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Controlling costs: beating high fuel prices

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Sunday, October 01, 2006

High gas prices are hurting small businesses of all kinds, nationwide. And how to cope has become a hot topic of conversation among business owners and entrepreneurs. Hardest hit are businesses with operations that require a great deal of driving — for deliveries or to visit clients, for example — or that rely heavily on gas-guzzling trucks.

But nearly everyone is feeling the pain at the pump, and many who’ve resisted raising prices to compensate are at the breaking point. More and more small businesses are adding special fuel recovery fees or delivery surcharges, leaving cost-weary customers unhappy.

But the gas-induced profit squeeze is on, and many business owners fear that pump prices will go even higher. Employees are also feeling the pinch, and small employers are trying to help on that front as well. Some are boosting payments for employee-incurred mileage, while others are permitting workers to telecommute more often.

Helping ease the burden of high gas prices on employees has become a new way for small businesses to maintain morale and reduce turnover.

Here are some things your business can do to cope with profit-pinching gas prices:

Sign up for rebates. The popularity of gas rebate credit cards among small businesses has skyrocketed. These cards offer rebates ranging from 2% to 6% at the gas pump, so the higher gas prices go, the more you get back. Savings of 10 to 35 cents a gallon really add up.

There are many types to choose from, including cards that give rebates at any gas station. Some cards offer rebates of 10% for the first 90 days. But gas rebate cards tend to carry higher interest rates, so be sure to pay off the card monthly or you’ll burn your gas savings on interest.

Review gas rebate credit card offers and apply online at CreditCardGuide.com. The site lists details of 14 different gas rebate card offers from major banks, oil companies and service station chains. Click “Gas Rebate Cards” in the left hand column.

Also visit PumpAndSave.com for similar comparisons and helpful money saving tips.

Find the cheapest gas in your area. How do you know where that is? Easy. Just check one of the online gas price comparison sites such as GasBuddy.com or GasPriceWatch.com. They can tell you what stations are selling gas the cheapest in your zip code.

Ship more efficiently. High fuel costs are forcing major shipping and delivery companies to raise prices and fuel add-on fees. Comparing shipping costs among different carriers is now more important than ever. And by consolidating shipments, switching to smaller and lighter packaging materials and perhaps drop- shipping from different locations, you can save money. Two places to compare shipping costs are FreightQuote.com and RedRoller.com.

Pay attention to scheduling. Many small businesses can save money by doing a better job of scheduling trips to visit clients or run errands. Group stops and appointments so you don’t end up going back and forth to the office three or four times a day. And if you can accomplish more of your business by phone or online, avoid the driving altogether.

Switch to more fuel-efficient vehicles. When it’s time to buy new vehicles for your small business, take fuel efficiency into account. Lighter-weight vehicles, smaller engines and hybrids can save your business money.

The difference between a vehicle that gets 20 miles per gallon and one that gets 30 MPG amounts to nearly $1,000 per year at today’s gas prices for a typical small business.

A great place to compare side-by-side vehicle information for gas mileage (as well as safety and other features) is FuelEconomy.gov, a site created by the U.S. Department of Energy, that offers a wide range of helpful information, on gas mileage, gas prices, alternative fuel vehicles and more.

— Daniel Kehrer, editor, Biz.com


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