As the lawn care season gets underway, there’s one lingering concern for Jesse Smith, president of the Royal Greens Professional Lawn Care, in Frederick Maryland, and that’s rising fuel costs.
“Trying to figure out how to combat these gas prices is something that’s been kind of crazy,” he says.
Royal Greens services customers in and around the outer edges of the DC and Baltimore metro areas.
“Luckily in our state, our governor did away with the state gas tax for 30 days to help alleviate some of that pressure at the pump,” Smith says. “It gave it about 35 cents a gallon of relief. Instead of paying $4.25 we’re paying about $3.85. It’s still a significant increase over this time last year though.”
Smith says with fuel prices expected to continue going up, he and his staff have been more focused than ever on efficiency.
“We’re combining applications together where we can to try and maximize what we’re doing when we’re out on a property,” he says. “This will limit the visits we’re making to those properties. It’s something that we’ve been employing for many years, but now we’re really trying to dial that in and get away from having to make so many trips out there.”
Smith says there are plenty of easy things LCOs can do to make their time out on a lawn more effective.
“It can be as simple as the use of a different product. So, maybe we can get 60 days of control for mosquitos and don’t have to go back in a month,” he says. “We’re also trying to use some fertilizers that work longer to extend those visits out.”
Utilizing more technology and working to communicate more successfully with customers has also helped Royal Greens technicians limit trips.
“Customers call all the time and ask, ‘Hey can you come out and take a look at this weed in my yard,’ so we’ve started to utilize some text messaging platforms that allow us to send and receive photos,” Smith explains. “We can have customers snap a picture of trouble spots and hopefully diagnose them over the phone.”
Smith says it makes things more convenient for everyone involved; customers get a much timelier response, and he doesn’t have to send a crew out — saving fuel.
Royal Greens is trying to do even more than simple diagnostics online to cut transportation costs.
“We’re trying to do as many estimates as we can online as opposed to going out to the property,” Smith says. “It’s about seeing what kind of things we can handle in the office as opposed to sending crews out.”
Smith adds that rising fuel prices have not only switched estimates to be given online, but he’s also been forced to alter them do to the uncertainty of how much gas will go up.
“The other thing we’ve done as well is set expiration dates on estimates we do,” Smith says. “Now, we’re saying this price is good for 20 days. That way if we do incur any of these things and make an adjustment to the price chart, we aren’t catching them off guard.”
Smith says the company is also being more judicious in the new clients they bring on and trying to maximize time by servicing as many lawns as they can in one neighborhood.
“When it comes to marketing and new customers, we’re really trying to focus on route density,” he says. “With customers a little far out from us, instead of just trying to get into that zip code we want to get into those neighborhoods where we already have customers. That way we have a two-minute drive between houses as opposed to a 15-minute drive. We can save on time and save on gas.”
Ultimately, Smith says that he’d rather not have to raise prices due to fuel costs.
“To me, I’m not just a business owner I’m also a consumer — I think we’ll eat more of those costs and really look at our budget to trim some fat where we can and make some savings elsewhere. If we can eliminate one trip to a house, that’ll help cover some extra material and gas costs we’re incurring,” he says.
But he says anything is possible if the increases continue to skyrocket.
“We’ve kicked around the idea of a fuel surcharge, but the majority of our customer base pre-pay for the entire season,” Smith explains. “We can’t really go back and say, ‘We lied we need an extra $5 per visit.’ But, if gas gets really out of control, and creeps up to over $5 a gallon, we might have to reassess that.”