It’s Not Me, It’s You

Rather than creating programs to convince retailers to sell higher blends of ethanol, the industry should talk to fuel retailers and create programs that address what marketers really need, writes Ron Lamberty.
By Ron Lamberty | September 22, 2014

No, that’s not a misprint. Most of us have heard (or delivered) that phrase’s opposite at some point in our lives, “It’s not you, … it’s me.” But this isn’t an “advice for the lovelorn” column, and I have no interest in starting one. The title of this article means exactly what is says.

Earlier this year, Brian Jennings wrote about the American Coalition for Ethanol’s “Power by People” campaign and how we are focusing on the stories of the people who built the ethanol industry and people from communities surrounding ethanol plants who have benefitted from the creation of these large locally owned energy production businesses in their neighborhoods. We are focusing on these stories, delivered by these people, because no matter how well ACE and other groups tell them, people almost always respond better to their peers who have been there and done that.

ACE’s market development efforts have always tried to follow similar advice. Part of that job is helping fuel distributors and convenience store owners and operators understand ethanol. But it is equally—or maybe even more important—to help ethanol people understand fuel marketers and retailers.

At the ACE Conference in Minneapolis in August, attendees learned a lot about what fuel marketers want and need from two of the most successful ethanol retailers in the nation. Kent Satrang, CEO of PetroServe USA, and Bruce Vollan, vice president of Vollan Oil, told conference attendees why they installed blender pumps and why they sell E85, E15 and other high ethanol blends to their customers. They said it wasn’t that difficult, customers like it, no one has complained or sued them, and that E85, E15, and E30 have made them more profitable. They also said their sales of ethanol were well (nearly 300 percent) above any so-called “blend wall,” and that renewable identification numbers (RINs) added to their profits and weren’t that difficult to keep track of. 

Those statements are 180 degrees opposite what the American Petroleum Institute and other petroleum groups have been telling Congress and America. They’ve said selling 15 percent ethanol or more was unbelievably expensive, customers don’t want it and retailers will get sued and have to pay for all sorts of damage. Oil apologists continue to say it’s impossible to sell more than 10 percent ethanol and that RINs are expensive and very hard to track. It’s frustrating to know that a lot of important and influential people actually believe those Big Oil lies, even though there aren’t any real people out there who can validate their claims. Apparently “making something up and saying it frequently” is the standard of truth required by much of the U.S. media and Congress.

Satrang and Vollan didn’t talk about politics much when asked what we can do to help them, other than mentioning frustration with Reid vapor pressure regulations that causes them to have to relabel E15 dispensers twice a year. Their bigger concerns were oil companies and petroleum groups that keep putting up more roadblocks to keep station owners from selling E15 and higher blends of ethanol.

Our industry has created a number of programs that were supposed to convince retailers to sell higher blends of ethanol. Unfortunately, many of those programs have been based on what we think fuel retailers need, not what they told us they need. Ultimately, we will only see real marketplace movement, when we talk to fuel retailers and tell them, “It’s not me, it’s you,” and then create programs that address what marketers really need.
 
Author: Ron Lamberty
Senior Vice President
American Coalition for Ethanol
605-334-3381
rlamberty@ethanol.org