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I would recommend to the managers of small plants the advisability of seriously considering the Readiness-to-Serve rate. I think they will find, especially in small towns, that they can meet gasoline competition more successfully with this rate than in any other manner. It is also a good way of getting industrial gas business that you could not get at the regular prices that small plants charge for gas. If the regular price of gas is, say $1.20 per thousand feet, it is rather difficult to get people to use gas for industrial purposes at that rate. I think it will be well worth while for small companies to look into the Readiness-toServe rate very carefully.
Some of you who have discussed my paper evidently got the impression that I wrote it entirely for small companies. Allow me to state that I had in mind the larger gas companies as well as the small ones. Some of the things I mentioned, it would be foolish to put into effect with a small plant, while other things could not be put into effect with the larger companies. I just want to make it clear so that you will understand I did not mean to apply my paper to small gas companies alone.
A word about the card system. The reason I fovor the card system is that you have got to move the cards in and out all the time, and if you keep the unpaid and refunded deposits in separate files, it is much easier to move cards than to continually shift leaves from one ledger to another. The system is practically the same. It depends altogether upon individual notions. As far as the filing of delinquent gas bills, our practice is to pin the original part of the receipt or otherwise the dupilcate of it to the delinquent bills and file them away together. If a man ever comes in and asks for that deposit, they can locate the bills very quickly.
I do not want to be understood that, because I said that gas rates always go down and never up, I have any serious objection to gas rates going up. I would be very glad to se some of them go up.
Mr. Pleune says that he requires a deposit on prepayment meters. The prepayment meter was gotten up primarily with the object of furnishing gas to people who can not put up a deposit or give a guaranty. If you insist upon a deposit, you might as well put in a regular meter right away. As far as people owning their own property, my experience has been that people come in and say to you, “I want a meter set right away.” “Do you own your property,” they are asked. “Yes, I own the property,” they will say. We do not know whether they really do or not. It is quite an undertaking to go through the abstract office to find out who owns certain property. I think the best thing is to treat each individual on his own record, and reputation, and the courts have upheld that too. They have held that a gas company has a perfect right to ascertain reasonably the credit of each consumer and use their best judgment in regard to exacting a deposit or not.
About finding beer checks in the meter and getting them redeemed. We had a saloon keeper who had a habit of putting beer checks in his meter, and he always redeemed them very promptly for a few months, until one month we found five dollars worth of beer checks in it, but the saloon keeper was bankrupt and left the city, and we had nothing but beer checks, which the bank refused to take. So, I think it is not good policy to encourage the use of beer checks in the prepayment meter.
Mr. Turner makes a statement about the impracticability of estimating the gas consumption as a basis for the deposit required. That ought to be a factor eventually as to how much money you expect a man to put up. I know of cases where they have put up as high as $100, and brought it into court, and the court sustained the gas company, as it was shown that the deposit was barely sufficient to protect the company against possible loss for gas used. It seems to me you have to make some estimate as to the amount of deposit required. If a man uses two or three dollars' worth of gas, there is no sense in requiring that man to put up twenty dollars. If you find out he doesn't use that much, you had better pay him back the difference, or if he uses more, make him put up more. You can often make friends that way.
In regard to having one man collect the money and another man to read the meter, this is quite advisable for large cities. We require a bond for all our collectors. We do not see that this is evidence that we consider our men dishonest. I have put up bonds, and I have never taken it as an implication that I am dishonest.
Here is something I do not quite understand. Mr. Turner says, “Our prepayment meters are set at the proper figure for the rate allowed our large consumers whose yearly consumption is known.” I do not know whether he means that all prepayment meters are at the rate allowed to his large consumers or whether the rate of each consumer is figured individually. I think the only safe way to do if you have a sliding scale rate, is to set the prepay meters at the highest rate, and rebate to each consumer the difference which his consumption entitled him to. Mr. Turner keeps it in envelopes until the man calls for it—no one ever yet having failed to call for his envelope, and each one leaving with a kindly feeling at having the actual money paid over to him by the company. You might as well send it up with one of your men and pay it back, because it is not fair that if a man fails to call for it, he would not get it. I think if the company owes money to anyone, they ought to be just as anxious to pay it to the party they owe it to, as to collect from him if he should happen to owe the company.
Mr. Turner also says that it is sometimes the case that the prepayment meters do not show as large a consumption as with the regular meters. I venture to say that if he will figure the proportion of large consumers to the total number of prepayment meters, he has in use, he will find this proportion larger than the proportion of large consumers to his total regular meters. That is true in almost every gas company.
I am not familiar with conditions at South Haven. I do not believe there is any representative from South Haven here. Otherwise, I would like to get some information. As I understand they have nothing but prepayment meters there. In regard to consumers ledgers, you have to keep these the same as with regular meters, in order to keep a check on each meter, and this will entail just as much work as with regular meters.
NEW BUSINESS METHODS
J. A. Sloan.
In small towns or cities, the success of the gas company depends to a greater or less degree on the sentiment of the public toward it. This is governed largely by the company's methods, attitude, or interests with regard to public policy. This interest should always be helpful in the matter of securing new business.
To increase gas sales in small towns or cities, we must first give good service to the consumers we already have, as satisfied consumers are the best mediums of advertising.
One usually finds electrical competition in places of this size, but this serves only as a stimulus to keep the gas man always on the job. The manager should be in touch with all conditions and details of the business. This is not only possible but necessary, in plants of this size, as his assistants are few.
There should be one good, active, energetic solicitor or new business man with a thorough practical knowledge of housepiping and gas appliances of all kinds, and having at least a fairly good idea of the manufacturing and distribution departments. He must not be afraid to lend a helping hand in any one of these departments, if necessity demands it. He has sufficient jurisdiction over the house-piping and appliance department to enable him to know that all agreements which he makes with the public in regard to installations, are promptly fulfilled. The keynote of success in this new business campaign is co-operationnot only of manager and solicitor, but of every employee of the company. Each and every employee should never lose an opportunity to further the ends of the company's interests, in other
words, increase the sales of gas. Any einployee who does not talk gas, and really believe in the merits of gas, should be discharged at once. No man can be a strong advocate of a cause in which he has no faith. All employees should be cautioned against criticizing their competitors' goods or methods of doing business. Nothing is gained by this so called "knocking.” When an employee begins it the consumer or prospective consumer at once mistrusts either him or the company he represents and an unfavorable iinpression is sometimes left which greatly delays the securing of the business.
The manager formulates a plan for his solicitor, taking up different branches of the work at different seasons of the year. A thorough house to house canvass should be made twice a year, making sure that all appliances already installed are giving perfect satisfaction, selling what appliances can be sold, and noting the prospects of every nature preliminary to an active new business campaign. These prospects should be filed on cards in geographical order for the future reference of manager and solicitor, who follow them up with correspondence and personal solicitation. Special attention should be paid at all times to prospective consumers on old mains and to selling additional appliances to present consumers, as this new business is gotten without expense to the company, except for ineters. Frequent conferences of manager and solicitor are necessary to determine methods to be employed, policies to be pursued, ways of introducing appliances, and ways and means of satisfying the consumers and retaining them.
The solicitor must be able to advance a clear, forceful argument for his goods and should meet every one objection to the use of gas with three good reasons why his prospective consumer should use it. Another feature of the solicitor's work is to keep closely in touch with architects and builders, so that he may learn of the preparations of plans and specifications of any buildings or homes before the work is begun and thus enable him to eliminate, so far as possible, any wiring, and to see that it is properly piped for gas throughout; and if it is to be a dwelling, to work for a modern kitchen, which bars the coal range and assures to him the sale of a gas range and water heater.