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My close friend and neighbor presented me with a trophy for my 60th birthday with the inscription “First Place – Consistency.” I was almost embarrassed by my routines I develop. Some that come to mind include:

  • I delivered daily newspapers for six years as a youth – 365 days a year at 5 a.m. for 75 weekday and 115 weekend subscribers.
  • I ran over 300 days a year for 35 years – usually at least five miles.
  • I met with all direct reports every two weeks. Some for over 20 years and always with an agenda and documented notes from the meeting.
  • I adapted using people’s names after I took a Dale Carnegie class at age 23 and still continue this practice.
  • I joined or volunteered at a social activity at least one night a week for my entire life.

I decided that I should review what I had gained from all this consistency of what can be termed Small Consistent Acts (SCA).

When I delivered the Morning Call in Allentown, Pa., I began to learn how run a business. This included customer service, logistics, supply chain management, accounting and collections. I worked weekends, holidays and the day after my high school prom. There were encounters with crazy dogs and drunks driving cars at 5 a.m. — all of which set me up as a resourceful and dependable employee during my career.

My running became my resource for fitness and mental health, as well as my main source of socialization. I’ve made countless friends from logging thousands of miles together. I completed over 1,000 road races and 34 marathons across the country.

My bi-weekly meetings – termed a Personal Management Interview (PMI) allowed me to stay on track with each direct report and enabled me to include yearly reviews, project updates, and brainstorm with each person. I would always schedule the next PMI before we finished the current one. I am always amazed at how many managers don’t develop a similar routine with all reports.

Using people’s names is free, takes no extra time, and demonstrates your interest in others. The relationships we can develop by learning more about others are remarkable. Many of my original misperceptions of others is shattered when I learn more about who they are

My habit of getting involved with different groups has given me insight into many areas I never knew existed. I have coached many kid’s sports (even ones I never played), umpired, refereed, watched birds, studied beer making and golfed in many leagues. The relationships I have developed through all these opportunities are priceless and tremendously varied. Only hanging with people who look like me would get old in a hurry. My ability to relate to varied groups has made me far more aware of others perspectives.

All of these actions are from SCA that I was able to develop and have helped me grow personally and professionally.


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We were very pleased to have such a knowledgeable and experienced company in our corner with the team at Cetane. It was obvious that they knew the best process and how to get the ball over the goal line. Their advice throughout the process was greatly appreciated and we thoroughly enjoyed working with them.

— Steve Lombardi, Brodeur’s Oil, Moosup, CT
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FIRST SEEN IN BPN MAGAZINE | If you’re starting to think about selling your propane business, one of the first things you should ask yourself is, “Is my house in order?”  I’ve been involved in more than 80 transactions over my 30-year career, from the initial seller meetings all the way to post-closing integration, so I can tell you with certainty that what I am about to tell you makes a difference.

Being organized “shows well” to a prospective buyer.  If everything is generally in good order, it may help boost the offers you receive, and will certainly make the due diligence process much more pleasant.

Here are some examples of items that are important to have in good order:

Tank Lease Agreements:  Do you have tank lease agreements for each company-owned tank?  Is it signed by the customer?  If not, you may want to consider mailing or emailing one to each customer lacking an unsigned agreement.  Simply state, “We are updating our customer files and noticed that we do not have a signed tank lease agreement for your propane tank.  Kindly sign, keep a copy for yourself, and return the top copy in the postage paid envelope provided.”  As incentive, you could provide a discount coupon for their next delivery or service?

Next, where are these tank lease agreements filed?  Are they in each customer’s file along with every other document pertaining to that customer?  Are they in a separate file, all together?  I can tell you from years of experience, it is certainly preferred that they are in a separate file, all together.  It will make this part of due diligence go much smoother.

Leak Tests:  You’ve heard it many times, “If it’s not signed, it didn’t happen.”  So, do you have signed leak tests?  Are they signed by the technician/driver and the customer?  Are the results of the leak test recorded?  Are your drivers doing one on every out-of-gas?  These are the questions that will be asked by any prospective buyer’s Safety & Compliance personnel during due diligence.

Strange discoveries have often been made during the acquisition due diligence process.  During one, I remember reviewing leak test documents and noticed that the test readings recorded were the same on nearly every completed test form.  The same “starting pressure”, “ending pressure”, and “time held” was repeating form after form. I quickly flipped back to the first one I had reviewed and followed through to the most recent one, and guess what?  It was the same technician!  This particular technician recorded the same readings on every leak test he had performed (or didn’t perform)!  The forms were complete, neat, and looked great at a glance.  This particular company was very organized, the owner was very proud, and they did things the right way.  Believe me, I gained no pleasure in bringing my findings to his attention.  So, what’s my point?  Make sure a qualified person is reviewing the leak test forms before they are filed.  It’s important!  Documented leak tests are required by NFPA 54, National Fuel Gas Code!

Employee Benefits-Perks:  Are your benefit offerings consistent among your entire staff?  I’m not necessarily referring to health care or your 401(K).  I’m referring to the one-offs; Charlie has a gas card (and no one else does), I let Susie roll over any amount of vacation she wishes (but nobody else can), I gave Joe a gas card last year instead of a pay increase (everyone else received a traditional pay increase) ……you get the point.  While none of these scenarios are deal breakers, they “show” inconsistency and put the buyer in a delicate situation post-closing.  Ideally it will be great if you can “fix” these inconsistencies in advance of a sale, but at the very least you should be prepared to disclose them to your buyer of choice.  Don’t make them the “bad guy” after the sale.

Vehicles:  Do you have more than an adequate number of spare delivery or service trucks?  Do you have a vehicle that simply hasn’t moved for the past couple of seasons?    If you answered “yes” to one or both of these questions please consider “right-sizing” your fleet.  Having excess vehicles can be costly by, paying unnecessary insurance, registration, and state inspection expenses thereby reducing your earnings and ultimately the value of your business.  Many buyers elect not to purchase “excess” vehicles, and as the seller, you sure don’t want to be left with the task of selling these vehicles on your own after the sale.

Staffing:  This is a sensitive subject but you should ask yourself the question; “Do I have the right number of employees for the size and scope of my business?”  I realize finding and keeping good employees is a challenge, especially drivers and technicians, but that doesn’t mean you should have more than you need just in case one of them decides to leave.  An “extra” employee or two is a significant expense which reduces your earnings and makes your company look less profitable/valuable to a prospective buyer.  Keeping your staff “right-sized” is the right thing to do and it “shows well” when you decide to market your company.

Driver Qualification Files:  Are your driver qualification files in order?    Is everything that’s required to be in the DQ file actually in there?  Is everything current, nothing expired?  Are the DQ files separate from the drivers’ regular employee files?  Be sure there’s a process in place to manage this very important area of compliance.  Don’t be embarrassed (and out of compliance) by an expired medical card in one of your driver’s files.  It doesn’t “show well.”

Gains & Losses:  Do you track tank sets and tank pick-ups?  Do you track customer gains and losses?  Do you track gallons gained and lost volume?  If you do all of that, great!  If you do not, it’s never too late to start!  Most companies track tank sets and tank pick-ups, in fact most software platforms will do that for you.  The same holds true for customer gains and losses.  But few companies actually track (estimated) gallons gained volume and (actual) lost volume.  Smart buyers want to see volume trends but also customer churn activity.  Smart buyers will also ask to see your pending pick-up report, or at least ask how many pending pick-ups you think you have.

I remember, very vividly, an owner telling me, “Man we’re growing, we’re really setting tanks!”  In my review of his records, I wasn’t seeing that in the volume trends.  Volume wasn’t shrinking, but there sure wasn’t any uptick that reflected what he was telling me.  He was measuring tank sets and picks-ups, and even customer gains and losses via the software platform, but not gained and lost volume.  He was caught up in the tank setting activity and the positive vibe that was resonating throughout the company.  As it turned out, there were a significant number of pending pick-ups.  The tank pick-up triggered the process of canceling the customer so without those pick-ups recorded the owner had a false sense of growth.  The tank set/pick-up report looked great, always showing a net gain in sets vs pick-ups.  He was in fact gaining new volume but it was offset by lost volume that was never recognized because he wasn’t measuring gained and lost volume and the (dead) tanks weren’t being picked up in a timely way.  There were two lessons learned in this scenario.  You really need to keep an eye on your growth/attrition by more than one method, and, remain diligent on your tank pick-ups!

I think you get the point.  I know that some of these items and tasks seem very basic, but believe me, the importance of each one cannot be overstated.  Making sure your house is in order is good for your business, good for its value, and it just plain “shows well.”

 

Jeff Brunner

Cetane Associates LLC

July 2021

 

First published in BPN Magazine, July 2021 edition


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We were very pleased to have such a knowledgeable and experienced company in our corner with the team at Cetane. It was obvious that they knew the best process and how to get the ball over the goal line. Their advice throughout the process was greatly appreciated and we thoroughly enjoyed working with them.

— Steve Lombardi, Brodeur’s Oil, Moosup, CT
Articles

Most small business owners have done every job in the company. This includes handling the books and dealing with contentious issues. They often times feel like the expert in all matters and don’t like to pay for professional support.

This approach can especially apply to using accountants and attorneys. The best advice is to find competent professionals whom you like to work with. They should be responsive and able to explain things in a clear manner. Remember that these folks work for you—confusing and obtuse answers don’t cut it. To increase your success rate, ask trusted friends for referrals and interview these professionals on your terms.

As a former buyer I have seen what happens when these two areas are neglected, or worse called upon at the last moment. One seller hired an attorney a week before closing. This was after a 6-month process of negotiating all aspects of the deal including a generous employment package for the owners. The attorney, doing his job, decided to renegotiate the employment agreement. However, I tactfully threatened to walk away from the deal and the seller advised his attorney of what we had previously agreed.

I was able to close on the deal, but there was some relationship repair work that needed to be handled. All of this could have been easily avoided with a prior, trusted relationship in place.


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We were very pleased to have such a knowledgeable and experienced company in our corner with the team at Cetane. It was obvious that they knew the best process and how to get the ball over the goal line. Their advice throughout the process was greatly appreciated and we thoroughly enjoyed working with them.

— Steve Lombardi, Brodeur’s Oil, Moosup, CT
Articles

Almost every pest management professional (PMP) I speak with is looking to increase sales without spending more on advertising. The most common solution is to sell additional services to your existing customers on services you can provide with current resources without significant incremental costs.

We see examples of this every day. Ordering “fries with your burger” is the most referenced example. Here are some other non-pest examples:

  • Upgrades on car washes to include wax and tires.
  • Improved seats when you travel by air or rail.
  • Hair products offered when you are getting a haircut.
  • Appetizers before ordering dinner.
  • Desserts after eating dinner.
  • New wiper blades when your vehicle is serviced.

All these examples provide customer value while increasing gross margin without additional investment.

The ability to consistently make these incremental sales is what we need to focus on.

The answer is one simple word: Ask!

Coaching staff to ask is what we need to do. The ability to process rejection is what matters.

Most successful people do not let rejection define them. They let their reaction to rejection define themselves. Sports is a great example of how this works:

  • Baseball players are successful when they get one hit of three at-bats.
  • Most basketball players miss more than half the shots they take.
  • Golfers typically don’t make the green in regulation.
  • Soccer and hockey goals are scored on a small percentage of shots on goal.

Successful people learn that processing rejection is how to improve results. Asking every customer contact if they want a mosquito application added to their routine service will result in increased sales without additional cost. The companies that can stay disciplined in their approach of asking will see a large increase in gross margin.

Tracking rejection can make this fun and not allow rejection to stop additional effort. I have run campaigns where I incentivize staff by paying for “The Ask” vs. the sale. The unconventional measure brings attention to the process. It teaches people that the amount of rejection they actually experience is far less than they perceive it to be. It will result in discussions of how to respond to a “no.” It will make the awkward moments feel normal and allow opportunities to improve your process.

The ability to stay quiet after you ask for something is the hardest part for most people. Allowing the person to say no without handling objections makes it a better process.

I’ll end with an example I recently dealt with firsthand: My wife and I recently attended a movie at a nearby community theater. While buying our tickets, we were asked about becoming a supporting member. The ask was reasonable. Although we save a little money on future tickets, the real benefit is supporting the theater we routinely enjoy. This was after we were solicited by emails repeatedly asking for the same thing.

Asking is free and it works.


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We were very pleased to have such a knowledgeable and experienced company in our corner with the team at Cetane. It was obvious that they knew the best process and how to get the ball over the goal line. Their advice throughout the process was greatly appreciated and we thoroughly enjoyed working with them.

— Steve Lombardi, Brodeur’s Oil, Moosup, CT
Articles

First in a series.

Having bought businesses for the past 25 years of my career I can now give my insights to business sellers on how to best sell what they have worked decades to develop. As a former buyer I had represented the other side. We all have an agenda–this doesn’t make us bad–just normal.

Sellers would often ask me if they had waited too long and miss-timed the best time to sell. Their concerns were often interest rates, economy, COVID-19, and buyers’ appetites.

In reality, the market value of a well-run business will always be present and buyers smart enough to buy during downturns may have taken full advantage. While markets may go up and down–they can only be timed in the rear-view mirror.

The best timing is based on when the seller is ready to sell and prepared to proceed in a deliberate manner. They can then get the most value for their business from a buyer they feel comfortable with. Owners have worked hard for decades, taken all sorts of risk, and made personal sacrifices–they should decide when the time is right.

Many sellers will consider the process for a few years before making a decision. This can be especially true when there is more than one owner. Attempting to analyze the market can just add to the consternation. The most-pleased sellers always feel like they know the time is right for them.

 

Bob Williamson

Pest & Lawn Director, Cetane Associates

September 2023


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We were very pleased to have such a knowledgeable and experienced company in our corner with the team at Cetane. It was obvious that they knew the best process and how to get the ball over the goal line. Their advice throughout the process was greatly appreciated and we thoroughly enjoyed working with them.

— Steve Lombardi, Brodeur’s Oil, Moosup, CT