Rich founded Warm Thoughts in 1991 and has earned a stellar reputation for creating Breakthrough Marketing™ and sales solutions for hundreds of the nation’s premier residential energy companies and associations. He has been a featured speaker at numerous national conferences, and his columns have regularly appeared in trade publications serving the industry. Outside of work, Rich channels his competitive fire on the basketball court, where he is known for tenacious D, a sweet jump shot, and complete lack of jumping ability. He is an avid explorer, and despite his intense work schedule, he has managed to visit over 40 countries. Rich is a proud graduate of the University of Virginia (Go ‘Hoos) and a former International Vice President of the Entrepreneur’s Organization (EO). He and his wife Laurie raised four children in Montclair NJ.
BEN GUTKIN V.P., Marketing Services
Ben looks for marketing solutions for our clients from every possible angle. Formerly a Fortune 100 marketing executive, he is an online and direct marketing expert who has advised dozens of the nation’s leading energy services companies and associations on improving their web presence, search capabilities, direct response advertising and return on investment during his 20+ years with Warm Thoughts. He has launched and managed dozens of websites, SEO/SEM and broad-based advertising campaigns across the energy industry. He’s also been a featured speaker at industry conferences and meetings across the country. Ben is a self-described health nut, frequently cooking with kale and quinoa and attending daily yoga classes. He grew up in Canada and doesn’t understand all the fuss and complaining about cold weather.
RICH CARRIONE V.P., Operations
Rich is our Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside. Behind the scenes, he manages Warm Thoughts' day-to-day operations, tracks performance metrics and ensures our clients are supremely satisfied with our work. When he's out front, he spearheads the NORA-related work for heating oil associations across the country. And since Warm Thoughts is the #1 provider of NORA programs, there's a ton of it! A 15+ year industry veteran, he's especially proud to be a key strategic contributor to Warm Thoughts' recent explosive growth. Rich's passion outside the office is fishing, which he'll do anywhere there's water. He's fished all over the world, from local waters in New Jersey to offshore excursions in Mexico and Thailand. And that's why he hopes Warm Thoughts' newest clients come from Hawaii and Costa Rica!
ED CARDELL Senior Consultant
Ed brings deep hands-on experience to Warm Thoughts clients, and is a recognized expert in the industry. Prior to joining Warm Thoughts seven years ago, Ed was the General Manager of the heating fuels division of one of the most diversified fuel companies in the country. He guides our clients who want to align sales, marketing and customer service to support increased retention, growth and profitability. He puts together marketing game plans, coaches sales and customer service managers, and delivers exceptionally high-rated training programs. Ed says “I like all aspects of what I do, but I get the biggest kick out of running our Breakthrough Groups- the member’s-only groups of fuel company leaders who strategize and benchmark for success.” When’s he’s not working indoors, you can find Ed cycling, hiking and kayaking, or drinking a good IPA at a bluegrass festival.
Tom Jaenicke Vice President, Propane Marketing Services
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.
Gary Corbett Regional Sales Rep
Gary brings both business development and athletic skills to the Warm Thoughts team. He is a former college basketball star, coach and now – referee. And while travelling may be a foul in basketball – it’s a pretty big part of his role here at Warm Thoughts. As Regional Sales Representative, Gary serves as our brand ambassador across New England, providing solutions that connect the dots to help companies grow their business. When he’s not developing, maintaining and strengthening business relationships, Gary can be found working on his golf swing at courses throughout the Northeast.
Allison Rosenthal Digital Department Director
If a project is digital, it goes to Allison. Whether it’s a website or anything in between, Allison manages all digital projects from inception to launch to ongoing requests. Prior to joining us, Allison had 20+ years of digital experience with consumer products companies in management roles including Digital Marketing Manager, E-commerce Manager and Senior Website Manager, all of which make her especially tuned in to our clients’ needs.
Allison has launched as many as four client sites on the same day. Elon Musk’s SpaceX has a way to go before he can match that launch pace. When she’s not here, you’re likely to find her behind the wheel chauffeuring her three kids around, reading or playing Mah Jong.
Susan Janett Program Director
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)
Michele Asfalg Senior Account Manager
Michele started her career 18+ years ago as an Account Coordinator for Warm Thoughts. Today, she manages and executes diverse projects for many clients. Michele is amazing at keeping projects on track, overcoming obstacles, and has a fierce commitment to getting things right. She is also Warm Thoughts’ go-to party planner, and helps lead our focus on strengthening our internal values and corporate culture. A simple client thank-you is the most satisfying part of her job. Her favorite superhero is Wonder Woman but her favorite role is Super Mom to her two boys. She cherishes the occasional thank-you from them, too.
Mindy Santiago Senior Account Manager
Mindy loves building great client relationships, problem solving and helping our clients with their toughest marketing challenges. A 10 year Warm Thoughts veteran, she works with some of Warm Thoughts biggest clients, keeping multifaceted campaigns on track. She claims to be particularly good at managing Rich Goldberg by persistently bugging him when he is a log jam on some project ( a recurring theme here.) She is a former high school track star and a big Auburn football fan. When asked what she does in her spare time, she said, “I have two young kids. I don’t have spare time!” That explains her favorite drinks: Cuban espresso and good sangria.
Sharla Herbert Senior Account Manager
Although she doesn’t wear them to the office, Sharla’s tap shoes would come in handy as she keeps the marketing rhythm moving with several of our top-tier clients on their digital and print projects. She’s delighted to bring her many years of marketing experience in account management, client services and consultative sales to them. As if you couldn’t tell from her photos, Sharla’s greatest passion outside work is the arts… music, dance and theater. She enjoys Broadway as well as community theater, where she has been active for several decades, as a performer, producer, choreographer and costumer.
Dan Montero Director of Digital Marketing Strategy
Self-admittedly fixated with the marketing industry, Dan looks to tackle our clients next digital, print and multi-media marketing endeavors with a fresh perspective no matter the challenge. He puts a dedicated focus on building strong client relationships, and believes ‘Lol’ should somehow find its way into (most) emails. As a devoted globe-trotter, he’s always looking forward to which stamp will be the next in his passport, and while his beard may turn many shades of grey as a long-suffering Mets fan, at least this George Mason University graduate will always have that 2006 NCAA Tournament Cinderella-run to look back on.
Lauren Mendoza Account Manager
Lauren manages the day-to-day logistics of our oil associations and PRO$ program, which aims to educate Realtors across the country about oil-heated homes. When she’s not coordinating meetings, organizing program files, or maintaining spreadsheets, you can also find her teaching 5-6 Zumba® classes per week. Her love of dancing and music extends far beyond the dance studio. A former member of her college marching band, Lauren plays flute, piccolo, and piano. She’s also frequently spotted singing along at concerts or dancing through Zumba events across the Tri-State area.
Tammi DiMartino Operations Manager
Tammi possesses all the right ingredients to keep our print production, resource management and scheduling, and trade show logistics baking at just the right time and temperature. Previously she worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and was the winner of a Gold Quill Award for Production Management from the International Association of Business Communicators. Her favorite sports teams are the ones her kids are on, including baseball, football, basketball, softball and soccer. Tammi claims her superpower is humor, which is a good thing since she once unwittingly was featured in a bit by David Letterman, “Top Ten Things You Don’t Want to Hear from Your NYC Cab Driver,” when Letterman, posing as a cab driver, didn’t take her where she needed to go in a timely fashion.
Paola Umana Social Media Manager
Paola lives and breathes social media – helping our clients increase followers, improve engagement, and generate goodwill and community connections. She loves the interactive, fast-paced nature of social media. Outside the office, she’s also keeping pace with her dogs – all 5 of them – a German Shephard, Maltese, Cattle Dog Mix, Border Collie/English Shephard Mix, and a Golden Retriever, Chanel (pictured). An avid traveler, she loves exploring new parts of the world, especially Bali and Colombia. She’s always looking forward to adding a new stamp to her passport – with a good cup of coffee in hand!
Kristen Karam Social Media Specialist
Erin Smith Social Media Specialist
Robert Wahlers Senior Copy Writer
If one of our clients’ customers is reading it, it’s likely that Rob wrote it. Rob started with Warm Thoughts 18 years ago after working as a reporter. He has a terrific way of making technical things easy to follow, and understands how to make energy and home comfort interesting to homeowners. He’s written bill inserts, newsletters and direct mail that have reached literally millions of people, and now supervises a team of other Warm Thoughts’ writers. He gets special satisfaction from helping fuel companies—many of them family owned—communicate effectively during crises that seem to pop up every few years. He is also our songmeister, and updates his Warm Thoughts’ version of the “12 Days of Christmas” each year to many laughs, but no recording contract- yet. Rob loves looking after his granddaughter and his favorite quote is by Mark Twain: “Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.”
Melissa Hebert Copywriter
Melissa comes to Warm Thoughts following an award-winning journalism career that included sportswriting and later feature writing with a focus on home and garden stories. She loves the challenge of finding the right words and arrangement of them to make our clients’ sites even better. Away from the office, Melissa takes in Broadway shows and art exhibits with her husband, visits family and friends in her native Connecticut and Ohio, and bakes treats for her Warm Thoughts coworkers.
Paul Deines Copywriter
Paul loves writing and copy-editing engaging content, both digital and print. He enjoys getting to know the history and voice of all Warm Thoughts’ clients. Before joining the WT team, Paul was a freelancer writing about many topics, like travel, men’s grooming, real estate, music, film and – most importantly – craft beer. He twice covered Denver’s Great American Beer Festival as a beer journalist. In his free time, Paul enjoys woodworking, barbecuing, reading great books (like the 100-year-old Shakespeare anthology in his photo) and day-tripping with his wife and daughter.
Kahyo Eguchi Marketing Manager
Warm Thoughts does a lot of marketing work for our clients – but we need to market ourselves too! Kahyo develops the company’s marketing plan, content calendar, and promotions, to share with our clients and prospects. In her free time, you can find Kahyo hiking, exploring a new town, or trying whatever cuisine you put in front of her.
Johanna Coxeter Digital Art Director
When she’s not using binoculars to see long distances, Johanna is envisioning ways to create engaging websites for our clients. During her time at Warm Thoughts, she has become an expert at balancing our clients’ needs to communicate their messages—not only through words, but with visual clarity that increases their sites’ overall impact. She previously was an art director at Book-of-the-Month Club® so she knows the value of a good cover. Johanna’s favorite exercise is lifting a glass of white wine, which may explain her creative bent.
Lauren Zintz Art Director
Before joining Warm Thoughts, Lauren almost gave up her life as a graphic designer to become a zookeeper. We’re glad she didn’t, as she adds design flair and impact to our many client print projects including newsletters, flyers, websites, direct mail and ads. For now, her love of animals is fulfilled through more domesticated pets: a long-haired orange cat named Bubba and a lab mix named Bailee. But you will have to wrestle her like an alligator if you want her to share those potato chips with you.
Todd Scott Graphic Designer
Whether building the perfect newsletter layout, designing an eye-catching ad or making a client’s website burst from the screen, Todd has the sharp skills and discerning eye to tackle any project. He has over a decade of graphic design experience. When he’s not creating awesome work for Warm Thoughts’ clients, Todd enjoys kicking back with a video game, enjoying a movie or cooking a delectable new recipe. On sunny days, you might find him taking a jog or playing with his dog Bowie.
Jake Woodbury Digital Technology Manager
Jake specializes in creating responsive, modern websites for our clients while developing new tools and custom scripts to meet their needs. He’s completed dozens of them in recent years. What else would you expect from somebody who used to develop online games with millions of users? In his free time, Jake does strength training, plays paintball, bass guitar and claims his superpower is ripping phone books in half. Of course, those books are getting thinner and thinner thanks to guys like Jake who are making them obsolete.
Josh Hong Web Developer
Josh is our resident web developer who is especially proud of his computer geekdom. He’s scratching his head because somebody just told him he can take his eyes off the screen and he’s not sure what to do. Off hours, he’s either browsing Reddit or sleeping.
Rod Osloub Jr. Web Developer
Our clients rely on Rod’s web development expertise to create and edit their websites. His skills and hard work ensure that every site functions seamlessly and remains secure no matter what challenges emerge. When he’s not glued to his monitor helping the web development team to refine and improve their processes, Rod is on the field playing soccer or shooting hoops on the court. When he really wants to kick back and relax, Rod applies his technical skills to dominate as a gamer!
Peter Kang SEO Manager
A self-proclaimed SEO warrior, Peter works to find the best keywords to target and coordinates with our team of copywriters to develop a winning content strategy for our clients. He keeps up to date with the constantly changing Google algorithms and trends in search marketing so you don't have to. When he's not at the office crunching data, Peter can be found honing his photography skills. And although he’s a Jersey native, his favorite state is California – whether it’s taking in scenic views of the picturesque Golden Gate Bridge or trekking throughout Yosemite.
Harriet Carlin AR/Executive Assistant
Harriet is our jack-of-all-trades and master of them all. She manages our accounts receivable and coordinates our client Breakthrough Groups, meetings and training sessions as well as several other administrative tasks. When Harriet greets you at our front desk, you can feel her energy. She claims her superpower is nudging, which is especially handy in her position. She leads our office “Take-a-Walk Tuesdays” and away from work you’re likely find her touring museums and historical houses.
Emerlita Paguiligan Accounts Payable
Emerlita is a perfect fit as our Accounts Payable person. Like her photos, you’ll likely find her smiling as she makes sure our vendors are also kept in a good mood but she can be tough when she needs to be. Previously, she worked at a hospital, so she knows what a real emergency is. Off hours, she’s happy watching Filipino telenovelas or taking Zumba classes and takes special pride in her four grown boys.
Katy Woodbury SEO Assistant
Katy optimizes, formats and posts the many blogs written each month by the Warm Thoughts writers. Prior to being a stay-at-home mom for some time, she was Safety Administrator with USF Holland/YRC Worldwide trucking company. With three energetic kids, she loves to find new family adventures. Katy enjoys being out in her garden or in her workshop. Country life suits Katy—and her love of nature—quite well. Her favorite motto is 'Variety is the spice of life.'
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.
Since forming in 2015, Meritum Energy has expanded and diversified to become a leader in the energy industry. Its entities deliver propane, fuels, oils and lubricants from the Southwestern United States to the East Coast. Meritum has been a WTC client since 2019:
We began working with Warm Thoughts a couple years back when we purchased a group of propane/heating oil companies in the Northeast. As a Texas-based energy company, we had no marketing experience in heating oil and HVAC service, or in the customer demographic of that part of the country. The Warm Thoughts team was able to quickly get us up to speed and help us develop a strategy to market these businesses. After successfully building out a series of websites and social pages, and managing all of our digital campaigns and customer communications, it became clear to us that they were a true asset… so much so that we invited them to take over all of our marketing including our large propane business in Texas, and for all of the acquisitions we are moving forward with throughout the southern region. We consider them to be a true partner and a key to our success.
- Casey Wuan, Vice President, Meritum Energy Holdings
This 70-year-old company has doubled in size in just the past six years, with nearly 1,000 five-star reviews online. A full-service industry leader delivering Bioheat SuperPlus™ fuel out of Wilmington, Massachusetts, Cubby has been a client since 2017.
The difference between Warm Thoughts and my previous web company is like night and day. They are driving phenomenal traffic to our site. They do what they promise, are exceptionally responsive, and completely get my business. – Charlie Uglietto, President, Cubby Oil & Energy
Family-owned for over 60 years, Lakes Gas is among the largest propane providers in the Midwest, including Minnesota, Wisconsin and parts of South Dakota. Each of their 48 locations operates with a small-town feel. Lakes Gas came on board with Warm Thoughts in June 2020.
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.
For over 15 years, we’ve helped facilitate this family-owned and woman-run business’s offline and online success. Our efforts have used virtually every tool in the traditional and digital marketing toolbox, including organic social media, PPC, Facebook advertising, eblasts, highly targeted direct mail, TV and radio advertising. We’ve built multiple websites and supported their brand’s transition after their HVAC company was acquired.
We’ve worked with Warm Thoughts for years. They handle our customer newsletters and our online marketing. Our newsletters have been a great reminder about what Needham provides, and it keeps the Needham brand on the top of their minds! They are always adding new content and blog posts to my website, keeping it fresh and making sure we stay on the top of the search engines. They really do a great job.
The oil and propane industries are under attack in many states by those who want to “electrify everything.” This approach is flawed and counterproductive. Warm Thoughts is helping to lead the fight to keep your fuel in the energy mix going forward.
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:
the number one provider of NORA-funded programs in the heating oil industry, working with more than a dozen associations
the choice of the most proactive propane associations who are exploring how best to grow gallons
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.
I don’t know about you, but doesn’t it feel like the pace of change in our business is only accelerating? I’ve been working with fuel dealers for over 30 years now. We’ve faced big challenges over that time – wars, price spikes, temporary fuel shortages, regulatory attacks – but the sheer pace of change on multiple fronts seems to be increasing. Changing consumer buying behaviors. New mobile and digital technology. Bio and Ultra Low Sulphur fuel. Shrinking gallons. Shrinking pool of good drivers and techs. Insurance companies dictating changes. Banks dictating changes. Government dictating changes. Oil hedges. Weather hedges. Benson and Hedges. You get the picture. You get it because you live it.
Several years ago, a couple of great Connecticut guys, Craig Snyder and Sam Gault, asked me to help them and Jim Townsend put together a small group of non-competing fuel companies that could benchmark with each other, share good ideas and learn from each other’s mistakes.
From that acorn, Warm Thoughts Breakthrough Groups™ have grown. We now have over 60 participants from 12 states, meeting in six groups, with the largest contingent coming from Connecticut. We expect two more groups will form this year.
The groups meet two or three times per year, made up of non-competing, similar-sized companies. They spend a couple of days serious idea sharing punctuated by some good laughs and fun, animated with a spirit of helpfulness and a disdain for BS. While individual discussions are confidential, I’m happy to give some insight into the broad themes that we cover.
The new heating oil, 15ppm plus Bio, is a game changer. In states already at 15ppm, members are reporting a significant drop in service calls per degree day, including night calls. Will you still need to do your tune-up annually, or could you get customers to agree to do it at every 1,000 gallons? Will you be able to reduce your tech-to-customer ratio, or should you use that reduced workload to allow techs to spend more time in the home generating a larger number of leads? Should you reconsider how you price service plans, or what your plans cover? And in any case, if you are mixing Bio and Ultra Low, you’d better look closely at your additive package.
Sales weakness is one of our industry’s deadly sins. Effective salesmanship seems to be as rare in our industry as under-regulation is in the state of Connecticut. Members seem to be enamored by lots of the new marketing technology – CRM systems, digital/social/mobile, etc., which are definitely cool. But what they’re tracking is that their salesmanship bites. If you are a full-service dealer, you need to pay more attention to how your phone is answered, what they say, how they say it, and what happens after they hang up the phone.
In particular, it is worth monitoring the percentage of new customers who enroll loaded with budget/service plan/autopay. These make a big difference in how many will still be with you three or four years later. Likewise, it’s hard to expect a typical CSR to effectively sell new accounts in a very competitive market. There’s also been a big debate about the virtue of outies vs. innies (outside sales people vs. inside.) The innie faction seems to have won this battle, though shifting this way exposes a vulnerability to property transfer losses. And no matter what, it pays to reexamine how you are paying those you hope will grow your company.
There is a shift happening in our workforce that could be an opportunity or challenge. Many of you have employees who have been with you for years. That’s good. Except when it isn’t. For those of you who are trying to evolve and grow, it’s hard when you’re dealing with people who are perfectly comfortable doing things the way they’ve always done them. If you recruit new blood, you have the opportunity to add energy and new thinking. At the same time, the younger workforce marches to the tune of a different drum. Also, some positions are once again difficult to fill – especially drivers and techs. There has been a lot of talk about initiating apprenticeship programs, building relationships with training schools, using ad campaigns to recruit seasonal drivers, etc.
Diversification is a great concept, a smart move, and a tricky thing. Many of our members are confronting the reality of shrinking gallons by finding other things to sell their loyal customer base – propane, broader HVAC services, insurance, alarms, energy efficiency, you name it. But while they may have the skills and the customers, it’s not so simple. Often, the new baby faces opposition from the kids already there, especially if you divert resources to fund the new venture. Don’t expect all employees to be as excited as you are about your new business lines – they can feel threatened and simply don’t want to learn new tricks. Moreover, some businesses, like HVAC, really require more attention to labor utilization, cost estimating, aggressive selling, etc. than many fuel companies are used to doing.
We tend to misunderstand how much our CSR’s can handle – the new complexity especially falls on them. And don’t expect customers to simply flock to you. There will be low hanging fruit, but you have a brand and promotional challenge. While customers may think you are an awesome fuel company, that doesn’t mean you’re a great choice for the new stuff. You need to tell a new story, and do more promotion than you expect. Taking time to really anticipate the challenges, and figure out a strategy to engage your people behind the vision, get them trained and excited, really matters. Your culture could be your greatest asset, or worst liability.
What other interesting things have people done? What haven’t they? Built in-house “universities” to strengthen training and culture; rebranded their companies and changed their names; started using tank monitors to improve delivery efficiency; started using business intelligence software to track key metrics and react more quickly; surveyed their employees and used it as a basis for changing management approach; got into energy efficiency; got out of energy efficiency; bought companies; did joint ventures; invested more heavily in digital marketing; shifted service contracts to service plans; gone on flat rate; instituted delivery fees; restructured their companies; changed sales compensation; changed insurance companies; changed banks. Changed them again.
The reality is that in our challenging industry, whether by necessity or by virtue of great vision, companies are taking innovative steps to navigate the choppier waters. By learning from each other – the good, the bad and the ugly – you can accelerate your learning curve, gain valuable allies, avoid costly mistakes, and increase the chances that your boat will find safe harbors.
For more information about Warm Thoughts Breakthrough Groups™, you can contact Ed Cardell at 201-906-1103, or email him at email@example.com.