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.
By Richard Goldberg
I’ve spent over a quarter-century focusing on the dynamics that shape the residential energy industries and their customers. That’s hard for a guy to contemplate, especially one who doesn’t think of himself as over 23 in his own mind.
During the years, there have been plenty of times when the Chicken Littles have sounded their alarms that the oil heat sky is falling. But this time, it feels different, doesn’t it? For those of you who sell oil, doesn’t it feel like the industry is weary? Weary of fighting an eight-front war against competing fuels, declining gallons, unfavorable government policies and regulations, volatile markets, difficult customers, dwindling infrastructures, unhappy banks – and frankly – each other.
The weariness shows up in declining attendance at trade shows; in the constant struggle for associations to engage active members; in the number of companies contemplating selling; and in the general tone of pessimism that has crept into conversations about the future of the product.
Maybe, as one client said recently, this is how it felt to be a goal company observing the accelerating growth of heating oil, and struggling with the decision to stay the course or embrace change.
No one has a corner on the best way to play the future trends. But I have had the good fortune of focusing on this with some of the best companies in the industry through our Breakthrough Groups. The picture that is emerging from them is insightful. By design, the companies who participate have already decided they need to evolve, diversify, and improve. Based on recent discussions, if I were running a heating oil based company, here are some of the things I would be paying attention to right now:
Diversification offers a good road forward; but it is not without potholes
If it were easy making money selling general HVAC services, plumbing, insulation, energy audits, you name it, we’d see a lot more big successful companies in that space. The fact is, it’s hard, and often involves the kind of hyper-focused attention to labor management, flexible pricing, and hard core sales and marketing that duel dealers traditionally have neither embraced nor excelled at.
Of course, you do bring some real advantages to this party – namely, strong relationships with an existing bases of customers, good name recognition in the community, better access to capital than most of the competition, technical strengths in some of these areas, and stability.
But there are disadvantages too. Here are the ones that our group members have identified, and are trying to address:
You are well known, but you are known for the wrong product. You need to get the public to see you as more than a heating oil company. (By the way, if your marketing agency suggests you put in your ads, “We are more than just a heating oil company,” fire them. Email me if you want to know why.)
Your legacy business can get in the way of your new ventures. Some of you are so afraid of offending our existing fuel base, you constrain promotion. This happens especially when companies are moving into propane or discount oil, or start doing installations of gas fueled appliances. Do you make sure your customer base knows you do conversions, or do you bury it on a statement somewhere? Do you use your own trucks for discount deliveries? Do you change your name, or operate a business under a different one? Do you charge your oil customers the same way as you charge non-fuel?
It turns out that there are multiple ways to do this dance. But many of you tend to see thinks in black and white, or import your old sacred cows into the new business. This “in the box” thinking really undermines your ability to approach these new opportunities as they need to be played. The companies that are successfully diversifying are very conscious of this tendency, and do a good amount of self-examination and benchmarking to reveal their blind spots. It is one thing to say we’re now a “total energy company.” It’s another to actually think it deep in your organizational bones and act from there.
Many oil companies have developed an intrinsic conservatism over the years. Because it is so hard to find new oil customers, they are now more motivated by fear of upsetting their apple carts than by the opportunity to find some oranges, bananas, and god forbid, papayas. We do not embrace experimentation easily, and equate it with risk.
Most fuel dealers have spent years developing a culture that takes pride in “coming through for our customers no matter what.” You go through crazy situations to keep people warm. You bend over backwards so much that Gumby is jealous.
Unfortunately, that approach, while admirable, is insufficient to win in an environment with fewer gallons per customer, more aggressive competitors, and, most importantly, a customer base that increasingly wants more than just “great service.”
My friend David Singer (Robison Energy, Westchester, NY) aptly characterized this challenge after sitting through a day of group discussions. “We have traditionally managed to margin and customer satisfaction rather than to profit. If we handled the first two, the third generally worked out. That doesn’t work anymore, because our real margins are increasingly constrained, and great customer service is not enough to defend against everything we are up against.”
Instead, our groups are finding that you need to get much better at managing the details of your business – particularly the performance metrics that are the early warning signs of profit saboteurs. For that to happen, however, you need to be able to get better business intelligence. You need to act quicker as our winters seem to be getting more condensed, and there’s less margin for error. And, as your business gets more complicated through diversification, these needs increase.
There’s a terrific product called BRITE, (BRITEinfo.com) from the guys at Angus Performance Advisors (a subsidiary of Angus Energy). It enables you to quickly and easily see what is actually happening in your business, so you can take action faster. We’ve been involved in marketing it, and I’ve been extremely impressed by its capabilities.
“If you can’t change the people, change the people.” Craig Snyder, who is doing big things at Wesson Energy in Connecticut, first introduced this at one of our group meetings, and it’s worth keeping in the forefront. Craig has led a huge transformation of that company from a traditional oil supplier to diversified energy firm that also sells propane, general HVAC services, and is a leader in the home efficiency space. He has come face to face with the practical difficulty of getting members of his team to embrace a different kind of future. He’s responded by investing significant resources in training and communicating the new vision. And it has resonated deeply with many on his team. But not with everyone. And he’s had to let them go.
You can’t be afraid to change your people, if the people can’t, or won’t change. Several of our members ran headlong into this when they finally started evaluating their sales compensation plans, and realized they were legacies of a by-gone day. Sort of like a three martini lunch. Great to reminisce about, but it just doesn’t work anymore.
In each case, they ended up replacing between 75%-100% of their equipment or fuel salesmen. And in virtually every case, sales increased substantially.
You need to give your team the tools, training and time to evolve. But don’t underestimate how threatening change is to some people. The problem is that you cannot afford to stand still and accommodate their fear. Because the dangers of inertia are multiplying, and the wolves are at the door.