As Americans hit the road again, gas prices are soaring, and that’s hitting small businesses hard. Demand for gas hit its highest level since 1991, according to AAA, and gas prices have risen by a whopping 40% since the beginning of the year. And prices are going to continue to rise for the foreseeable future.
Small businesses take a bit hit when gas prices surge. Certainly businesses with vehicles on the road every day—construction, maintenance, delivery, transportation—see the costs immediately and directly.
But even businesses that don’t directly use many vehicles feel the pinch. Every order we ship, every sales call we make, every trip to the office costs more. We’ve got to find ways to save money, especially on anything involving gas or fuel.
What’s a small business to do?
1. Drive less. Duh
This seems obvious, but to save gas, cut down on the number of trips you take. Cluster deliveries and appointments so you’re not backtracking or going on different days. Attach routine errands to other trips. If possible, use public transportation or park in a central location and walk to your meetings. Find alternatives to driving (see #3).
2. Use a gas app
When you do have to fill up, use an app to find cheaper gas near you (as well as cleaner bathrooms!). These apps show you the actual prices at gas stations near you (or along your route to your destination). Two of the most popular are Gasbuddy or Gas Guru (download from the Apple or GooglePlay app store).
3. Go digital
If there was one thing Covid taught us, it’s that we can hold a whole lot of meetings and handle a ton of routine business matters without having to drive somewhere. Switch as many meetings to Zoom or another teleconference option. And don’t forget the phone! You can also take care of a lot of business with just a phone call.
4. Look for gas reward programs
It’s great to get cash back or discounts. You can find all kinds of gas reward programs—from credit card companies, supermarkets, warehouse clubs, and more. Find one that works for you, sign up, and use it.
5. Reduce shipping expenses
Shipping costs have risen dramatically in the last few years, and higher gas prices mean ever higher shipping costs to come. Sit down and seriously evaluate your packing and shipping practices. Do you need to be shipping everything you currently ship?
Look for lighter-weight packing materials, use the smallest containers you can. Consolidate shipments whenever possible.
6. Keep your car in shape
Keep your tires inflated to the recommended pressure; if your tires are deflated even a few pounds from maximum, you’ll lose gas mileage. Get a tune up. Basically, an old car with mechanical problems is going to use more gas than a well-tended vehicle. And drive slower—you use less gas when you stick to the speed limit. (That’s a hard one for me!)
7. Switch to hybrid or electric vehicles
Time to trade in that old truck, car, or van? Make the switch to hybrid or electric to significantly cut your tie to the gas pump. You may even qualify for a federal tax credit. You can check it out at the Department of Energy website.
8. Lighten your load
The heavier the load in your car or truck, the more gas you use. Yes, I told you to combine trips, so that may mean a heavier load for fewer trips. But many small business owners keep a whole lot of stuff they don’t need with them at all times. Can you remove some of the tools, samples, or excess materials you’re lugging around?
9. Encourage bike riding, public transit, walking, carpooling
The most gas your employees may use is in getting to work. Consider reimbursing employees for some of the cost of public transportation or getting a prize of some sort if they ride to work.
Finally, there’s one terrific opportunity presented by higher gas prices. For entrepreneurs who are creating products or services that save money on energy, you’ll find more willing investors and more eager customers. So if you’ve got a great idea for an alternative energy product or service, now’s the time to go for it!
Copyright Rhonda Abrams, 2021
This article originally ran in USA Today on July 14, 2021