propane

Raymond Murray, who died in 2001, founded Ray Murray Inc. in 1973 as a wholesale propane equipment distributor, initially running the company out of his home in Stockbridge. The company later expanded into compressed gas and scuba equipment.

LEE — One of the country’s largest distributors of propane gas equipment and appliances recently came under new ownership through a previously approved transition plan.

Mike Hopsicker became the sole owner of Ray Murray Inc. in January, but the transaction officially was completed when he recently purchased the 48-year-old company’s plant at 50 Limestone Road for $3.6 million, according to documents filed at the Berkshire Middle Registry of Deeds in Pittsfield.

The new ownership entity, Hopsicker Property Holdings LLC, has obtained a $2.8 million mortgage on the property with Berkshire Bank, according to registry documents.

Hopsicker, the former CEO of Agway Energy Products, was brought into the business by the Murray family as president, CEO and minority owner in 2005, which is when the two parties began working on a planned transition of ownership. He has been RMI’s majority owner since April 2014.

No changes are planned to RMI’s current operations, although Hopsicker said he plans to eventually increase the current workforce of 74.

“We’re expecting to add employees over time,” he said.

The three Murray brothers, Ray Jr., Jim and John, the sons of late company founder Raymond Murray, will remain with RMI in advisory roles on the company’s management team.

In 2018, Ray Murray Jr. was awarded the National Propane Gas Association’s Distinguished Service Award, one of the propane industry’s highest honors. He has served as treasurer of the New York Propane Gas Association.

“Ray is kind of like a legend in the industry,” Hopsicker said.

In a statement, Ray Murray Jr. said, “This is a momentous occasion for our families and the entire team at RMI. We have thoroughly enjoyed working with Mike on the transition. His family has become our family!”

Hopsicker was a customer of RMI when he headed Agway, which is one of the country’s largest retail marketers of propane and fuel oil.

“I was fairly young when I became CEO of Agway,” he said, “but I had run big businesses and was looking to do something different.”

According to Hopsicker, the Murrays brought him in to RMI 16 years ago because they wanted to eventually turn over the company to someone they knew.

“It was important for them to maintain the legacy of the business,” Hopsicker said. “They didn’t want to just sell it to someone in a large organization. I fit the bill for that.”

The two parties didn’t originally set a time limit on when the transition in ownership would take place.

The Murrays “didn’t want to get out right away, so, we planned a transition over time,” Hopsicker said. “It wasn’t structured. ... I think we all thought it would be about a 10-year transition.”

Since Hopsicker joined RMI, the company has purchased four other companies, in Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey and North Carolina. Besides its headquarters in Lee, RMI operates warehouses in Flint, Mich., Bensalem, Pa., and Goldsboro, N.C., according to its website.

Raymond Murray, who died in 2001, founded RMI in 1973 as a wholesale propane equipment distributor, initially running the company out of his home in Stockbridge. The company later expanded into compressed gas and scuba equipment.

RMI divested itself of its scuba business product lines in 2006, but now also sells hearth products, HVAC and oil products and outdoor living items, such as grills. The company provides primary direct service to all states east of the Mississippi River.

“Words cannot express what a privilege it has been to be part of this organization since we opened the doors back in 1973,” Ray Murray Jr. said. “We will be eternally grateful for this opportunity.”