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Hearth Retailer Profile

New Business Model Appeals to Pellet-stove Owners

Don’t call PelletSales.com an Internet business. This growing start-up company may use the Internet to serve its customers, but it is all about personal service. After just three years in business, PelletSales.com has expanded to provide residential delivery service on the East Coast from Baltimore to Maine and in selected areas of the Midwest and West—and it provides truckload service nationwide. Jon Strimling, the company’s founder, says, “We have one focus: to make it easier for consumers to find, buy, get, and use fuel.”

In 2005, Strimling was working for a major wood-pellet company in New Hampshire when he saw that consumers were having a hard time finding pellets from local sources. Local mills and other sources weren’t able to provide fuel when and where customers needed it. There was no doubt in Strimling’s mind that he could come up with a more efficient way to get pellets to consumers’ homes quickly and easily.

He left his job and joined his two partners, Mark Maclean and Michael VanDerHeyden, to start PelletSales.com. PelletSales.com has since become the only nationwide online distributor of pellets in the industry, serving customers from coast to coast.

The way that PelletSales.com works is simple. Customers can go to the PelletSales.com Web site, enter the quantity of pellets that they need, put in the zip code, and then click to get a quote. They are taken to the quote page, where they can see the selection of fuel available in the area. After the customer selects the fuel and enters a delivery location, a person will call to schedule a delivery. A truck then shows up at the customer’s home on the agreed-upon delivery date.

PelletSales.com has working relationships with over 30 U.S. and Canadian fuel manufacturers that supply the company with some of the best-burning wood pellets available. The company uses a proprietary mapping software to monitor live demand across the country and to see trends and hotspots in pellet demand.

“We pride ourselves in being able to get the fuel to where it’s needed quickly because we know where it’s needed all the time,” Steve Tate, director of marketing and bulk business development, explains. He says that a local mill is only focused on what it can produce, and when it runs out, supplies are gone. In contrast, he adds, “We are a bigger entity that is watching what’s happening on a national level.”

The company has assembled a network of hundreds of carriers to move fuel from manufacturers’ plants to customers’ driveways. While its main focus is residential delivery, it also sells through its affiliate retail network, and it does some wholesale selling as well.

Tate says that customer response has been very positive so far, even though this nontraditional way of delivering fuel goes against the grain of custom. “People who’ve had wood appliances for years are accustomed, physically, to buying and toting their 40-pound sacks of pellets. It’s a hunting-and-gathering mentality that’s hard to change,” he explains, “but people really like the service and are recommending it to their friends and neighbors.”

Strimling’s newest vision for the company is to make pellet use more mainstream. During his travels in Europe, he saw trucks pull up to homes and blow pellets into large storage bins; then, automated transfer systems would move the pellets from the bins directly into the wood appliances. “If people could simply turn a thermostat up or down, without having to worry about the hassle of loading pellets into their appliances, there would be a whole new market to tap into in the United States,” Tate says.

PelletSales.com is currently piloting a bulk pellet storage and transfer system in New Hampshire and Northern Massachusetts, with plans to expand it to the rest of New England and, eventually, to the rest of the United States. It will also be introducing some transfer systems later this year.

“It’s taken a lot of work to get our business to where it is today,” Tate says. “We see tremendous growth potential if we continue to put our customers’ needs first.”

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