Companies cut corners to save on fuel as gas prices rise

•Combining deliveries. The Truckee-Tahoe Lumber company in Truckee, Calif., has suffered a triple whammy: a drop-off in new home construction, record low lumber prices and record high fuel prices.

"I'm working on trying to understand how to remain profitable," says Steve Stevenson, vice president of the 68-employee company.

Truckee added new delivery charges this month that run $15 to $50 for some orders under $500. It's also asking customers, primarily home builders, to plan ahead so it delivers once a week, vs. two or three times. Some of Truckee-Tahoe's suppliers have also reduced delivery frequency, Stevenson says.

Audiovox sources most of its electronics in Asia. Sea containers that aren't full are being held more often now than in the past until they are full, Moffett says.

"If it's something we really need, I may say let it ride. If not, I say wait," he says. So far, delays haven't led to product shortages, he says.

Even flowers are being affected. Hoogasian Flowers in San Francisco now asks customers for two delivery dates instead of one so Hoogasian can, if possible, combine trips.

•Reconfiguring routes. Office Depot handles 24 million deliveries a year from warehouses to stores or customers.

Three years ago, the retailer deployed software from a division of UPS to design routes to maximize the number of deliveries on each while minimizing time and distance, says Yalmaz Siddiqui, director of environmental affairs. One trick: restrict left-hand turns.

The results? Office Depot now makes 180 to 200 deliveries per truck over 80-to-100-mile routes. That's up from 125 to 135 deliveries over the same distance, Siddiqui says.

Waste Connections, which services 1.5 million customers in 23 states, has likewise pumped up route efficiency. Over the past two years, it's reconfigured a fifth of its 2,700 daily routes, Mittelstaedt says.

Before, routes were often based on customers' preferred days for garbage pickup. New routing software helped Waste Connections devise more efficient routes. The company is also urging customers to change pickup days so that it travels less to the same regions.

"We've gone to customers and said, 'Either you switch your day, or your price is going to double,' " says Mittelstaedt. In some cases, customers got discounts for switching.

•Improving fleets. In the past three years, Office Depot has replaced 90% of its 600 box trucks with smaller vans that are 40% more fuel efficient, Siddiqui says.

FedEx has also optimized fleets so that more-fuel-efficient vehicles are on longer routes. So far this year, it has achieved an 8% gain in fuel efficiency over last year on FedEx Express routes, says Mitch Jackson, director of environmental affairs.

Little ways to save can add up fast

These days, no fuel-saving initiative is too small to try.

For 10 years, Waste Connections has checked tire pressure on trucks every two or three days to make sure they're inflated for the best gas mileage. Now, they're checked twice a day.

"When fuel was $1.50 a gallon, tire pressure was insignificant. At $4.50 a gallon, it's significant," says Prestwood of Kerns Trucking, which runs a fleet of 38 semi-trucks. Kerns has also increased tire-pressure checks.

Engine idling has been attacked, too, because an hour of idle can eat up a gallon of diesel fuel. Last year, Waste Connections added automatic shut-offs to about 75% of its 2,700 trucks so that drivers can't idle trucks for longer than a few minutes.

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