HELP IS AT HAND FOR SERVICE HURT BY GASOLINE COST

Bob Tippee

Help is at hand for an industry likely to suffer more than others from high gasoline prices.

Fuel costs must be crushing the services that mow grass, edge sidewalks, and trim bushes of US suburbia. Think of the machinery employed in lawn care, all of it powered by a fuel that has nearly doubled in price over the past year and half.

Lawn care enterprises, of course, tend to be small. Few of them are likely to employ trading specialists able to hedge against fuel spikes in futures markets.

For relief, beleaguered lawn care specialists might consider tactics that work in the political and corporate worlds.

With as much fanfare as they can muster about alternative energy, they should sell their gasoline-guzzling mowers, weed trimmers, and hedge cutters and use the proceeds to buy electrical replacements. That's right: implements they can plug in at job locations to use customers' energy instead of their own.

Many customers wouldn't notice or wouldn't want the neighbors to notice them noticing.

Some of the customers who did notice wouldn't care. An extra dollar spent on electricity somehow doesn't agitate Americans as much as an extra dollar spent on gasoline. A graduate economics student somewhere should research this phenomenon.

For the customers who did notice and did care about the shifted cost, lawn care specialists opting for alternative energy would need to be ready with the rationalization that never fails in politics: It's an effort to do something about gasoline consumption and air pollution.

As the new Energy Policy Act of 2005 shows, Americans fall for that one every time. American thinking about energy runs little deeper than the gasoline pump and electrical outlet.

That leaves the inconvenience of electrical cords. It may be necessary to have someone keep them from wrapping around maples and tangling in photinias so the real workers can remain on task.

It would be mindless work requiring minor exertion. And it needn't cost much. By advertising cord tending as a managerial challenge, lawn care entrepreneurs should be able to generate interest with little more than grand titles and stock options.

(Online Aug. 27, 2005; author's e-mail: bobt@ogjonline.com)

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