COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT AS A KEY MARKETING STRATEGY
A focus on customer service, loyalty programs and employees earns Palmer Gas & Oil ‘Business of the Decade’ award
BY PAT THORNTON
It’s become common in recent years for Bill Ermer, president of Palmer Gas & Oil (PGO) to start a newsletter thanking the company’s customers for their continued support and noting that the company has been recognized for another award. Most recently, Ermer announced the company had been voted “Business of the Decade” by Business NH Magazine in the retail/ wholesale category. Fifty judges played a role in this honor for PGO — the company had previously been the magazine’s “Business of the Year” and garnered many awards during the decade. “It’s hard to believe that a business that started as a one-man operation four generations ago has grown into the company that it is today,” Ermer said in his fall 2020 newsletter.
“My grandfather, William E. Palmer, started PGO in 1949 as a one-truck operation out of his general store in North Salem, New Hampshire. In 1969, my wife Lorraine and I took over the business, and we also ran the general store for a few years until the gas business grew and became our primary interest. In 1981, I took over Ermer Oil, which was started by my father in 1932,” he continued. “We’ve been around for 89 years and are still going strong, now serving New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts,” Ermer said. “Both my children, Charlie and Joanne, help run the business, and we even had my granddaughters Nicole and Laura in here this summer helping out. In addition to the generations of my own family, we have also serviced generations of customers for many years, and we have multigenerational families among our employees, some of whom have been with the company for 30 years or more.”
PRIORITIZING COMMUNITY SERVICE
“With a belief that fuel delivery and service should be more than ‘fill and bill,’ we work hard to put a smile on our customers’ faces every time with great customer service, generous loyalty programs and happy customers,” said Peter Iacobucci, general manager. “Community is at the heart of PGO. Because our employees live in the same communities where we do business, we pride ourselves on our community involvement and support both statewide and local nonprofits.” Iacobucci said that in any given year, PGO typically participates in a major community-focused event every few months, whether it is an on-site bloodmobile for employees and customers, a donation box for the New Hampshire Food Bank, a winter coat drive or a walk for mental health. “We donate to raffles, school events and civic organizations.
Our annual customer appreciation day draws close to a thousand people who enjoy a day of food, fun and thanks from PGO employees, many of whom are friends and neighbors,” he said. While community service has been a centerpiece at PGO for many years, recent data shows that more and more people in the United States, especially younger employees, believe it is good for companies to ask employees to do volunteer work and reward them for it. A few years ago, UnitedHealthcare found that volunteering helped 71% of surveyed employees feel better about their company. These employees reported feeling great job satisfaction and showed greater levels of engagement at work after volunteering as part of a company effort. “A company’s ethics, employee satisfaction and community involvement are beginning to become important factors in which brand a consumer chooses,” according to the Reputation Institute, which has reported that consumers give more weight to a company’s reputation than their products at a rate of 60% to 40% respectively.
A PricewaterhouseCoopers study found that 86% of Generation Y employees said they would leave a company if the organization’s corporate social responsibility programs started to slip in quality. With such programs impacting employee recruitment and retention, these programs may only become more important to company leadership as Generation Y employees move up the ladder in their companies.
AN APPRECIATION FOR QUALITY SERVICE
Ermer, Iacobucci and the PGO team believe the awards PGO has received have also come about due to quality customer service, a generous Refer-A-Friend program and a program allowing customers to redeem points for PGO products and services, for gift certificates to local businesses and as donations to charitable nonprofits in the community.
“Why should you choose our energy company over another company that offers the same products and services we do?” is a question posed on the PGO website. The response reads: “Because we do it better!”
The response continues, “Along with our 24/7 emergency delivery and service, our award-winning customer service is unsurpassed, and we make it our mission to provide you with service that’s so friendly, simple and safe — you can focus on what matters in your life and leave your energy needs to us.”
A full-service heating, ventilation and air conditioning team is another factor that differentiates PGO from other oil and propane delivery companies. “We also offer in-house excavation, a tank monitor program and installation financing,” Iacobucci said. “The newest PGO offering is electrician services, which allows us now to proudly say that PGO is truly a ‘one-stop shop’ for [all of our] customers’ energy needs.”
CULTIVATING A FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD FEELING
Ermer and Iacobucci noted that a neighborhood feeling draws not only customers, but employees as well. “In a culture where job hopping is the norm, more than 50% of our employees have a tenure of almost 10 years. Husbands, wives, mothers, sons … ours is a workforce of multigenerational families, including the owners, who recently welcomed the fourth generation to the company,” Iacobucci said.
According to Ermer, even though employees work for him, he also places importance on working for his employees. He encouraged readers to search the “Fish Philosophy.” “We put safety first in everything we do, including devoting a full day to companywide safety training, and we invest significantly in technology and equipment,” Ermer said. “Our motto of ‘Friendly. Simple. Safe’ permeates all that we do — all day and every day,” Iacobucci said. “Not only is it the foundation of our mission statement, but it is the foundation of our company.
Keeping the work atmosphere pleasant and employees happy easily translates into delighted customers. PGO keeps it simple with an infrastructure to support day-to-day processes that make it easy and safe for both its employees and customers. Safety is a top priority for all PGO employees.”
“PGO is a drug-free workplace, and all employees must pass the National Propane Gas Association’s Certified Employee Training Program when onboarding. PGO has a full-time safety director and has won the Excellence in Risk Management Award for being a leader in the implementation of energy safety and risk management programs three times,” Iacobucci continued. “Not only do we invest in our current employees, but we prepare for our future employees, as well,” Ermer said. “PGO recently partnered with a local nonprofit known as ‘Bring Back the Trades,’ whose mission is to spread awareness about the shortage in all trades and engage students about the benefits of joining a trade. Our own company has benefited greatly from trade school graduates as a result of the organization.”
Pat Thornton is a 25-year veteran of the propane industry, with 20 years at Propane Resources and five years at Butane Propane News. He has served on the PERC Safety & Training Advisory Committee and the Missouri PERC Board of Directors.