September 30, 2005

Lawn care businesses feel pinch of soaring gas prices

By José A. Álvarez

Joaquin Porfirio has been doing landscaping and lawn care work for more than 13 years and never has he seen his expenses grow so much. The culprit? The soaring gasoline prices.

“They’re affecting everyone,” said Porfirio, a Mexican native who runs his small landscape business from his home in Lakeside. “Before, I used to spend about $50 dollars in gas per week. And now it’s more than $100.”

The increasing price of gas has made local lawn care and landscaping business owners feel the pinch since these types of businesses use large amounts of gasoline daily. They don’t only have to worry about the cost of gas in driving from one job to the next, but they must also factor in the expenditure of gas to operate their equipment and machinery.

“The rising cost of gas is greatly affecting lawn care business owners. Gasoline is on of the largest variable costs a lawn care company can face,” said Amanda Turner, from www.StartALawnCareBusiness.com, a website that sells products to help people start their own landscaping and lawn care business and offers advice on how to reduce their operating costs.

“One of the things that we recommend to the lawn care business owners…is to attempt to have all their customers within close range,” added Turner. “If they can have many customers in the same neighborhood and if they service those customers in the same day, they will not have to waste gas, and time, driving their equipment back and forth to each customer.”

Porfirio has done exactly that. One reason is to save on gas and the other so that he can have more free time to do other types of jobs.

“I do this (landscaping) for three days and the rest of the week I try to do construction jobs,” said Porfirio, on his way to a local home improvement store to look for a part to fix an irrigation system.

Another option lawn care and landscaping businesses have to reduce their expenses is to pass the cost on to their clients; an option not many are exercising, yet.

“If I tell them I am going to raise the prices, they threaten me with going to someone else,” said Porfirio, adding that the income from his 30 clients is barely enough to support his wife and three children. “Besides, some already have decreased the number of times per month they want me to come work in their yard.”

Chula Vista Lawn Care owner, Charles Ludwic, has increased his prices, but only for new clients.

“I don’t want to lose the business that I have,” said Ludwic, while mowing the lawn at a home in the Hilltop area of Chula Vista. “The gas prices are also affecting them.”

However, Ludwic said that if the price of gas keeps rising, passing the additional cost to consumers is inevitable.

“It’s going to happen. There’s no way that I can continue having the additional expense coming out of my pocket,” Ludwic said.

What lawn care business owners are doing instead to reduce their expenses is letting go of some employees and not relying on temporary help.

“Because of the cost of gas, I either have to pay my three employees a little bit of overtime or go do the work myself,” said Ludwic, who’s had to stop using his three temporary employees.

Javier Ferreira, an employee of O’Connell Landscaping, said his boss had to let go of an employee just last week.

“The cost of gas is affecting the owners a lot,” said Ferreira while checking on a sprinkler system in Otay Ranch.

Some landscaping business owners have had no other option but to pass the cost to consumers.

“You have to boost your prices a little bit so that you can cover your wear and tear,” said Jesse Marquez, who runs his tree trimming business from the back of his small truck. “The old clients don’t seem to mind because they know that you have to cover the cost of gas,” added Marquez, whose nephews help him take care of his 15 clients.

To help reduce fuel consumption, www.StartALawnCareBusiness.com offers the following tips:

· Plan routes and schedules carefully.

· Keep all tires properly inflated on all vehicles.

· Only carry the equipment you will need for the day.

“Gas prices are expected to stay high, but with proper techniques, gas prices will not take a bite out of your bottom line,” concluded Turner.

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