Running on empty

By Rodric Hurdle-Bradford

The East Coast landscaping industry responds to the gas shortage.

The East Coast fuel supply is on the path back to normalcy after long lines at gas stations, closed pumps and skyrocketing prices.

“It has been a week and we are still trying to reduce and minimize use of everything. We still have only about 50% of our gas stations up and running,” says Leslie Herndon, president of Greenscape Inc., Raleigh, North Carolina, who also serves as president of the North Carolina Nursery and Landscape Association. “North Carolina has been the hardest-hit state in all of this, so we have learned how important our relationships are with our fuel suppliers. Those who are willing to pivot and pivot quickly will be the ones who can take on these challenges, just like we have had to with COVID-19.”

The need to reanalyze current relationships with fuel providers is the main lesson Herndon and other landscape professionals have learned in the last week, including reviewing onsite fuel storage capacity and scheduling of refueling.

“We were very fortunate not to have an issue because we talked to our fuel supplier early on and our onsite fuel storage gave us a significant advantage,” says Tim Johnson, president of Tim Johnson Landscaping Inc., Statesville, North Carolina.

Johnson’s onsite fuel storage consists of 1,500 gallons of standard gasoline, 1,000 gallons of on-road diesel and 500 gallons of off-road diesel. A new analysis of the current storage facility has set a new goal for the company.

“After this situation we are looking to expand our onsite fuel storage capacity,” he says. “We are looking for a gas supplier that can supply us for a whole week.”

For landscapers like Herndon and Johnson, it is a matter of when, not if, for the next fuel crisis due to either weather, pandemic or hackers. They are trying to integrate operational solutions to minimize the effect of the next crisis. Along with increasing onsite fuel storage, Johnson is also looking to maintain their current schedule of daily fuel stops for all trucks, no matter their gas level.

“This creates a buffer just in case there is a power outage or any other crisis,” says Johnson. “We also have implemented the FuelCloud app for our driers to enhance our onsite fuel security. Our fuel is much more secure now than it was even a few years ago.”

Herndon points to both customer and vendor loyalty as the main reasons the crisis was easier for her to endure than others in the landscaping industry. She also implemented daily operational changes including talking to clients about bypassing certain services for the week so that all clients could be served.

“Another lesson learned is about starting the conversation with your customers as early as possible to minimize risk,” says Herndon, whose Greenscape firm focuses solely on servicing commercial projects. “We have also minimized our personnel hours from waiting in the long gas lines.”

Johnson is preparing for the next fuel crisis by not only expanding storage capabilities, but listening to how peers and vendors handled the crisis in the past week.

“We have our managers getting fuel at gas stations instead of our pumps so that it lasts longer onsite,” says Johnson. “We have talked to the staff about driving, idling and other things that can conserve fuel. But I have also learned a lot this week when I have had several contractors call me in panic. There have been lessons to be learned all the way around in this situation.”