The price of gasoline is creeping up again after a welcome but brief plunge in early autumn. Blame speculators, blame increased demand, blame whatever you want, but this is not surprising to those of you who have been in the landscape/lawn service industry for more than a few years.
PHOTO COURTESY OF MORGUEFILE/RUNRON.
You've learned to live with this volatility and provide services even if it complicates your budgeting efforts. (You do create an annual budget, right?)
When prices have spiked in the past, some of you successfully instituted small surcharges to your invoices to help cover the extra expense of delivering and producing your services. Others absorbed the extra cost and soldiered on.
Regardless of price, why would you, as the owner of a route-based service business, want to spend more for fuel than you must? After all, every extra dollar you spend on fuel you have to make up in sales and production. Do the math.
Some owners are trying to keep fuel costs in line with rather dramatic fleet and service equipment makeovers. For example, some companies with sizable vehicle fleets have equipped their field and account managers with hybrid vehicles, small crossovers or compact pickups rather than full-size pickups. If they're not hauling equipment around, why use trucks? And some companies, including TruGreen, the largest lawn care company in the world, are experimenting with hybrid service trucks.
The use of biofuels, including ethanol, appears more problematic, whether it's for environmental, economic or, heaven forbid, political reasons. Efforts by lobbying forces to expand the percentage of ethanol mixed with gasoline to 15 percent at our nation's fuel pumps presents huge potential misfueling issues for the hundreds of millions of pieces of legacy landscape equipment. This equipment was not engineered to operate with such a high ethanol content. The use of other biofuels, such as those fuels arising from restaurant grease and cooking oils, may offer environmental plusses and, perhaps, cost savings as well, but obviously their use is not widespread in the industry.
Returning to the issue of equipment fuels, propane is becoming popular for use in commercial mowers and, to a lesser extent, in other outdoor power equipment. The price of propane, like gasoline, is volatile, but even more so. Propane costs more in fall and winter when it's used to heat homes and dry grain, and less expensive in the summer when demand shrinks. Because propane burns cleaner than gasoline, engines that run on it require fewer oil changes and generally less maintenance, say users.
Clean-burning diesel is another popular fuel for commercial mowers and larger outdoor equipment. It packs more energy per gallon than gasoline or propane. It also offers compelling environmental advantages over gasoline. While diesel-burning equipment, including mowers, costs more than gasoline-powered equipment, for heavy-duty use it provides a lot of value.
Here are 10 time-proven fuel-saving tips and strategies, some obvious, some not so obvious:
1. Make sure on-site fueling stations are locked and accessible only to employees who record and are held accountable for fuel withdrawals.
2. Blitz marketing and sales to your prime neighborhoods and customer bases to decrease time behind glass and increase time on grass.
3. Use GPS tracking to get to stops more efficiently, including avoiding traffic bottlenecks and other travel time killers.
4. Institute a no-idling rule for service vehicles.
5. Keep vehicles properly maintained, including regularly checking wheel alignment and tire pressure.
6. Lighten truck and trailer loads. Heavier loads require more fuel to move. If you don't use it, don't haul it.
7. Drive at or below the speed limit. In addition to not being cited, driving at lower speeds and fewer RPMs increases mileage.
8. Don't top off or overfill fuel tanks, which runs the risk of spillage and possible cleanups.
9. Use remote and secure staging areas for materials and equipment need for those big, multi-day jobs that require regular travel to and from your shop.
10. And, finally, here's the most important suggestion: Do the job right the first time so you or someone else doesn't have to go back and fix it.
If you have any money-saving fuel suggestions to add, please email them to me at the address below so we can pass them on.
Ron Hall, who has spent the past 27 years writing about the green industry, is editor-in-chief of Turf magazine. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.