Rebuilt propane tanks
Business View Magazine interviews Brad Ragains, owner of BLT Tanks, as part of our focus on the tank and pressure vessel sector.
BLT Tanks LLC is a family-owned business located near Kingfisher, Oklahoma. Its products include rebuilt propane tanks, new and used propane tanks, storage tanks, bobtail barrels, dispensers and carriers, and crafted tanks. According to owner, Brad Ragains, the company started in 1994, “more by accident than by design. It was more of a second job, or hobby, if you will,” he admits. “We saw a need and the need was profitable, and so we went ahead. I worked several years by myself and, after that, we started hiring employees. Currently, we have 65 employees and we do business, worldwide.”
Ragains adds that BLT has no meaning other than being the initials of family members. “We had to have a name, according to the tax commission in the State of Oklahoma, so we just threw that out there and it stuck.” In addition to the main office in Kingfisher, there is another BLT office in Brookings, Oregon. The company’s customers are most of the major propane companies in the U.S.
“Our primary focus is to rebuild and make used tanks, new again,” Ragains explains. “They’ve been making propane tanks for 75 years, or so, and some of those tanks are still in great shape. Our business is to find out which ones are still serviceable, and still good and safe, refurbish them, put new brass valves on them, and put them back out there. We can make most of them look like new, again. We’re competing with new vessels, but we’re providing the rebuilt ones from 40-65 percent of what new vessels cost, with nothing lost in service. And we can make them look like the new vessel. Actually, the older ones are a little heavier, the shells thicker. And they’re more durable than the new ones.”
Tanks that cannot be refurbished are either scrapped or, somehow, reused. “Everything that comes in is repurposed if it’s not used for propane,” Ragains says. “The neat thing about it being a steel vessel and heavy gauge steel, at that, is everything has another purpose. One of the things we are making, right now, is barbeque smokers for cooking large quantities of meat; also, firepits out of the end caps. The brass valves get recycled, as well.”
Regarding the competition, Ragains reports that being the only business, in an admittedly niche market, that is truly family-owned and operated, gives BLT an advantage. “That personal touch may give us an edge,” he muses. “What we believe makes us better is we always strive to have excellent quality and excellent customer service. Most people seem to appreciate that service and keep coming back for it. Then, we also offer a reasonable and fair price – not always the cheapest, but a good, fair price.”
Ragains reports that, currently, the market for new, used, and refurbished propane tanks is very good, and that the company is also gaining some business from the home heating oil sector. “That’s a diminishing business, because the cost of home heating furnaces is more expensive,” he says. “Also, people continue to build in rural areas, and they like some of the advantages of propane versus electricity from a performance standpoint. And as far as cooking goes, most successful chefs like to cook with gas, whether it’s propane or natural gas.”
Ragains adds that BLT Tanks depends heavily on its suppliers and vendors for quality materials and services: “We use REGO for valves. They’re the best quality, bar none. We’ve used those for the 25 years we’ve been in business. We use a local paint company – HIS Paints. They deliver very high quality coatings at a price we can stand and they provide great support. They help us with trade shows and things like that. That’s been a good partnership. In trucking, we use Landstar. Again, they provide us with very good service – not always the cheapest, but the best. We use Squibb Taylor for gauges because they’re the best quality. We try to use the best quality that we can.”
Going forward, Ragains says that there is little new in the industry, and that BLT Tanks will simply try to continue doing business, as usual. “We’re still trying to grow,” he states “We’re gaining market share in a small industry. The good thing about our customers is they call and reorder. The first time we talk to a new customer, it’s, maybe, several times on the phone. After that, it’s usually a five-minute conversation. We just try to provide good service at a good price. We’re not creating a rocket; propane tanks are very simple, standard things.”
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AT A GLANCE
WHO: BLT Tanks
WHAT: A producer of rebuilt tanks and pressure vessels
WHERE: Kingfisher, Oklahoma
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