Profit Boost Guide: Propane

Supplement - Profit Boost Guide

Converting to alternative fuels can save you money in the long run.

March 5, 2013
Peter Hildebrandt

U.S. Lawns in northwest Arkansas does not yet use propane fuel in their trucks, but does use it in their mowers. Last spring (2012), U.S. Lawns owner Ben Harrell decided to make the conversion to propane. This was both a great way to go green and to start saving on this end of their business.

“We run about 21 mowers and I have five of these that are propane,” Harrell says.

Those make up a very small percentage of his fleet. Currently, 10 more mowers are being taken and converted to the point where 75 percent of Harrell’s fleet will be propane-powered instead of 25 percent.

“With such a small percentage running on propane so far, I can’t really go out and say I’m a ‘green’ company yet,” Harrell says. “I can’t say to you as one of my clients that I’m going to guarantee that I’m going to have a propane mower on your property. Ultimately, that’s my decision and where I wanted to go.”

Harrell says that most of his customers don’t care if they are green. But at some point, one or two may actually be interested to know that about his company. Maybe that will get him a job, or better yet eventually be able to go after work with municipalities. “I want to have that in place before I go after it, but it is part of my long-term plan. We at some point will be a green fleet and this will help me go after some of the city work out there.”

At some point, a lawn or landscape company may want to call up a local TV station and discuss their choice to go green, and maybe get some free press from that.

In the end though, as Harrell points out, the most important reason from a business standpoint is simply the fuel savings involved.

With fuel shooting up to $4 per gallon, including a surcharge, the fuel savings reason will become even more compelling. From discussing propane fuel with other U.S. Lawns owners around the country, Harrell has found others are interested in the truck fuel savings depending on where they are located.

Truck travel is not as much of an issue for Harrell as it is for other operations around the U.S. “I don’t make money from guys sitting in a truck and the conversions to propane fuel are quite expensive. For me I can manage my travel and logistics to save gas instead of propane conversion.

“I will be a certified propane dealer by the end of February. I’ve entered into a deal with my local distributor and do the propane conversion for them prior to sale. That gives me extra money by converting other mowers either before purchase or after we buy them. My mechanic is an income source, whereas typically mechanics are something that is part of normal equipment maintenance duties.”

A federal program offers $1,000 rebate for a new mower and $500 for a used mower going to propane through conversion.

Harrell’s fuel cost as a percentage of gross was better in 2012 than in 2011, despite the fact that fuel prices have been steadily rising.

“I paid less for fuel right off the bat going to propane, even though that is only a fraction of the fuel I used. There are probably some other factors involved, but overall propane has let my fuel costs go down last year,” he says. “Also, the mowers look and sound a lot cleaner – no more black smoke pouring out of the engine.”