Valley companies hit hard by rising gas prices
Area businesses look to pass along higher gas prices to their customers.
By DON SHILLING
VINDICATOR BUSINESS EDITOR
Gary Doles is concerned enough about the cost of gasoline that he takes note of prices every morning on the way to his store, Blooming Crazy.
"I drive by a gas station and wonder, "Did prices go up last night?" the owner of the Boardman florist shop said.
The answer is often "Yes."
The national average price for regular gasoline has increased 11 straight weeks and is once again pushing 3 a gallon.
The increases have area businesses watching their expenses to try to save money and in some cases tacking on extra fees to cover their fuel costs.
Doles said he's been gradually increasing his delivery fees, which are now 6 for local runs and 7 or 8 for outlying areas. The local fee was 4 two years ago.
"You're not making any money on it. You're trying to cover your costs," he said.
To keep the delivery fee as low as possible, the store keeps a close eye on where its vans go. Doles said delivery runs are planned much more than before so that vans can make the best use of their time on the road.
In some cases, workers also are calling ahead to make sure someone will be home.
On the flip side, the cost of bringing flowers to the store has increased. Freight companies have enacted surcharges of about 5 percent.
Doles said he's monitoring shipments more closely to get the best prices and obtain volume discounts.
Affecting tour-bus company
The recent gas price increases have forced Sutton Motor Coach Tours & amp; Travel in Boardman to add trip surcharges that range from 2 to 8.
"We're only hoping people can understand," said Lorraine Sutton, business owner.
The surcharges were in effect during part of 2006, but Sutton eliminated them last winter.
The fees don't recoup all of the costs because she has waited as long as she could before putting them on. Meanwhile, rising prices have been eating into the company's profits.
"Right now, it's cleaning our clocks," she said.
Dave Fiffick, general manager of Clemente Ambulance Service in Struthers, wishes he could pass along his increased fuel costs to someone. Medicare, Medicaid and insurance companies, however, don't adjust their payments for fuel costs.
Like Sutton's buses, Clemente's ambulances use diesel fuel, which has risen to the same price as gasoline.
Without being able to recover increased fuel costs, Clemente has had to cut expenses where it can, Fiffick said.
"This is something that we've been keeping very close tabs on," he said.
Clemente has reduced the number of transports it makes to hospitals outside the area and it is running fewer ambulances in the late afternoon and early evening to save money on overtime payments to crews.
Also, crews are instructed to keep their vehicles parked while waiting for a call, instead of driving around. They also are asked to turn off the engine if outside temperatures permit.
Forecast sees drop
If a federal forecast is to believed, the worst for gasoline prices this year is nearly over.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration said it expects prices to peak in May with an average price of 2.87.
While this week's average price has reached that level, the agency said the average price for April will be lower. Prices were up 7.4 cents this week to 2.87.6.
"We may be close to seeing the first downward movement in the average retail price for regular gasoline this spring," the agency said in a report released Wednesday.
The national average for diesel prices rose 3.7 cents this week to 2.87.7.