Earth Energy Alliance CEO

Keeping Customers Through Bioheat®

Published in Oil & Energy Magazine, January 2010

Business man standing in green grass holding briefcaseSix years ago I was sitting in my office and straightening up my desk as our children and the children of some of our employees played during our office holiday party.

While I was going through some of my mail, I ran across an invitation to attend the
inaugural National Biodiesel Conference in Palm Springs, Calif. I did not know what biodiesel was at the time, however their brochure indicated that biodiesel was a domestically produced renewable energy that could easily be blended with heating oil. This interested me immediately as a possible way to distinguish our company as an environmentally friendlier, cleaner and greener Oilheat marketer.

The timing could not have been better; like many Oilheat dealers, we were in the process of playing the annual marketing shell game. We would create sales promotions and pricing plans for new customers, as would most of the marketers in our region.

The problem was that for every new customer we acquired, we seemed to lose an existing customer due to another marketer’s promotion, hence the Oilheat shell game. The next question was, how could we get off this merry-go-round? Perhaps a trip out to Palm Springs to investigate the possibilities of biodiesel would present the opportunity that I was looking for.

The first National Biodiesel Conference was attended by a few hundred individuals who all wanted to be a part of something special. Many were grassroots entrepreneurs like myself, and then there were other individuals who were producing biodiesel in their garage. There were a few large corporations investigating the possibilities, but for almost all of us, it was more like a cause.

There was one educational track dedicated to Oilheat and only one individual who presented on the subject. That individual was Paul Nazzaro. Subsequently, I returned from the conference that February, created Devine Bioheat and within eight months began marketing 80,000 gallons of B5 Bioheat® and never looked back.

Today, many of the 24 NORA states are considering new initiatives which are being introduced into the respective state general assemblies to blend biodiesel with ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) to create a new heating oil specification for the industry.

As states and markets adopt this new fuel, an opportunity still exists for Oilheat marketers to distinguish themselves in their marketplace. A company that offers Bioheat is perceived in the community to be a company that is unique and innovative—an organization that cares about the environment, and most notably, an industry leader. We know that there are clear differences between Oilheat marketers within the same marketplace, however it is not as clear to the Oilheat consumer, which is one of the reasons that we find our new customers coming in the front door while our existing customers are exiting out of the back door each season.

Bioheat speaks to many of today’s current issues such as climate change and our nation’s dependence on foreign oil, plus it is a renewable energy product. Using Bioheat will help improve the lubricity of heating oil as it begins its decrease in sulfur, causing the fuel to become less lubricating than our current high sulfur fuels. It can also complement competent fuel treatment packages with its solvency characteristics to help clean sedimentation from the oil tank to the nozzle.

Bioheat requires no system modifications and in most cases is cost-competitive with conventional Oilheat. Marketed properly, Bioheat can easily create public relations opportunities for the Oilheat dealer, and it integrates nicely in a service department’s value-added products and service for home air quality, particularly in the sales of humidifiers and air filtration installations. I saw Bioheat as an opportunity to enhance our company’s business plan, rebrand us and move from an Oilheat company to a Bioheat company.

The strategy worked—we began to see a significant increase in new customers through the marketing efforts and we did not lose these new Bioheat customers when market volatility arose or the latest “deal” was on the street. We were no longer one of the many Oilheat marketers; we had become a Bioheat marketer.

One of the interesting aspects of becoming a Bioheat marketer is that in most cases, biodiesel education is required on some level between the marketer and the consumer. Typically after this discussion, a dialog occurs between either the existing customer or a potential new one and a question is commonly asked, “Why wouldn’t I use Bioheat?” I use to love to answer this question because I know that we have the answer that our competitors do not.

Retaining Oilheat customers is one of the most significant issues facing energy marketers today. The entire organization needs to be part of the solution, from the service technician and oil truck driver to the individual who answers the phone. In this economic environment, price is and will always be a consideration. When any business has the ability to deliver a product or service that is value added and unique, then that company achieves the critical aspect in distinguishing a difference.

For those marketers who have yet to discover Bioheat, keep in mind that it is not only the 300-plus Bioheat marketers nationwide that have enjoyed becoming part of the renewable energy world. There are now tens of thousands of Bioheat consumers that also feel unique and enjoy being a part of the renewable energy solution. By the way, they are not shy about telling their friends and neighbors how cool it feels.

For more information on Bioheat marketing or customer retention, please feel free to contact me at (203) 221-3044 or e-mail me at mike@earthenergyalliance.com. For additional information on Bioheat or biodiesel, visit www.bioheatonline.com or www.biodiesel.org.

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