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WILSON OIL AND PROPANE GROWS AND EVOLVES WITH THE MARKETPLACE

Written on: March 6, 2024

Whether you seek heating oil, propane or HVAC services in the Delaware Valley of Pennsylvania, New Castle County in Delaware and Gloucester and Salem Counties in New Jersey, Wilson Oil and Propane would like to talk to you. A quick read of customer reviews makes it apparent that many customers are pleased with Wilson’s services. “More people are looking for a one-stop shop for home heating and cooling needs,” says David O’Connell, the company President. “We have a stable team that has been taking care of customers in this area for a long time.” O’Connell told Trending in Propane that evolving with needs of the marketplace and having a team of 33 seasoned employees that feels like a large family has helped Wilson Oil and Propane grow successfully.

While the concept of good customer service has been a constant, much has changed since 1926 when the company received its first order for its main product, coal. Lumber supply was also a major product in the early days. When heating oil came out in 1931, Wilson Oil was an “early adopter,” offering the new fuel to its customers. The company’s first oil terminal was built in 1942 using old railroad tank cars.

Wilson was once again “ahead of the curve” when it expanded into the air conditioning business in 1945. Since then, HVAC systems have become more energy-efficient and Wilson has installed thousands of AC systems throughout southeastern Pennsylvania. The implementation of two-way radios in service and delivery trucks and installation of a 100,000-gallon oil terminal were additional milestones in the 1960’s. Wilson made several acquisitions of smaller companies in the region that shared their commitment to customer service.

O’Connell and wife Betsy became the third generation to join the company’s leadership in 1996. “With natural gas conversions growing in suburban Philadelphia, a company that once reached annual sales of 10 million gallons of heating oil in the 1980’s had lost a lot of that volume,” O’Connell said. “To rebuild sales volume, we have worked to enhance our service and product offerings, instituted our Quality Check program to ensure customer satisfaction and expanded into propane in 2008.” Shoring up the heating oil business and adding propane to the mix helped the company build back up to four to four-and-a-half million annual gallons (weather permitting) have been a result.

“Wilson Oil and Propane has continued to embrace new technologies to better serve our customers,” O’Connell said. “We were one of the first companies in our area to computerize our delivery fleet and we hold the distinction of being the first company in the area that enabled customers to have instant online access to their accounts.”

EMBRACING TECHNOLOGY

O’Connell has worked hard to improve efficiency through technology. “Benchmarking with our peers who also want to advance and not just operate as things were always done in the past has been valuable,” O’Connell said. “Benchmarking has been good for achieving good tank agreements, reducing mistakes, and to a large degree, learning about what forms of technology are working for our peers to make them more effective.”

In addition to meeting with other marketers, O’Connell and his team have been instrumental in working with software developers to create the ideal software tools they really need to run the company. In 2005, Wilson Oil and Propane switched software providers only to find out shortly thereafter that this new technology company was purchased by the one he just left. Dismayed at these prospects, O’Connell partnered with Saul Cohen who previously worked in technology and the fuel delivery industry. Cohen had recently joined Cargas Systems, a Microsoft Partner and software solutions company based in Lancaster, PA. “We were the first customer of what eventually became Cargas Energy and played a key role sharing what we really needed in an energy software package to make it workable,” he said. O’Connell commended Cohen and the Cargas team who worked diligently to create an ideal program that was browser based and included real-time mobile applications for Wilson Oil and Propane. As the Cargas Energy solution matured it was gradually rolled out to other fuel delivery and HVAC service providers in the country and has become one of the premier partners serving the market.

“Tank monitors have been a big improvement for us in routing efficiency as well as customer service,” he said. “Computerizing trucks has really helped us improve our consistently evolving day-to-day operations.” O’Connell is pleased with an online portal for customers to pay bills. “In addition, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is now able to look at delivery history to help forecast for higher drops.”

MARKETING

“As the company has evolved, the marketing process has evolved with it,” O’Connell said. “We’re doing more direct marketing and a lot of it is digital with email and digital advertising in general.” O’Connell believes that focusing on customers becoming “stickier” to them has been successful. “Getting customers on programs such as auto-delivery, auto-pay, service agreements, price-protection and monthly payment plans is key,” he said. “Studies have shown that customers on these programs are likely to stay with the company an average of 10 years while customers not on these programs cuts life expectancy to as low as one year.” In addition, he notes that customers on these programs with tank lease plans help to significantly build the value of the company. “The EBITDA numbers are much higher when these companies sell,” he said.

EMPLOYEES

“We’ve been fortunate to have a stable team,” O’Connell said. “It’s important to have a good culture. There are always things that can be better. It is harder and harder to find good service employees when we need to hire but I feel our culture works to our advantage.”

He noted that a big key to a successful culture is addressing issues quickly that are bothering people. “It is not good to allow a morale problem to develop. Letting an issue that is bothering people fester will only lead to a morale problem,” he said. “Today’s society of social media involves a lot of bad-mouthing anonymously on-line. You don’t want to let problems fester for employees or customers. It’s best to address them directly, head-on and fast!”

PROPANE’S FUTURE

O’Connell is concerned about various challenges propane faces in many states in the northeast, especially New York and Massachusetts. “Programs that provide ‘free money’ to put in heat pumps are ridiculous,” he said. “Customers and most Americans don’t want to be told what to buy and who from. We’ll need to continue to sell the non-toxic, low carbon environmental benefits of propane to be successful.”

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