For custom retailers with delivery and installation fleets, the rising cost of fuel is a double whammy, one that drives up expenses while eroding consumer confidence and depressing sales.
To cope, c-tailers are scouring their P&L statements, trimming costs, leveraging efficiencies and upping fees and warranty prices to restore margin.
Operating its fleet of more than 200 vehicles, Abt Electronics & Appliances is in a unique position. It handles its own fueling and maintenance in-house, enabling the Glenview, Ill., company to maintain, wash, fuel and store its fleet on premises.
“We save about 15 cents a gallon by having our own pumps, and we save a lot of time since the drivers don’t have to make special stops for fueling,” Mike Abt explained in an e-mail interview.
For several years, Abt’s big trucks have run on a biodiesel fuel mixture in the summer months (earning the company Illinois’ “Green Fleet” designation last year). In addition, Abt fleet manager Charles Metoyer is adding flex-fuel vehicles that run on e85 (a fuel mixture of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline) with an eye towards building the number of flex-fuel vehicles so Abt can stock its own e85 fuel on site.
At press time, the nation’s average retail prices of gasoline and diesel fuels Had started to decline slightly from a record-setting summer.
For the week of Sept. 22, the average U.S. retail price of gasoline was 371.8 cents per gallon, and the average diesel retail price was 395.8 cents per gallon. Both were up significantly over last year.
Asked, via e-mail, whether the company expected to face $4-and-rising per gallon gasoline costs when it began greening its fleet, Mike Abt wrote back in all capital letters: “NO”.
He stated: “We’ve seen fuel costs more than double in the last two years.” To mitigate the increased expense, he said Abt routes its trucks more efficiently, places heavy emphasis on routine fleet maintenance and fuel conservation (see sidebar), and encourages customers to buy online.