The Seasonal Member: A Case Study

Article excerpt

Because our seasonal members are usually a bit "different" from the average people on our lines, it is sometimes tempting to consider them a necessary evil, feel that they may not be worth all the special attention they demand and show a sigh of relief when they have exited our offices. And so it is with any member subgroup, whether they be residents of the upper crust subdivision on the outskirts of town, irrigators, a mobile home park or anybody else whose needs and priorities make them a more difficult load to serve.

In this article, Al Klose reports on the results of a research study undertaken by Polk-Burnett Electric Cooperative in which they learned a great deal about their seasonal members. Their goal was to identify who the seasonals are demographically, learn some of their present energy use patterns and then determine what else the cooperative might be able to offer them. It's a project well worth emulating, and we appreciate Polk-Burnett's willingness to share their results with us.

Many markets have sales that fall into regular seasonal patterns. Hardware stores have traditionally seen spring as the best opportunity for the sale of lawn and garden supplies.[1] Grocery stores find regular seasonal patterns for the sale of products such as soup, ice cream, and soft drinks.[2] Research has shown that "the average expenditure for jewelry and watches in the fourth quarter is double that in any other quarter, and television, radio and sound equipment purchases are a third higher."[3] From industry to industry, managers are faced with seasonal products and seasonal customers.

The sale of electricity is no exception. Researchers have demonstrated time and time again the seasonal variations in the demand and sale of electricity.[4,5,6] The main thrust of this seasonal demand research focuses on climate, appliance stock, and the prices of alternative fuels. These macro seasonal demand models demonstrate how temperature, appliance penetration levels and alternative fuel prices affect the demand for electricity.

SEASONAL CUSTOMERS OR MEMBERS

Another important factor in the seasonal demand for electricity, which is often overlooked, is the residential seasonal customer. A residential seasonal customer is, for the purpose of this paper, defined as someone who has a home which is occupied for less than six months each year. Examples of seasonal homes are cabins, lake homes, winter homes, and summer homes.

In some regions of the U.S. the seasonal member makes up a large percentage of the electrical load for our systems. The number of "individuals staying in housing units occupied entirely by persons with a usual home elsewhere, as of April of 1980, was 500,000."[7]

However, the profile of the seasonal member does not remain homogeneous among regions. The seasonal member in many of the southern states is made up of "snowbirds"--individuals who travel to the south to avoid the winter cold. In the lake regions and coastal areas the seasonal members are those who have lake homes and beach houses; in the mountain regions, they are people who own cabins. Across the country seasonal members make up a very diverse group and occupy many different types of residences.

CASE STUDY

To obtain the profile of the seasonal member for a specific region, Polk-Burnett Electric Cooperative in Centuria, Wisconsin commissioned AHP Systems Market and Opinion Research to conduct a research study. The seasonal member is of primary importance to Polk-Burnett because of the large number of lake homes located in their service territory. Seasonal homes account for nearly 50% of Polk-Burnett's total customer base.

The Polk-Burnett study was designed to gather demographic information on seasonal members, collect end-use data, and determine whether the seasonal members had any unique needs that could be met by the cooperative. The study was completed in the spring of 1990 and had a sample size of 300. …