by Steve Clarke, group marketing manager
Margins can be tight when building and developing properties, but shopping around sometimes wipes out savings. The nearest forecourt may not be cheap, but it is rarely worth driving around for a better deal — which may not even exist. In an ideal world, builders would always be able to find the cheapest petrol or diesel. Even better, you would be able to buy at a discount. Best of all would be to refuel cheaply but delay payment, enjoying interest-free credit.
HGV firms have been doing this for years, using fuel cards. Now, if your monthly refuelling costs upwards of £500 and you can pass a routine credit check, you can join them. Even new start-up companies, and those who have had trouble with credit in the past, can be helped. So, how do they save a builder money?
It works like this. You apply for a fuel card, giving one to each of your drivers. Every Friday, you are notified of your fixed fuel price for the coming week, at thousands of filling stations nationwide. This is typically up to 4p less than national average pump prices, with savings on motorway refuelling of up to 10p per litre.
A driver refuels, then presents the fuel card, with no need to obtain a receipt. One weekly invoice covers all of your vehicles and is paid automatically by direct debit. The gap between refuelling and payment means up to a fortnight’s free credit. You receive customised reports, with have 24/7 Internet account access, and have a named account manager for telephone queries.
On top of the fuel cost savings, you enjoy less administration: one invoice replaces piles of receipts. More importantly, you gain close monitoring and control of fuel expenditure. Each fuel card, only valid for authorised purchases and a particular driver or vehicle, is useless to a thief.
A further benefit comes from being invoiced directly, rather than reimbursing drivers. You can reclaim VAT on fuel bought within the EU, but only if you are invoiced directly for it. Reclaiming VAT is easy when dealing with a single invoice, rather than piles of paperwork — especially if these are employees’ own credit card statements.
When evaluating suppliers, consider their attitudes to customer service. You should never have to queue for an anonymous call centre worker. Insist upon dedicated account management, which means always talking to the same person, who knows your business.
If you tell your supplier all about your fuel usage, they can help you to find a card to match your circumstances exactly, if their range is wide enough. Tell them your monthly fuel expenditure and whether you have vehicles running on petrol, in addition to diesel-powered vehicles. Most developers usually refuel locally, so a network focused on motorway refuelling may not be ideal. It could be perfect, though, for a builder operating across a wide area.
Fuel cards are all different, so beware of any supplier offering a limited choice. At the very least, ensure that your potential supplier covers all of BP, Esso, Shell and Texaco, as well as such supermarkets as Tesco, Morrisons and The Co-operative. Anything less means that the supplier can not compare the whole market to find your best deal. Having an incomplete range means that they may have to steer you towards a less-than-ideal solution.
Always remember that the point of a fuel card is to save you money. Some fuel cards do not offer discounts, with providers trying to claim ‘universal validity’ as an excuse for not passing on their bulk-buying savings. This might make sense if you believe that BP, Esso, Shell and Texaco filling stations are hard to find. Do not be fooled: if you are not offered direct cost savings, move on.
Finally, watch out for the small print. Some fuel card companies add extra charges to the price of your fuel – as much as £2 extra per transaction, regardless of the amount bought. Make sure that you ask whether transaction charges are levied and, if they are, walk away. Perhaps the best way to find the best fuel card supplier, though, is to let somebody else carry out a stringent analysis of everyone in the market. The National Federation of Builders, for example, had done exactly that – and appointed The Fuelcard People as a strategic partner, securing preferential rates for its members.
For more information on how your business could be saving up to 10p per litre on refuelling nationwide, please call The Fuelcard People on 0844 870 6942, or visit www.thefuelcardpeople.co.uk.