Northside Propane has been a landmark Lutz business for 50 years, ever since Gerald Gratton moved here from Canada in 1962 and began a business that services residential and commercial customers with propane gas for cooking,heating and fuel. Located on six acres on the west side of US 41, about a mile south of Sunset Boulevard, the company remains family owned today in an era when many independent propane businesses have sold out to large national companies.
Gratton died several years ago and his sons, Bob and Paul, continue his legacy as co-owners of Northside Propane. They leave the day-to-day operation to Dave Ovitt, a 29-year employee and their general manager since 1995. “When Gerald started the company, people told him he was nuts opening a business way out here in Lutz,” said Ovitt, “But as the years went on, we got busier and were here to meet the growth as it moved north of Tampa.” Northside Propane services customers throughout the Tampa Bay region, but most come from Hillsborough and Pasco counties.
About 70 percent are businesses — primarily restaurants, laundries, dry cleaners and agriculture — and the rest are homeowners who use propane to fuel their stove, hot water heater, fire-place, clothing dryer, hot tub/spa and furnace. “We have many, many all gas homes where we bury the tanks and come out every two months to service and fill their tanks,” said Ovitt. “Propane is a very affordable way to power your appliances.” Propane is liquid petroleum and according to Ovitt, is almost half the price of electric power.
“You’re looking at $3 a gallon for our propane, which we can lock in for a year, versus $3.50 a gallon for gas,” said Ovitt. “Many large vehicle fleets use propane because it saves money and is better for the environment. Everybody wants to go green and propane is a much cleaner fuel than electric.” The propane business is very regulated and propane is sold to distributors like Northside for essentially the same price, regardless of volume, said Ovitt. “We’re all buying gas at the same rate,” said Ovitt. “The difference between an independent company like Northside and one of the national companies is not price — it’s customer service and no bureaucracy. Customers call and talk to me and anyone else at the company direct, instead of having to weed through voice mail and wait for returned calls.” Northside Propane has 15 employees, many who have been employees for over 10 years and live in the Lutz/Land O’Lakes area.
“All of our employees treat customers as if they’re part of our family,” said Ovitt. “Our people are friendly and customers can talk to anyone, myself included, anytime. I give my cell phone number out to customers so I’m available 24/7.” Ovitt credits his co-workers for Northside Propane’s solid financial performance over the years, even during the recent economic slowdown. “It’s all about selling one gallon of propane at a time,” said Ovitt, who adds his company still fills thousands of 5-gallon propane tanks a year for Lutz residents needing to recharge their home barbecue tanks. “A lot of our business is new construction and it’s coming back,” said Ovitt. “Contractors are back to building several custom homes a year and that has always been our niche. It’s good to see this swinging back upwards.” By his upbeat manor and continual smile, it’s apparent Ovitt loves his company and his job. “I get to meet new people every day and help them solve their energy needs,” said Ovitt. “ I treat this business as if it was my own and focus on the many positive things happening here at Northside Propane.”