Q & A With Shelter Island’s John Hallman

John Hallman

John Hallman. (Credit: Monique Singh-Roy)

As Shelter Island’s oldest propane company, John’s Gas Service has carved out a niche for itself.

The business services most of the island, as well as a good portion of the South Fork, providing everything from propane deliveries to whole house gas and water heater installations. They’ll even fill up the propane tank for your barbecue grill.

But it’s only part of what keeps owner John Hallman busy these days.

Hallman, 73, who has owned the business for 32 years, also does environmental water testing and analysis for commercial properties like hotels, motels and restaurants. Having sold the residential portion of the water analysis business years ago, Hallman now does about 1,000 samples a year.

To him that’s not a lot — his propane business is much more lucrative and keeps him busy most days. Luckily his wife, Carol, handles the administrative responsibilities so he can focus on the physical work.

“We’ve always worked together. We don’t strangle each other very often,” he joked.

Q: HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN THE PROPANE BUSINESS?

A: We used to own Carol’s Stationery & Luncheonette. I was doing water then, but I was looking for something else. A friend of ours, who had just bought the gas business the year before, couldn’t handle it and asked if I’d be interested in buying it. For a part-time thing it was fine; back then it was 100-pound tanks, so I did [both] until we sold the luncheonette in 1999. When we sold the store I really got involved with trucks and stuff like that and we started a whole new life and developed this.

Q: WHAT’S THE BEST PART OF OWNING YOUR OWN BUSINESS?

A: I’m my own boss, I like solving problems. But the people are the best part of it. We’re really people persons and there are a lot of nice people out here and, of course, the customer’s always right.

Q: WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES OF RUNNING YOUR OWN BUSINESS?

A: Government intervention and taxes. Things just aren’t the same as they used to be, but there’s not much you can do about it; they’ve got to get their money.

Finding good help is also a problem. I just lost a guy three weeks ago. I’ve got one good guy who’s been with me 10 years. It takes a while to train somebody. I send them to school [for installation certification] because it’s important they know how to do the job and be certified. To me that’s the tough part.

Q: ARE YOU SEEING AN INCREASE IN PEOPLE/CONSTRUCTION ON SHELTER ISLAND?

A: Yes, all of a sudden within the last year, year and a half. Yeah, a lot of stuff is happening, there’s a lot of building going on out here, a lot of big houses.

Q: ARE THERE ANY MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT YOUR JOB?

A: I don’t think people have misconceptions. They know what we are and what we do. Builders use me for piping new houses; they know that I know what I’m doing. Sometimes we’ll have a difficult installation, but we’ll work it out.

Q: WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?

A: Work, work, work. My kids say it’s time for me to retire, for us to retire, but I love what I do. We’re not people who sit around and do nothing. We don’t get bored, I’ll tell you that. We did get bored on Christmas afternoon. We didn’t know what to do. I should have gone out and split some wood or something or done some paperwork.

Q: WILL THE BUSINESS GET HANDED TO THE NEXT GENERATION OF HALLMANS?

A; They don’t want it. I can’t even get the grandchildren interested. We are working on a contingency plan if anything happens to us.

Q: ARE THERE ANY PLANS TO EXPAND?

A: No, we gain customers weekly. People call up, we get customers from word of mouth and we enjoy what we do. Carol is my PR person, she really is. I can’t be bothered, I’ve been so busy. I’ve got houses that I’ve got to pipe, I’m doing it myself and I’m getting it done. It’s a challenge to me and I like challenges.

Q: WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT LIVING ON SHELTER ISLAND?

A: We’ve always lived here, this is home. We have a place on Marathon Key; we rent it out, then go down for a week in the spring and a week in the fall. But it’s changed here considerably.

John’s Gas Service is located at 5 St. Mary’s Road on Shelter Island.

johnsgas.com

Call (631) 749-0195 for a free estimate or more information.

This story was originally published in the 2015 edition of northforker Business