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New player Wilson Beck enters LPG market

For the past six months, Wilson Beck LPG Limited has been quietly staking a claim in Jamaica’s liquid petroleum gas or cooking gas market.

The company operates from lands that house the shuttered Bernard Lodge sugar factory, where it has set up an LPG filling plant.

Co-owner Gregory Beck wasn’t looking to go toe to toe with big rivals Gaspro, IGL, and Petcom, but rather to gradually build up market share.

Wilson Beck LPG is a 50:50 partnership between Gregory Beck and local attorney at law Timothy Wilson. Beck, an American from Indiana who is married to a Jamaican, previously did medical software sales and consulted with Texaco Jamaica when they were setting up a partnership with the Miguel Smith-owned Yaadman LPG brand.

Smith has since exited the partnership with Texaco, and Wilson Beck now has an arrangement with TexGas, a Texaco subsidiary, for the supply of propane and butane.

Beck said US$1.5 million was invested in setting up the business at Bernard Lodge in St Catherine.

Wilson Beck LPG holds a 20-year lease on the two-acre plot, which the company plans to purchase in the near future. The building that houses the company’s offices is the former clubhouse of the sugar factory.

Companies Office records show that Wilson Beck LPG Limited was registered in October 2018. Beck said the start-up had challenges getting the business off the ground due to delays in obtaining the necessary regulatory approvals.

He said the company began using the location as a distribution hub back in November 2020 while its gas cylinders were filled elsewhere. While the company awaited approval to operate its own filling plant, Beck said they entered into an arrangement with GB Energy to have the cylinders filled.

The filling plant was fully established in November 2021, he said, but the regulatory greenlight did not come until May 2022, at which time the company started filling its red 27-pound WB LPG cylinders at the Bernard Lodge site.

“There was a lot of delays with the pandemic, but we were seeding the market with our cylinders so that when we opened our plant we didn’t have to start from square one,” Beck said.

The high-specification plant, with its two storage tanks standing two storeys high, five filling stations, and a quality control weigh station, fills about 700-800 cylinders per week, he said.

Wilson Beck aims to double its output in another six months.

Beck said the filling the plant had the capacity to do up to 500 cylinders per day were demand to pick up.

The company is targeting its supplies of gas to established communities in St Catherine and partnering with nearby housing schemes, such as Phoenix Park. But it is also making inroads into Clarendon and Manchester through large dealer AIG Gases out of May Pen.

Wilson Beck LPG has agreements with about 25 active dealers at this time but is looking to add more.

“We’re trying to grow with dealers that are credible. We want to work with people that have been in the area for a while that are technically competent, have a good customer base, and know how to manage their business,” he said, adding that the company prefers to sell through dealers rather than to individual customers.

“We work with dealers in Portmore, Spanish Town, and Kingston. So far, that has been our sweet spot.”

To gain an edge in the market, Beck said the company’s 26.62-pound cylinders of gas are sold at around the same price as the 24.42-pound cylinders distributed by others in the market and that its propane to butane mix is around 30/70. The higher amount of butane, Beck says, yields a cooking flame that delivers more heat per cylinder of gas.

Checks with industry players indicate that while the propane/butane mix varies, cooking gas suppliers tend to use up to 60 per cent propane. Additionally, the present price of the 25-pound cooking gas on the retail market ranges between $3,600 and $4,200 while Wilson Beck sells at around $3,500 to $3,600 per cylinder.

LPG is always a mix of the lighter propane and the denser butane. Companies use different mixes to take advantage of price differentials while toeing the line between saving money and offering better value by using more of the heavier butane.

“The best marketing that we can do is to make our cylinders last a little bit longer than the competitors,” said Beck.

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