Mary Helminiak says soaring fuel prices for gasoline and diesel mean the landscapers at her family business are getting on the job sites with as much of the materials needed “so there is not a lot of running back and forth.”
The Williamsport area landscaping and greenhouse business is not alone.
Across the region, landscapers who spoke with the Sun-Gazette say they are having to add in extra cost as gasoline and diesel are part of their economic equation at job sites.
Across the table, landscapers said the price of fuel is pinching their operations and that is passed onto the consumer.
Worse still, they are not seeing any national resolution toward lowering the fuel prices and say delivery and service will either remain as it is or go up.
Fuel prices keep souring
“Fuel prices have increased more than 60% compared to last year,” Helminiak said.
Heminiak’s Greenhouses & Landscaping at 52 Helminiak St. is a full-service greenhouse and landscaping business that was started in 1988 by brothers Dan and Dave Helminiak.
Not in the past four decades has been there such pressure on small business operations that depend on fuel as there has been this year.
“We are paying even more in June than we did in May, and it doesn’t look like the administration is doing anything to help with the outrageous costs,” Helminiak said.
“This is increasing the cost of our everyday travel, and the cost of products used in the landscapes, and it is adding to the cost of the customer is paying for their jobs,” she said.
Landscapers must put fuel in tanks and equipment to get back and forth to work sites and complete the jobs.
Fuel price increases affect everything across the board, including the delivery of products to the stores.
Designers adjust schedules
“We are planning our routes accordingly and not wasting fuel,” said Stephen Petro, a landscape designer with Tebbs Bros Landscaping, 3245 Lycoming Creek Road.
Tebbs Bros specialists are making sure all products and tools go to the job sites, he explained.
Landscapers are heavy users of diesel fuel for their trucks.
It is not easy on businesses when filling up with diesel costs an average of $250.
“It is not pleasant to watch the number climb,” he said.
The fuel costs also affect how the business does consultations and meets with customers.
“We are trying to hit one area at a time,” Petro said.
For example, if in Montoursville, the company will try to meet with customers in that borough and community.
Gasoline prices at over $5 for regular affect the usage of small engine operated equipment.
Leaf blowers, trimmers and edgers use gasoline.
“It is what it is,” Petro said.
Landscapers such as Tebbs Bros will help customers with foundation plantings, flower beds, replacements and maintenance such as weeding, edging, mulching and trimming.
They also assist customers in their patio and fire pits and outdoor landscaping at the front, side and rear of yards.
There is a silver lining. Beginning in COVID-19 pandemic, people spent more time at home and began to plan landscaping projects, Petro said.
“A lot of people got into gardening and plants,” he said.
“People needed to see something pretty and began to spruce up around their homes,” he said.
And with prices for travel also being what they are, many are choosing “staycations” or vacationing at home and want to spend time in their own private spaces.
“We use front end loaders and raise our material costs that are not covered in the fuel surcharge,” said Jim Hovenstine, owner at Brookside Landscapers which primarily services Union and Snyder counties area but covers others.
Landscapers drive to meet with clients, set up the arrangement they want and order the deliveries of the plants and materials.
Hovenstine recalled when diesel fuel prices reached the $5 mark in 2007-2008 during the housing market crisis at the start of President Barack Obama’s administration.
He said between then and now fuel prices would fluctuate and were lowest a few years ago, but this is the worst he has seen.
Landscaping is a seasonal business, he said.
It is highly dependent on weather and fuel prices are impacting the cost of products, deliveries and service, overall.
Landscapers drive long distances to reach job sites. They are working in geographical areas in Northcentral Pennsylvania that are among the largest and mountainous in the state. Lycoming County, alone, is the size of Rhode Island.
From Lock Haven to Muncy, the drive is 50 minutes border-to-border. From Williamsport to Cogan House Township, it is 35 minutes and longer to reach more rural sections such as McHenry Township or in Union, Snyder, Northumberland and Montour counties.