Siouxland Propane, STAR Energy eye services transition

Thursday, December 13, 2012
Dave Brecher (left), general manager, STAR Energy, of Manson, and Greg Vreeman (right), Siouxland Propane, of Ireton, see longtme employee retention a key to "familiar" customer service providers and knowledge of customer needs.

Northwest Iowa's heavy concentration of livestock and poultry operations is seen as among the major factors in the Dec. 9 purchase of a portion of Siouxland Propane, a longtime Ireton business.

"It's what we see as a significant part of our transaction," Dave Brecher, general manager, STAR Energy, of Manson, said.

He added the company also sees the acquisition of the 60-year old Ireton company's propane and heating/air conditioning division filling a previous service "void" in northwest Iowa.

The purchase includes Siouxland's comparable operations at Akron and Centerville, S.D. sites.

Brecher said STAR Energy, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Growmark regional cooperative supplier, is expected to add products as well as services for Siouxland customers.

He said on-farm delivery of renewal fuels, including biodiesel, ethanol-blended gas and renewable-based lubricants, are some other possible added services and products in response to their increased desire for American oil sources.

Greg Vreeman, vice president, Siouxland, joined Brecher in the Ireton company's conference room for an interview with the Sentinel.

Vreeman pointed to the growing importance in serving its agricultural customers.

He agreed that recent agricultural changes have had a role in this growth.

"Our producers have been doing an excellent job so they're making some money," he said. At the same time, they are investing some of their gains in their farming operations," Vreeman added.

He cited as examples the installation of 38 infra-red farm shop heating systems and the setting of "probably up to" 20 to 30 tanks and heating systems in larger 2,400-head hog units with the company's three service areas within the past year.

"Our poultry operations such as those at Center Fresh, of Sioux Center, with seven to eight big pullet barns have also been good customers," Vreeman said. "Those day-old chicks have to stay at 97 degrees quite a while," he continued, a smile evident.

Propane crop-drying needs in years subject to weather-related moisture have been a services' sales booster as well, he said.

Vreeman and STAR Energy's Brecher agreed, meanwhile, that Siouxland's service to its residential customers, in both town and country are not to be overlooked as a strongly viable component in the company's overall picture.

They said it's the service to these customers using propane for home heating, cooking or water-heating that underscores yet another reason for the two's businesses dual agreement.

They said this is the desire to retain present Siouxland employees customers "are familiar with," and who, in turn, are equally familiar with customers' needs.

"We both feel the retention of present Siouxland employees is a significant part of the transition," Brecher said.

There are 12 employees.

Vreeman, Siouxland vice president, and his brother, Scott, president, have been actively involved 40 and 38 years, respectively, in various roles within the company.

Siouxland Propane this year celebrates its 60th anniversary.

Their father, Bud Vreeman, 86, is credited with establishing the company.

It has since evolved as Greg Vreeman explained, "from a little 30 lb. cylinder operation to a pretty good-sized pull tank operation" just off Ireton's main street.

Remaining intact, along with the newly-acquired STAR Energy portions of the company, will be its John Deere County Clipper lawn service and Echo brand product distribution managed by Scott Vreeman.

As to the STAR Energy purchase, his brother, Greg, summarized the family's feelings:

"We felt the best way for us in making a change was to treat not only our customers, but our employees in a good way to keep them," Vreeman said. "And that's what we've been able to do."

As Greg Vreeman considers his move into company's lawn service he pauses momentarily looking back to what in the past 40 Siouxland years are memorable to him.

"One of the most rewarding things for me has been the satisfaction of our customers," he said.

I'm remembering the times in the older days, 20 to 30 years ago, when homes weren't insulated. A furnace or space heater would go out at midnight. We'd get a call. We went out, and you fixed it," he said.

"Likewise, when the call came in for someone stranded in the snow you'd go busting over snow drifts to get there and get the couple warmed up," Vreeman said. "The response was similar in the summer to assist someone stranded in the heat. You got them moving and cooler," he continued.

"In either case, these people were happy, and you were happy," Vreeman said. "That's what I'll miss. But I want everyone to know I'll still be here. And the coffee pot will always be on."