Superior Plus Corp looks to the future while improving everyday business
What does it take to turn around a company? Differentiate the customer experience and optimize operations to deliver your products and services efficiently. Superior Plus, an energy distribution and specialty chemicals company, has been following this course ever since Luc Desjardins took the reigns as president and CEO in 2011. The strategy has been serving the company, its customers, and its shareholders well.
Digitalizing to differentiate
A guiding philosophy of Mr. Desjardins has been to differentiate through digital innovation that improves the customer experience, and enables organic growth. For example, tank sensors and ERP software are used to more accurately predict propane deliveries and increase fill rates. Customers can then monitor their needs by a computer or mobile phone via a web platform. "Residential customers with recreational properties no longer need to drive for hours to check their propane tanks," says Robert Dorran, vice president(Investor Relations) and treasurer. "Industrial customers don't need to visit sites to check tank levels."
The company is a first mover in business digitalization in its markets. "The North American propane market is fragmented among many small-to-medium-sized companies," says Robert Dorran. "Smaller players lack the scale to apply technology to better serve customers."
A mindset of continuous improvement
This digital strategy is part of an initiative called Evolution 2020 which, in addition to differentiation, focuses on consistently identifying opportunities across the company to reduce costs and serve customers more efficiently.
Superior Plus has applied the mindset of continuous improvement to to shift staff to different roles in the propane business. By cross-training its drivers and service technicians, the workforce has flexibility to shift to staff to different roles. Drivers can fill the role of service technicians in the summer, and service technicians can make deliveries in winter.
For the specialty chemicals business, their patented "ERCO Smarts" service platform is helping pulp manufacturers to understand how much sodium chlorate they are using. ERCO's engineers then take a consultative role in helping customers to apply strategies to reduce the amount of chlorate needed.
"When you combine engineering expertise with a reputation as a good operator, customers are more willing to buy their chlorate from you, because you're helping their factories to operate efficiently," says Dorran. "By getting closer to our customers we can better address their needs."
Growth through acquisition
Strategic acquisitions also are integral to Evolution 2020 growth targets. The U.S. presents a major growth opportunity for the company's retail energy segment. Historically, the market has been able to consolidate among many small, independent companies. By making acquisitions in areas where the company already has a footprint, they are able to consolidate a market, and then expand through organic growth by extending their digital offerings to acquired customers. Superior Plus looks for between seven and ten acquisition opportunities annually.
Wells Fargo is supporting the U.S. market growth strategy of Superior Plus. "Our relationship with Wells Fargo is just a few years old, and the bank quickly stepped up to provide a meaningful role in our credit facility and as an advisor on M&A opportunities," says Dorran. As we expand in the U.S., we know that we can rely on Wells Fargo."
Focus on success
From early on, Mr. Desjardins worked to bring in the best leaders to guide the business towards his vision for differentiation and best-in-class operations. The management team has focused relentlessly on continuously improving the customer experience and operational efficiency.
What was once a highly leveraged company with shrinking EBITDA (a measure of operating profitability) today is growing organically and gaining market share while reducing operating cost. The result is to create sustained value for customers and shareholders and a bright future for the company.