Tanked!

Features - Fuel Management

Onsite fuel reduces costly windshield time and minimizes the risk of theft – if you plan properly.

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October 10, 2017
Kristen Hampshire

A truck with a crew pulls into a gas station. Three guys get out. One crew member gasses up the vehicle and fills some small fuel tanks for equipment. Another guy goes into the gas station store to buy a cup of coffee. The third waits in the truck.

How many man-hours were spent at the gas station? Now, multiply that per crew per workday – per month, per season. Yikes.

Some crews at Level Green Landscaping in Marlboro, Maryland, include six team members. If two of them are fueling the vehicle and equipment, there are four others on the clock. “Figure that times 50 crews, that’s a lot of money on lost labor,” says Craig Fugate, shop manager. Fifteen minutes of time at a gas station times four employees and 50 trucks – you’re up to 500 hours on a daily basis.

The good news: onsite fueling can cut that dead windshield time where employees are clocked in but unproductive. There are other benefits like reducing fuel theft, fuel discounts and better oversight of crews’ time.

That’s why Level Green has three fuel tanks at each of its three locations. What prompted the decision at one of the locations was not just labor savings, but $2,000 in fuel charges from a former employee who took advantage of a company gas card. “Now, we have more control over our fuel expenses,” Fugate says.

Pumped about the Pros.

Owning property was key for Level Green when the company was adding onsite fuel to its locations. “We started at our first location, where we put in a 500-gallon 89 octane tank for fueling equipment,” Fugate says. At the time, Level Green was renting that space and there was no place for additional tanks. Once the business moved locations, it added tanks for fueling.

The tanks are double-walled to prevent leaks, and the fuel supplier provides them, Fugate says. Insurance is required on the tanks at one location. “Every state or county or landlord has different regulations,” he says.

Bob Grover, president of Pacific Landscape Management in Hillsboro, Oregon, has three locations and onsite gasoline for fueling equipment only. “We buy mobile fueling trailers that are DOT-approved, but they don’t ever move,” he says of complying with state regulations. “Because they are mobile fuel stations, we don’t have to go through the same compliance issues as having an onsite tank.”

After navigating the restrictions and figuring out what you can do, there can be real cost savings per gallon associated with onsite fueling. Fugate says Level Green sometimes pays up to $0.10 less per gallon. When the company gave all of its fuel business to one supplier, it realized a greater cost benefit.

Plus, Level Green has an auto-fill agreement with its fuel supplier. “So, we never run out of fuel,” Fugate says. “And when it snows if the power is out, you can’t go to a gas station to get fuel. Here, we fire up a generator and we can still get fuel from our pumps.”

The sheer size of the company at $18 million justifies the need for onsite fueling. That number of crew members, vehicles and equipment is too costly to fuel up even at cardlock stations, Fugate says.

Though Grover has found that onsite fuel for equipment saves time at the gas station, using convenient cardlock stations for vehicles is most cost-effective due to the expense with having large onsite tanks. “We do monitor cardlock use,” he says, noting that vehicle mileage is tracked and compared with fuel purchases at cardlock stations. “If the miles per gallon goes way down, maybe not all the fuel is going into our vehicles. The other thing we watch is the (way) time cards are used. If it tells me a vehicle was fueled up at 9 p.m., it’s very possible that gas didn’t go into our truck off-hours.”

Systems are also in place for Pacific Landscape’s onsite mobile fuel tank. “There has to be some methodology on nights and weekends – we lock ours up after the workday so no one can access it,” Grover says.

Preparing for onsite fuel.

To gain the benefits of onsite fueling, there need to be some systems in place, points out Ben Collinsworth, CEO of Native Land Design in Cedar Park, Texas. Native Land Design does not yet have onsite fueling, but that’s only because the business will move in the short-term.

But Collinsworth has done his homework on what’s necessary to maximize the benefits of onsite fueling. For one, there’s property location and accessibility. “The fuel tanks have to be in an area where your guys can still come in and out and not be in the way of 18-wheelers or fuel delivery trucks,” he says. “Not all properties have that. If you are trying to get 15 crews out of a one-acre site, onsite fueling might not be for you. It has to be done safely.”

Also, the actual location of the business can impact the cost of fuel delivery, Collinsworth says. “If you are 30 miles out in the middle of nowhere and they’re going to charge you a ton to deliver the gas, maybe that doesn’t make sense financially,” he says.

And, how many tanks will you need? If you use diesel for vehicles, propane for mowers and 89-octane gasoline for handheld equipment, do you have room for three tanks onsite? Or, will you bring on type of fuel onsite and rely on gas stations or cardlock stations for other uses?

Who will police the system on site? Someone should be in charge of overseeing fueling, whether that’s a shop manager, mechanic or crew supervisors. At Level Green, Fugate oversees the fueling and crew supervisors are responsible for fueling up vehicles and equipment. No one gets a gas card now that there’s fueling on site.

Another key consideration is whether you have the GPS systems in place to monitor vehicles in the field. However, with GPS tracking and a policy of no stopping, onsite fueling can save wasted windshield time.

“The reason most businesses chose onsite fuel is because we are trying to reduce the nonproductive stop times and windshield time as much as humanly possible,” Collinsworth says. “The onsite fuel makes sense all day.”