The Cost of Doing Business

Small businesses are struggling to cope with higher gas prices.

April 1, 2008 — -- Pinched by rising gas prices, florist Diane Alonso now spends as much time planning her delivery routes as she does creating her floral designs.

"My driver has a route. We don't have him here all day long, just on call to make a delivery," said Alonso, who owns Flowers By Diane in Hoboken, N.J.

The impact of the rising cost of fuel — the national average hit a record $3.29 a gallon today — has been so great that Alonso has been forced to cut back on distant deliveries and even has had to send orders to her competitors.

"We've made choices to actually send them out to other flower shops and not go outside of our local radius and that definitely has to do with gas prices going up," she said.

Alonso's flower shop is just one example of small businesses around the nation hurt by the higher gas prices.

"We're just turning the wheels on the road. We're not making a dime," said Muscatine, Iowa trucker Mandi Newcomb.

It seems no one is immune. In Wilson County, Tenn., higher diesel prices have meant shortened school bus routes with fewer stop to conserve fuel.

Nationally, business owners that once ate rising fuel costs now say they have to pass them on to consumers by increasing their prices or tacking on surcharges.

"The last thing a small business owner wants to do is to jack up their prices," said Wendy Bounds of The Wall Street Journal. "But it's at the point now where they just can't ignore it."

"All of these things that have to now get passed on to consumers because they simply can't afford to swallow them any longer and attempt to make a profit," Bounds added.

With summer only three months away, there is no reprieve in sight because government estimates say gas prices could reach as high as $4 a gallon during the sweltering season.

For some small business owners, that idea has them questioning just how much more then can take.

"We don't want to close our business. We still want to be here for our customers. We're just all struggling right now," Alonso said.

Ways to Save

Even with increased fuel costs there are ways to save.

Plan your route beforehand. For example, Bounds said if you're going to a soccer game, stop at stores on the way there or on the way back. Don't make extra trips.

Do regular auto maintenance. Preventative car maintenance may require money up front, but it can save you gas and increase mileage in the long run.

Finally, slow down. Driving at slower speeds increase's a vehicle's mileage.