Oct 6, 2010

Got gas?

When we bought the house last summer, the previous owner had propane delivered (by AmeriGas) before closing, so we could test all the appliances. It was two 100lb cylinders. When we closed, I did some calling around for prices and found that the company that he'd gotten those from (AmeriGas) had the best pricing, thanks to a "new customer" special. They were about $1/gal lower than anyone else in the area.

We kept those tanks, paid for what was in them, and chose to go to a will-call delivery arrangement. The lady I spoke to (at the local AmeriGas office) wanted to know how I'd know when the tanks were empty, since there was no gauge on the tanks. I told her I'd just heft them, and when they were getting low, I'd call for a fill.

Six months later, just before Christmas, I was woken up by a backup alarm. I looked out the window to see an AmeriGas truck backing in. I scrambled into my clothes and got outside as the driver was unreeling the hose. I asked if I could help him, and he said, "No, just topping off your tanks." I said something brilliant like, "Excuse me? I didn't call for a fill."

He apologized and rolled the hose back up, and promised to talk to the office and make sure we were tabbed as a will-call. This should have been my first warning sign.

Two months later, the tanks were getting towards empty, so I called AmeriGas for a fillup. They arrived in due course and filled the tanks... to the tune of $4.40/gal, more than a dollar OVER market rate (at the time, about $3.20/gal), because we are a "low volume customer" (cooking and clothes dryer only). I paid the bill and swore that as soon as the tanks were empty, we were switching suppliers.

Last week I stopped at a local family-owned shop (begins with an "E", if you're in my area) and talked with the woman at the counter. I explained what had happened, and she showed me their pricing schedule after expressing proper disbelief and outrage. The local company doesn't do a penalty for low-volume usage; rather they provide a discount for higher-volume usage. I set up a delivery appointment for today.

The delivery guy showed up at the expected time (according to the woman who set the appointment, "after 1, probably 2 or 2:30" - he was here shortly after 2), disconnected my old tanks and set them aside, wrestled in a mostly-empty 100-gallon tank (roughly doubling our capacity), did the pressure check and got appropriate numbers, and went on his way.

After he left, I called AmeriGas to collect their tanks. The lady I spoke to asked why I was canceling. I explained that I had been charged a low-volume penalty at my last fill, and I had found a different supplier who didn't have that kind of business practice. She feigned ignorance, asking what I meant. I told her that I was unwilling to pay more than a dollar markup above market price just because I didn't use as much as other customers.

The very next thing she said? "Well, you should have called, we could have locked you in at a lower price, we're trying to get all our low-volume customers locked in around $2.70 or $2.80."

I kept my temper and said, "That's just the point. I shouldn't have to call to haggle or lock in a price just because I'm a low-volume user. You charged me well over market rate, and you lost a customer because of it."

Her tone changed from apologetic-sweet to "bitch" in an instant. "Well, that's fine. Someone will come collect the tanks soon."

No sooner had I gotten off the phone with her than I heard another backup alarm in the driveway. The local company's delivery truck; here to top off the 100gal tank. 84.5gal later, we've got enough propane to comfortably last us until next fall, and enough that we could add a gas log without changing tanks. (If we so desired.)

Long term, I'd love to put in a buried 500- or 1000-gallon tank and a permanent-set propane generator - but that's not in the near future.

So, AmeriGas, take this lesson to heart: capitalism is a bitch, gouging your customers loses you customers, and bloggers talk.

Edited to add:
Caught this little gem in the SiteMeter stats this morning:


Old NFO said...

Not surprising about her attitude, and I'd bet you'd have to locked in for years to actually GET that price...

ZerCool said...

All the more reason to upgrade to my own buried tank. Pick and choose my fill times according to the market.

bluesun said...

It's always fun to check sitemeter after complaining about large companies' poor service! I always hope that someone gets the message...