Switching to a new utility provider is rarely a memorable event, but a Toms River couple who switched to New Jersey Natural Gas are the recipients of a very warm welcome as the utilities 500,000th customers.

Joann and James Hayes of Toms River were treated to a memorable service visit Wednesday morning, as NJNG CEO Laurence Downes along with hundreds of employees from their Wall NJ location delivered a special message over the phone welcoming them as the half millionth customers and presenting them with some gifts.

“It’s an important milestone for us getting to five hundred thousand new customers, and hope fully we’re on the way to many many more.” Says Downes.

The Hayes received a Broilmaster Premium Series natural gas grill, a $1,000 Visa gift card, and a gift bag with grilling utensils, an energy-efficiency seal up kit, CFL light bulbs, a low flow shower head, and other items.

Downes notes the couple will reduce 15 to 20 percent of their annual energy consumption switching from oil to natural gas, which will result in approximately $1,000 dollars saved annually.

The CEO says what’s symbolic about the half million point is it shows how far they’ve come as a company. Celebrating their sixtieth year, Downes says they started with only 14,000 customers.

“The value of the company back in 1982 was forty three million and now it’s 1.9 billion dollars. That’s a lot of progress.”

While many other companies are losing customers and business, Dowes believes the reason they’re able to thrive is because of the value their product provides.

“It’s actually priced very well right we’ve been able to reduce prices to our customers so in the face of some challenging economic times that have affected many other companies we have been able to continue to grow.”

Downes says not every company does this kind of thing for it’s employees.

“The customers are the heart of business they’re the reason we exist and any time we can celebrate not only a milestone like this but also remind customers how important they are to us and acknowledge the work our employees have done, we do as much of that as we can.”