A few years ago, a national propane shortage caused propane prices to skyrocket –- and led Kristin Westman to spend a lot of time on the phone.
Westman is general manager of Falcon-based Apollo Propane. Amid that propane shortage, the decision was made to call each and every customer to warn them of the price spikes.
"Every delivery, before it was made, we would call and explain what was happening, what was causing the prices to go up, and work with each of the customers to evaluate how much gas they had, if they needed fuel or if they could hold off," Westman recalled.
Honesty and consumer education are key underpinnings of the business, she said. "It was just really important for us not to leave anybody in a surprise situation to where they got a bill and they weren't expecting it."
Westman's father, Bryan Shunk, and his father, Donald Shunk, started Apollo Propane in 1984. Bryan Shunk grew up in Pueblo, where his father worked at CF&I Steel Corp. After he retired, Donald Shunk moved the family to Falcon, and they started the business. Bryan Shunk had an uncle who was in the propane business, and he provided tanks for the new company.
The company provided a variety of services at first, Shunk said. "When I started, we were doing trenching, also septic systems, water lines, driveways, all kinds of stuff." But it was the propane side of the business that came to dominate –- a good thing for Shunk’s kidneys.
Back then, he said, "I was having kidney stones all the time. When you're driving a back hoe, it seems to pound them out all the time. So we just concentrated on the propane, and it's been real good."
Did he have any doubts about being in business with his father? "No," he said. "Dad and I got along real well." (Donald Shunk died in 2016.)
Similarly, Westman –- who grew up with the business and as a kid would look for which properties had a propane tank from Apollo and which didn't –- said she loves working with her father. "Dad's been a great teacher and really helped me to grow and gave me the freedom to really learn the company."
Shunk has equal praise for his daughter. "She's been a huge asset. Her enthusiasm for the business has been a big plus. I think the customers see it."
Both have short commutes. Westman is renting what was her grandfather's house, "right up the road" from Apollo, and Shunk also lives nearby.
There are other family connections as well. Shunk’s son works at Apollo and his middle daughter is there part time."And my wife, she'll come in and help," he said. "And then Bobby, Kristin’s husband, is our licensed HVAC person, and he just stays swamped."
Apollo added the HVAC installation and repair services in the past year. For now, Bobby Westman is a one-man department, but if demand remains as high as it has been for his services, they might have to hire another person to help, Westman said.
The company has been experiencing a growth spurt –- "a combination of new construction and then just people looking for new service options," Shunk said. Apollo serves about 2,200 customers, and its delivery trucks cover a lot of miles.
"We travel east of Rush, west to Eleven Mile Reservoir, north from Kiowa, south to the Hanover-Midway area," Shunk said. "So it's a pretty good-size area."
While winter's obviously the busiest season for propane deliveries, Apollo's employees stay busy year-round; in the summer, there is vehicle maintenance, safety checks and painting tanks to do, among other things. ”It's important to us that everybody stays employed year-round," Westman said.
Apollo Propane is a family affair — Kristin Westman, daughter and granddaughter of founders Bryan
Shunk and Donald Shunk, respectively — said she and her dad get along well in the business, just
like her dad and grandfather. Pictured here is Kristin and her dad, Bryan. Photo by Bill Radford