news verified the casualties of the winter that wasn’t. In Massachusetts, the media reported the closing of a discount fuel company that kept tens of thousands of dollars of customer pre-buy money when it shut its doors. A different story didn’t make the papers, but was important news nevertheless. In New York, one of the more prominent members of the oil heat community was taken over shortly before it could make the same kind of headlines. This was no fly-by-night discounter, but an esteemed full-service dealer with an association pedigree, several generations in business and thousands of customers. They were taken over with little to show but the avoidance of an ugly public mess.
This second example, the one that didn’t make headlines, is the more cautionary tale for most of you who run “full service” businesses. It falls into the category of “Wow, if that could happen to a company like that, everyone is vulnerable.”
The fact is, there is little margin for error these days and our markets are changing at an accelerated rate. I started our breakthrough groups because I thought we all needed to get smarter, faster. We needed to break out of our comfortable surroundings so we could break through our challenges. And one of the best ways to do that is to tap into the knowledge and experience of our peers and facilitators, unencumbered by the concern that a competitor might be listening.
I received enough positive feedback from my last article that I was asked to share some more of the lessons/ideas that have come up in our groups. So here’s a couple more.
Some of you have concluded that if your business is going to survive, much less thrive, you’ve got to reinvent your approach to business – particularly your service departments. You can no longer afford having them only to subsidize your fuel margins. You need to break even at worst, and, even better, start generating real profits.
This makes sense on several levels. While price sensitivity to oil has risen, many dealers find that customers are much more tolerant of higher service charges. Moreover, you can start competing for other business outside of your own oil footprint – whether it’s a/c installs, gas and heat pump service, plumbing, etc.
All these things are doable – but they are not necessarily doable with your current team. This topic came up hot and heavy at one our groups, which has a special focus on business diversification. According to several of the guys who have aggressively gone down this path, the issue is not so much a mismatch of skill sets, but a mismatch of attitudes. Skills can be learned. But many of you have employees who are stuck doing things “the old way.”
You have service techs who can’t be bothered to recommend new equipment, implement flat rate or sell service plans – all the things that are the “bread and butter” of profitable stand-alone HVAC companies. More important, many of you have service managers who are bottlenecks to making any real change happen.
Make a real commitment to helping your team get on the same page. One of our guys does a weekly meeting with his techs, come hell or high water. He has brought in trainers to help them learn new communication skills and people skills. He makes the equipment salespeople participate in the meetings and give updates on what’s happened to every lead the techs provide. He sends them to school to upgrade their technical skills. You get the picture. And while this has really transformed his team and led to a 50% increase in HVAC billings over three years, the naysayers remain, and it brings down the team.
So, it boils down to this. At a certain point, if you can’t change the people, you’ve got to change the people. Evaluate whether they are really suited for the world to come. This goes for your CSRs, your salespeople and anyone else in your business. Help them make the transition as much as you can, but if they can’t or won’t, you owe it to yourself and to the rest of your team to make changes. If you don’t, your naysayers will be an anchor that slows down the rest of the team.
Implement a smarter spiffing program. Many of you are starting to incent your techs for generating leads. This makes good sense and is a core practice of successful HVAC companies. The question is how to do that most effectively. One company had a breakthrough that increased effective lead generation (leads that end up in actual sales) by 30%. What did they do?
In the past, they would spiff their techs $50 on any lead that turned into a new furnace or boiler. This can work pretty well if you train the techs properly about how to interact with customers to generate the right kind of lead, and make sure your equipment salespeople keep the techs updated on the status of the lead. Otherwise, a credibility gap emerges; the techs start losing confidence and they revert to form.
So what was the breakthrough? One company started giving techs $25 just for generating the lead – sale or no sale. The catch? They needed to call the office from the customer’s house and put the customer on the phone with the salesman or sales coordinator. Lead generation and closed sales shot up 30%. Why? Because if a tech is going to get a customer on the phone at their house, you can bet there was a good reason for the recommended upgrade and that he talked with the customer about it (and his credibility really helps). The tech’s income is no longer tied to the performance of the salesman, which removed several obstacles. And the sales rep is able to strike while the iron is hot. Lastly, it eliminates some tracking complexity. The result was a big win for the company, on multiple levels.
If you’ve got to make your money count, count your results. Too many of you are making important marketing decisions based on a good guess. And guess what? Those guesses usually aren’t so good. I know because I spend a great deal of time showing our clients how their assumptions turn out to be off, sometimes way off.
Two meetings back, one of our members described an ongoing disagreement he was having with his father about newspaper ads. His dad was a big believer and had been for years. His son, not so much – at least not any more. The only way he convinced his dad was to put a special phone number on his newspaper ads, which not only allowed them to see the number of calls but also to listen to them.
And here’s an extra kicker. His CSRs weren’t really finding out what prompted the callers to call. So all the data that they had been going by in order to figure out what had been working was clearly junk.
I can’t tell you how powerful it is to look at your leads objectively, and listen to how your salespeople and CSRs handle them. Often, you can vastly improve your results without spending another cent. And you can focus your marketing dollars where they will do the most good.
Richard Goldberg is one of the energy industry’s leading marketing experts. For over 20 years, his award winning firm, Warm Thoughts Communications, Inc., has advised the nation’s premier residential heating oil, propane, and HVAC companies on ways to improve their marketing, sales and customer retention.
You can reach Richard Goldberg online or call 201‑330‑9276