Kraig Kupersmith has a master’s degree in aviation maintenance technology from Embry Riddle, served as a first lieutenant in the Special Forces with the Navy during the first Gulf War in Operation Desert Shield and has traveled extensively.
He’s lived in the Caribbean, actually grew up there after moving the island nation from his birthplace of Daytona Beach when he was just a few months old.
His parents, Ralph and Iavona, owned a motel and marina, and his father was a charter boat captain. Kraig grew up around water. After leaving the Caribbean, the couple lived in North Fort Myers for years until their passing.
The 46-year-old has lived in Pine Island for 14 years along with his wife, Domonic, and their pets, Angel, a Tibetan terrier and EC, a tiger stripe cat they rescued from PAWS. Both of their babies are three years old.
And now, as of the first of July, he is the new owner of ProGas on Pine Island, 5465 Pine Island Road. He worked for the company for a few years before deciding to buy it.
After his military stint, Kupersmith worked for Eastern Airlines.
“They went bankrupt,” he said. He then decided being self-employed was a better option: he got involved in the telecommunications industry, working as a contractor for providers such as ATT, Brighthouse and Comcast.
He spliced fiber optic cable. “I did a lot of hurricane work,” he said. Once work in Florida slowed, he followed the jobs: Tampa, St. Petersburg, then Michigan City, Ind.
“I worked there for awhile,” he said adding that because it was a central area and close to places such as Chicago and other Midwestern states, it was easy to find work.
Then, most of the companies were bought out and worked slowed again. Plus, he missed his home state.
“I wanted to come back to Florida where it was warm,” Kupersmith said. “I came back up here and the rest is history.”
Meantime he did some work in Jamaica, too, but that was before the proverbial real estate bubble burst.
“When you are working overseas, you don’t really know what’s going on,” he said. “I didn’t know anybody who lost their job at that time. I came back up here, took a couple of jobs.”
Those jobs included driving truck — he has his commercial driver’s license, worked for a friend who had a recycling business — business slowed and he no longer worked. He worked as a manager for the former owners of what is now known as ProGas.
“The economy is slow, business is off and they basically wanted to be landlords,” Kupersmith said. As manager, he helped them build the business, but when it slowed “they were either going to close down or I was going to take it over. I told them I’d give it a shot.”
He doesn’t have a delivery service, but can fill anyone’s propane tanks.
“We mainly service residential, people’s barbecue grills, fill their tanks,” he said. And he likes to educate people that his prices are lower than many other places. “You get 20 pounds (of propane) for $20. We’re cheaper than the trade-in places,” he said. “Most of those places give you 15 pounds” for more money. “We actually give you five pounds more and when you think of it, it’s more cost-effective. You’re paying more money and getting five pounds less and that’s a lot of cooking.”
Five pounds is equal to five of the small Coleman-type of gas used for portable grills.
He also supplies propane for commercial forklifts, some commercial mowers and “a lot of RVs,” he said.
Kupersmith is still deciding on a regular work schedule: right now he’s open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday during the summer. He may change that to 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during season.
“I’m trying to experiment and feel it out,” he said. “I don’t want to work 24-7.”
In addition to selling propane, he stocks some parts and accessories, such as basic parts for grill repair.
“I did try to diversify a little bit,” he said. “Doing just propane is kind of a hard sale.”
But because the store is small, he doesn’t keep larger items in stock, except for a few high-quality grills.
“I do have some heaters,” he said. And if someone wants something the business doesn’t have, “I can get anything propane, from a refrigerator or if you want to convert a car, usually in two days.”
And he prides himself on customer service.
“I think we beat the competition,” Kupersmith said. “We want to give you service. We’ll take the cylinder out of your car, fill it up and put it back in your car.”
In the end, the highly educated veteran proclaims about his newest venture: “I think I did the right thing.”
Kraig Kupersmith is the new owner of ProGas on Pine Island