Customer Loyalty, Traditional Values Fuel $4 Million Business

Customer Loyalty, Traditional Values Fuel $4 Million Business 1

Even in the 21st Century, commitment to community and  old fashioned values are still keys to a solid, long-lasting business

Mike Ploennigs
Mike Ploennigs

In thirty years of the home services business, Mike Ploennigs has never been out of work, a claim most people can’t make in the era of downsizing and underemployment. His secret? “I never sat around waiting for something to happen,” he says. Just as importantly, Ploennigs has made a lifelong habit of  listening to his customers and working hard to give them what they want.

Even though the fuel business is his main business today, Ploennigs can handle just about any job a homeowner might need done. His dad put him to work in his teens, helping him renovate burned out buildings in New York, which is how he learned the building trades such as electrical, carpentry and plumbing which have kept him busy. “Want me to build you a house? I can do pretty much everything from the ground up,” he says.

AAA Fuel and Service was born out of the desire to help out a friend and to  meet the needs of existing customers

Getting Into the Fuel Business to Help Others

Customer Loyalty, Traditional Values Fuel $4 Million Business 1
AAA Nissan Cargo Van with Advertising Wrap

Twenty years ago his company focused on service work: plumbing,  heating, and air conditioning. Ploennigs already had a solid business, but his steady customers kept asking him the same thing over and over again, “Why don’t you deliver oil too?” What finally convinced him to expand, however, was the desire to help a friend who was out of work. He didn’t need help with existing service business, but he bought a fuel truck and offered to go into the fuel business with his friend.  And that’s how AAA Fuel and Service was born, not out of the desire to make more money, but to meet the needs of his customers, and to help out a friend in need.

Customer Satisfaction: A Competitive Advantage

There were bigger fuel oil companies in New York’s Ulster County, of course, but how many of them had been asked to get into the fuel oil business by their customers?  Ploennigs’ AAA Fuel and Service was the only one. In a nutshell, Ploennigs’ USP (unique sales proposition)  was  that his company was a full-service, customer-focused fuel business, offering plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning too.

“Im not your typical owner,” says Ploennigs. “I give out my home number and my cellphone number. You go to the phone book and my number is there. You call my number, and I’m the one who answer the phone. We’re basically a word of mouth company.”

Keeping Customer Commitments With Nissan Trucks

AAA NissanWinters in the Northeast can be rough, and Ploennig has selected vehicles that can stand up to harsh conditions and keep running. He prides himself on being on-time when a customers has a problem, even in brutal weather, which is why he bought a was a new Nissan NV2500, customized for his environment.

I love Nissan, they are very reliable and they have a real good warranty.

“I was the first in the Northeast to have a custom-made, all-wheel drive Nissan NV2500.  It’s a nice truck. We put it through a winter last year, and we know what it can do. It can go quick.I love Nissan, they are very reliable and they have a real good warranty.” Another thing that Ploennigs appreciates about Nissan is that even though they’re a Japanese company, his vehicles are made in the USA.


 Watch out for False Economies; Buy New and Save

When he first started in business, things was tight and Ploennigs bought used trucks in order to save money. “If I were to give someone a recommendation, I’d say, if you can, ‘buy new’ because the back and forth maintenance on used vehicles will kill you,” says Ploennigs.

Buy new, because the back and forth maintenance on used vehicles will kill you

He recalls sitting down one evening and working out the figures on buying used vehicles versus new vehicles, and when he finished, he leaned back in her chair and said, “what am I, nuts?” He discovered that it was costing him more money to buy and maintain used vehicles. Now he buys new trucks and maintains them to save money.

Get the best deals on Nissan’s new Commercial Vans

Financing His Business and Building a Reputation

The fuel business requires a lot of expensive equipment, yet Ploennigs says he financed his company out of his own pocket using the earnings he had put aside during his career.

In recent years, however, AAA has grown to the level that self-financing is no longer practical, and Ploennig established a line of credit at a local savings bank who’s president is someone Ploennig grew up with the fuel oil business. While working within your network is useful, what’s important to Ploennig is that his bank manager actually understands his business and how it operates. According to Ploennigs, “Most bankers would look at our cash flow and say, ‘Oh, this doesn’t look right.’ My banker will look at it and say ‘No, that’s the way their industry runs.'”

Related: Why Bank Loans Are Still Worth the Trouble

Today AAA Fuel and Service is a four million dollar business with seven employees. “In some ways, I’m bigger than I want to be, and we’re growing every day,” says Ploennigs. “Last month we picked up 40 customers, which is a lot.”

I don’t want to make a billion dollars. I don’t overcharge the customer; that’s not my way of doing things, and that’s why I’m busy today, and why my business has always been steady.


Fair Play for Customers and Employees Alike

A big part of Ploennig’s steady growth have been his old-fashioned values. While AAA is booming right now, and he’s looking to hire more people. However, all businesses experience ups and downs, and when a down cycle comes, Ploennigs is steadfastly loyal to his employees. “I don’t lay people off, I never have,” says Ploennigs.  “That’s my business practice, I don’t believe in it.  I’ll have them cut the grass with a pair of scissors to keep them busy if I have to.”

Related: Eight Commonsense Ways to Build Value in Your Company

Ploennigd believes in being honest and fair with people, and his advice for other businessmen, especially those just getting started is simple: Don’t try to build your business on the backs of your customers.  “I don’t want to make a billion dollars,” says Ploennigs. “I don’t overcharge the customer; that’s not my way of doing things, and that’s why I’m busy today, and why my business has always been steady.”


Related Content

 Why Bank Loans Are Still Worth the Trouble

Eight Commonsense Ways to Build Value in Your Company

Related: How to Make Your Vehicle a Rolling Billboard


Leave a Reply