Yesterday, we told you about how the first two steps of switching to propane were all about assessing your goals and evaluating your fleet. The next part of the transition is finding your propane retailer and then reaping the benefits from this innovation within your company
Step 3: Find a propane retailer
In years past, landscapers only had the option of turning to a propane retailer to help them in their shift from a gas fleet to a propane fleet, but now they also have the option of turning to many OEMs.
More than 150 propane mower models are now produced by 14 manufacturers in a variety of configurations, including zero-turn and stand-on units, according to Jeremy Wishart, director of off-road business development for the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC).
“Going to your propane retailer is a great place to start,” Wishart says. “They certainly are your best ally in this process. They’ll help you out by putting all the puzzle pieces together, but if you’ve got a dealer that you prefer to work with who you’ve got a long history with, most dealers now are well-versed in propane mowers, propane engines and most of them have access to brands that can get them an OEM propane model.”
Wishart says it mainly comes down to where you are with your fleet. If you are looking to purchase new propane mowers, a dealer you are established with is a good choice, while propane retailers are able to help more on the conversion side of things.
“They can figure out if you need somebody to do the conversion for you,” he says. “They can find someone locally for you or they can put together the conversion kits for you. The propane marketer in that instance is going to be your best place to start. It really comes down to what angle you’re coming at it.”
For those not familiar with local propane retailers or equipment dealers who sell propane mowers, PERC has tools to help landscapers find either one via their zip code.
“I would encourage them first to just start utilizing word of mouth,” Wishart says. “Start asking around, people that you already do business with, your outdoor power equipment dealer probably has connections. Start asking questions. You’ll be surprised who they recommend, who they know and you might even be surprised to find out the guy you’re talking to might even already work in the propane industry.”
Wishart says that while, ideally, the propane retailer should have already reached out to the landscape professionals in their market, this is not always the case.
“That doesn’t always happen, unfortunately,” he says. “Around 20 percent of the propane industry is very active in going after this market and 80 percent waits for landscapers to come to them.”
Scott Dudley, owner of Total Lawn Care based in Jackson, Mississippi, was one of the lucky landscapers who had his propane retailer reach out to him to discuss using propane.
His major concern prior to switching had to do with the balance of the lawn mower after converting it to propane, so his propane retailer, Lampton-Love Propane, made sure he could demo a converted mower.
“When they first came to me, they actually had the same lawn mower that I had, and they had converted it and that really gave me insight as to how the machine was going to operate with the gasoline tanks being empty and the propane tank sitting behind the operator,” Dudley says. “That was my number one concern and after about five minutes of operating the machine, I said, ‘You know what? There’s no issue. Let’s do this.’”
When you do find a local propane retailer you want to work with, Wishart advises asking them to come out and conduct a site visit of your property where you are most comfortable.
“That gives them the opportunity to come and they can better understand what your needs are as a customer,” Wishart says. “They can really tailor their services and what they can do for you based on what they see at that visit and what you’re telling them at that time.”
Refueling infrastructure will be one of the items that you will need to discuss with your propane retailer.
Strauser Nature’s Helpers based in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, has a supplier who comes to their site weekly to fill tanks as needed. Meanwhile, Total Lawn Care has 250-gallon tank that is also filled weekly.
While typically a cylinder exchange is best for small to medium size fleets and on-site dispensing is best for large fleets, Wishart says the refueling infrastructure you end up with is all up to what the propane supplier deems appropriate based on their current routing and delivery schedule.
“You may only have three mowers, but it may just work out best for him to set a 500-gallon tank and a simple dispenser on your site, so he only has to come to you once every two/three weeks,” Wishart says. “But if you’re already on a route they do for cylinder exchange for other reasons anyways, they might just put a cylinder cage and do a cylinder exchange every two/three days or every week. It just depends on their routing and their level of engagement in this market.”
As for the type of fuel contract you might sign, it can be anything from a seasonal contract to a fuel agreement that has a set price where they agree you will never pay higher than a certain amount.
“In the contract that I signed, I was guaranteed to never pay more than $2.50 for propane and that was in 2010 when gas was $3.75 a gallon, and I’ve yet to pay over $1.85 for propane,” Dudley says.
Step 4: Enjoy the benefits
Aside from the financial savings, landscapers tend to notice a number of other benefits once switching over to propane.
Both Total Lawn Care and Strauser Nature’s Helpers have made a point to promote their propane usage to customers.
“We’ve started discussing our fleet much more with customers, as well as potential employees, and see moving to propane/battery/other eco-equipment as a big selling point nowadays,” says Zech Strauser, president of Strauser Nature’s Helpers. “We use the switch as a selling tool from the beginning of any customer relationship, and also recruit new employees by explaining how it’s become part of our brand identity/company culture.”
Dudley has even made the point of putting the propane logo on his business cards and his trucks and trailers. He says it has helped him get his foot in the door with potential clients who care about companies that are green.
“Lots of customers have noticed it and they’re quite pleased that we’re using propane for the fact that we’re being greener and more American,” he says.
Strauser says that equipment repairs and maintenance have decreased especially over the past year since switching to propane.
One of the other benefits Dudley says he is a fan of is that there is no chance of fuel spillage with propane, as well as employees having no need to steal this fuel, unlike gas.
He also says propane allows his crews to cut down on the number of gas station visits they have to make, providing significant time savings.
“When I pull three trucks to the gas station and eight or nine guys get out, we’re going to be there an hour,” Dudley says. “With propane, we’ve cut that out. They stop at the store on their way to work and when we leave the shop, we go to the first job site.”
For those still not sure if propane is right for them, Wishart encourages landscapers to visit their site and view their material.
“I think once they experience propane and see how powerful it is, how reliable is it, how easy it is to refuel and how much money it can save them, it’s a no brainer for the rest of their fleet operation,” Wishart says.