Local businesses deal with high fuel prices

With fuel prices across the country spiking, Queens Trucking and Construction, Inc. President Sarah Smith said that her business has seen fuel costs triple over the past two years.

‘I can say that this is not helping small businesses stay alive’

ROCHELLE — Queens Trucking and Construction, Inc. President Sarah Smith said that her business has seen fuel costs triple over the past two years.

The family-owned and run business in Rochelle employs anywhere from 35-55 employees at any given time and does both union and non-union work within the Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota areas, specializing in local freight hauling on the fleet side of the company and large-scale drain tiling, site cleanup and management along with equipment hauling on the construction side. 

With gas prices across the country spiking, Queens Trucking and Construction, Inc. is one of the particularly-impacted local businesses.

“This has affected us first and foremost with our customer base,” Smith said. “We have suffered the loss of a few long-term customers due to the need to raise prices, which is not something we take lightly. We first had to raise our base rates to cover the employees' increased hourly wages to compensate for the high amounts they are paying to just get to and from work. We have also had to start charging a fuel surcharge which up until two years ago was not something we ever did.”

Smith said her business is also seeing high costs for oil, antifreeze, parts and supplies that are necessary to keep the fleet and construction company running. 

Along with fuel surcharges on fleet loads and employee raises to help them get to and from work, Queens Trucking has taken other measures to offset high fuel costs such as selling off unnecessary inventory and making management changes to try to be more efficient on all fronts, Smith said.

The business is currently trying to “move anything” and take on any projects that pay enough to cover increased costs. 

“We have started running loads that we normally wouldn’t have,” Smith said. “We had to move to using load boards versus just word of mouth to pick up additional work and fill in where we lost out when we had to increase prices. We have started pursuing backhauls harder, however, being a local trucking and construction company, our guys are home every night so we have to worry about hours of service restrictions to get employees back.”

Smith said she knew fuel prices were going to go up, but she did not expect them to reach current heights as fast as they did. That put Queens “behind the ball” when it came to increasing prices. 

“We are seeing running costs that we have never seen before,” Smith said. “The predictions are that fuel could reach $10 per gallon by the end of the year with no relief. I can say that this is not helping small businesses stay alive. Using local companies may be more expensive than using some national company, but we are not raising the costs to do anything other than feed our employees' families.”

Alfano’s

Alfano’s Pizzeria and Italian Restaurant Owner Pete Alfano said that high fuel prices have impacted nearly every aspect of his business.

His product suppliers have raised delivery charges. Tomato product costs have gone up 35 percent in the past two quarters. 

“And that's one product,” Alfano said. “Let's say we have 1,000 different items, anything from salt to mozzarella cheese. Every single item has gone up. You have inflation on top of that. And then you have the delivery situation.”

Alfano’s pays its delivery drivers an hourly wage along with 100 percent of the delivery charge and their tips, but high gas costs add up on a night of deliveries. Alfano said he’s noticed delivery customers being more generous with tipping recently due to gas prices being high, but he anticipates that may change due to the fact that he expects gas prices to remain high at least through the summer, if not longer.

“It's harder to find delivery drivers right now,” Alfano said. ”Because folks know the expense of delivery. You have the upkeep on your car, which has gone up too like gas and oil. Let's say before they may have put in $20-25 a night in gas, now it's going to be $50 a night. On a Friday night, I guarantee you my drivers will use at least $50 in gas each.”

Alfano said he believes delivery numbers have remained “about the same” since fuel prices spiked. But, since opening up after the COVID-19 shutdown, to-go orders increased and he’s seen them increase even more recently.

“You will see more where people will pick up their food,” Alfano said. “Because when they get that delivery, they know there's going to be a delivery charge and gas is high and they're more likely to tip more. I've noticed pick-ups have gone up."

Since the fuel price increase, Alfano’s has noticed that it sees less of its out-of-town customers from surrounding cities like DeKalb, Dixon and Genoa.

To be successful while dealing with high fuel prices and other input costs, businesses must “think outside the box” and stay within their margins, Alfano said. He’s been in the restaurant business for 45 years, and he can’t recall a more difficult time in the industry than today.

“Not even during COVID-19, which was extremely difficult,” Alfano said. “But that was a walk in the park compared to this.”

While the easiest solution to higher expenses may be to raise prices, Alfano said that could result in businesses pricing themselves out of the market, because consumers are struggling too. He knows people have been going out to eat less now. He’s seen pizza sales increase and pasta sales go down due to people trying to feed their families more efficiently.

“For less money, you can get a pizza and feed the whole family,” Alfano said. “Folks are changing. But we'll make it. We'll get through it. I've traveled to different places and different countries. In the United States, we're far more lucky and blessed than most. We're going to be alright."

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