Recently we sat down with Tarantin CEO/CFO, Bill Craig, with 20 Questions about his role at Tarantin and the state of propane today. We're posting 10 questions and answers today, with the last 10 coming soon.

Bill Craig, Tarantin CEO/CFO.

YOU RECENTLY HAD A FOUR YEAR ANNIVERSARY AT TARANTIN. TWO YEARS AS JUST CFO AND TWO YEARS AS CEO & CFO. HOW IS TARANTIN DOING?

Tarantin is doing just fine. The company had nearly 30 years of success before I got here, so it has a well-developed base of loyal customers, a solid reputation in the industry, and a great team of employees. That being said, these are challenging times to be a small business, to be a wholesale distributor, and to be a propane equipment distributor.

WHAT IS BEING DONE TO COMBAT THESE CHALLENGING TIMES?

Sure. Our value proposition is to provide the best service possible to our customers. Not necessarily the cheapest price, but a reasonable price with knowledgeable staff, available inventory, and great logistics. We also believe that to best serve our customers we need to understand their business, and if we can, their customers. So our primary customer is a propane marketer, and their primary customer is a propane consumer. With retail propane gallon consumption generally on the decline for quite some time now, our customers are adapting. We have to adapt as well.

AND HOW ARE YOU ADAPTING TO THIS CHANGE?

Let me give an example. In the past, our outside salesmen were often "order takers"... they would literally write an order while they were in contact with the customer. Now, they are data analyzers and solution providers. They know what their customer has bought in the past, and they can discuss the data and how the business may be different from one season to the next, or one year to the next. Our customers in the field are under more pressure than ever, and they need help managing their business, and solving their customer's problem. It is a much more consultative and collaborative process, and we are adapting and aligning ourselves to improve every day.

WHAT IS TARANTIN DOING TO EASE THEIR CUSTOMER'S STRESS?

We have six locations that can ship overnight to at least 25 states. All we do is propane. We are really focused on making sure we have the right inventory in the right places! One of my early lessons learned was "all markets are local", so we have different inventory in our New Hampshire location than we do in Florida, just as an example. We monitor each location's service area to ensure their customers are being served by them, or as a backup the next closest. We average about 80% coverage, which is good, but can get better. Fortunately, we have the data which lets us learn from our shortfalls. We don't always get it right, but we are always getting better!

WHAT ELSE ARE YOU DOING?

We are focused on improving our customer experience, so we have been investing in technology to make sure our outside sales are as efficient and effective as they can be, while also spreading important propane information through social media, and making sure our online store is user-friendly. More broadly, we are working at "making Tarantin work better, and a better place to work".

YOU SEEM TO REALLY EMPHASIZE OUTSIDE SALES...

Yes and no. We all know "nothing happens until a sale is made", but for that to happen, there is a whole team involved. Supporting outside sales we have inside sales, marketing, purchasing, warehouse operations, and back office operations. It is not complex, but it can be challenging to get the proper execution. On a personal level, my dad was a valve salesman in outside sales, so I have firsthand knowledge of how tough that job can be, and how important the customer is.

ONE CRITICISM OF YOU IS YOU DON'T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT PROPANE.

Anything? Geez, that's harsh! Seriously, I'm pretty sure most of the people I work with know more about propane and propane equipment than I do, which is as it should be. But that's really not my job. My job is to make sure they are able to do theirs. I know a little about that.

YOU HAVE BEEN IN OTHER INDUSTRIES, SOME SIMILAR, SOME NOT SO MUCH. CAN YOU COMPARE AND CONTRAST THE PROPANE INDUSTRY TO SOME OTHERS?

Well, nearly every business or industry talks about the importance of their people, but I don't think I have ever been in an industry where there are as many multi-generational owners and operators as there are in propane marketing. I was at a function a few years back at our New Hampshire branch, and the family sitting next to me had been in propane over fifty years, pushing four generations. I was sitting with two of them. The father sitting next to me had been in the business since he was twelve. Started when riding around in a bobtail with his dad after school and on weekends. I find that remarkable, and humbling.

EARLIER YOU WERE ASKED HOW TARANTIN WAS DOING AND YOU SAID "FINE". CAN YOU GO BEYOND ONE WORD?

Sure. I am a financial person by background and a sometime turnaround person. I think when I started some observers jumped to the conclusion that Tarantin was either in trouble or up for sale. Neither is true. The company did have some struggles with an ERP implementation a few years back, but we have most of that figured out and are moving forward. We are financially sound, and looking to grow, but want to maintain our focus.

YOU MENTIONED EARLIER "MAKING TARANTIN WORK BETTER, AND A BETTER PLACE TO WORK". CAN YOU EXPAND ON THAT?

Businesses have three important functions; strategy, execution, and culture. Visualize three gears that drive each other. That being said, culture eats strategy for lunch, and while you can’t change culture by itself, you can change it via execution. We are moving from being an entrepreneur based culture to a process based culture, but that does not happen overnight. We have to train our people, communicate, and provide the information so that they can make good decisions. That is the short version of "making Tarantin work better". Making Tarantin a better place to work is integral to that, but it is also providing the tangible and intangible freedom and rewards that we as a small company can provide. So on the one hand it is an enormous challenge for a company with our headcount to provide medical benefits; we operate in 25 states and may have personnel in twelve, anybody in our company can speak to me about what is on their mind. And believe me, they do!

That's part one of our "20 Questions With Bill Craig" post. But wait! There's more! Read part 2 here.



 

 

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