The propane industry is complex, with marketers committed to providing a reliable supply of fuel during times of peak demand while always emphasizing safety. That’s why, for CHS, selling propane is more than just moving gallons.
CHS Propane and CHS Energy Equipment encourage their teams to get involved in industry organizations so account managers are not only aware of industry issues, but also working to create change for CHS owners and customers.
“It’s important that our employees engage with state and national industry groups so that they become active participants in the propane industry and advocate for our owners and customers,” says Drew Combs, vice president of CHS Propane.
“Being part of industry associations is a vital part of what I do,” says Mark Porth, CHS Propane account manager who serves on several state boards across his sales territory, such as the Propane Marketers Association of Kansas and the Missouri Propane Education and Research Council, where he is treasurer. “It gives me insight into what’s important to propane marketers in each of the states where I work, which helps me meet customers’ needs.”
Solving Industry Issues
Getting propane to customers is a lot more complex than just moving gallons — it takes a system of production, terminals, pipeline or rail transportation, storage and legislation to make sure customers have the propane they need to warm their houses, power their businesses and dry their crops.
“By being active in the industry, we show that CHS is more than just a supplier of propane. We see ourselves as a valuable part of the equation and want to help the industry move forward,” says Alan Groene, CHS Propane account manager for Wisconsin and Michigan.
Alan serves on the board for the Wisconsin Propane Gas Association (WPGA) and is chair of its newly created supply and infrastructure task force, which is working to educate marketers about supply issues in the state. “Each terminal only has so much storage and terminals run tight in Wisconsin because the state is at the end of a pipeline,” says Alan. “Our group is researching information to get a larger, dynamic view of the propane that comes into Wisconsin to gain a better idea of when there may be shortages in what areas year to year.” Alan and his group will continually report their findings back to the WPGA board and to marketers of the association. “The people we’re educating are industry stakeholders as well as the customers we serve. It’s a way to give back to both the industry and our customers.”
Growing the propane industry requires continuous education and exploration — an effort led by the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC), which provides resources to expand and grow the use of propane through education, training and research.
CHS Energy Equipment sales manager Kenton Sonnenburg serves as chair of research and development for PERC. In this role, he leads a committee that decides which research proposals sent to PERC from people across the industry should be funded.
“We focus on projects that will help the industry grow gallons, which is a top goal of PERC,” Kenton says. Proposal topics span propane uses — from testing the lifetime safety of a valve, to initiatives to implement propane autogas or create efficiency with propane-powered forklifts.
Once a proposal is approved, PERC’s staff takes it from there and research is often completed by a company or university. There are about 40 projects ongoing or in development.
“When I go to PERC meetings, I have to take my CHS hat off and put on my industry hat,” says Kenton. “I have to look at the greater good and keep what’s best for the industry as a top priority.”
The close relationship CHS has with organizations like PERC – where Drew is immediate past chairman – is important. “Companies like CHS, who take part in industry groups, are the companies that are growing and looking for new ways to utilize propane,” says Kenton. “CHS brings expertise in agriculture to these groups and we can help guide what the industry is doing to serve rural customers.”
Getting together with industry colleagues pays off. “Through industry groups, I hear from customers about the challenges they’re having,” says Mike Ende, propane account manager who is on the board of directors for the Colorado Propane Gas Association. “It’s good to get away from your desk to see what people are experiencing, such as their weather patterns. It allows me to have empathy and then I can think about what we’re doing at CHS and as an industry to solve those challenges.”
Participation also builds connections across sales territories. “By taking a leadership role in the industry, I become a trusted partner with other participants and that may turn into a customer relationship,” says Mark.
“The whole industry needs to work together — from producers to marketers to suppliers. Industry groups help build relationships to do that and it’s important for CHS to be at the table,” says Alan.
“Being active in the industry is a win all around,” says Mike. “It’s good for me to learn more about the industry, it’s good for our customers and it’s good for the industry.”