Rotolo Consultants, Inc. (RCI) Case Study
Rotolo Consultants, Inc. — Slidell, La.
Rotolo Consultants, Inc. began in 1978 as a simple family nursery in Slidell, Louisiana. Over the next 40 years, it grew into one of the largest full-service landscaping companies in the southeast United States, with locations in Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.
CHALLENGE & SOLUTION
A jumble of mismatched mowers made maintenance difficult in a growing company, but a plan was implemented to standardize its fleet with propane mowers and bi-fuel vehicles. The goal was to experience fuel savings, reduced maintenance costs, and an overall lower total cost-of-ownership because of more reliable equipment. Rotolo took advantage of financial assistance through incentives and tax credits.
- The decision to switch to propane was made after identifying immediate savings in fuel costs.
- The savings in maintenance costs helps with productivity.
- Mower and vehicle fleets are more reliable and dependable.
- Alternative fuel incentives helped RCI recoup costs in purchasing all new equipment and fueling systems.
Rotolo Consultants provides landscaping care from design, to construction, to maintenance with a customer base consisting of casinos, resorts, medical centers, and large commercial properties. The company prides itself on being able to install million dollar projects in fewer than 30 days. It’s those guaranteed, quick turnaround times — regardless of project scope — that made propane and its reduced downtime an attractive maintenance equipment and commercial fleet vehicle fuel for the company.
COMPANY GROWTH REQUIRED MORE THAN GASOLINE COULD PROVIDE
When Brandt Martin started in 2009 as an account manager at RCI, his goal was initially to standardize the business’ growing mower fleet under one manufacturer. Martin, now a partner at RCI, observed that a number of different mowers made it difficult to keep parts stocked and for the company’s in-house maintenance team to make repairs.
But RCI found a solution in 2011 in propane-powered commercial mowers after they were contacted by John Deere to participate in a four-month research and development project. Martin and his team compared propane with their existing gasoline and diesel mowers to analyze operations, maintenance, and dependability.
“In addition to a low price per gallon of propane, we continue to see cost savings beyond the cost of fuel due to reduced maintenance, repairs, and parts.”
“The propane just outperformed it,” Martin says.
He switched what was then one-third of the fleet — around 20 machines — to John Deere propane mowers within a year.
“I think what propane has provided us is efficiency and dependability in our fleet,” Martin says.
Now in 2016, they use nearly 100 propane-powered mowers, as well as close to 100 propane-autogas-powered trucks, to meet the company’s ever-increasing customer base.
In 2013, after initial success with propane mowers, RCI began transitioning its trucks to bi-fuel commercial trucks, which have the capability to operate on propane autogas or gasoline at the flip of a switch. Bi-fuel vehicles eliminate range anxiety because they operate primarily on propane autogas and allow the operator to switch to gasoline if necessary. Bi-fuel systems are the ideal choice for long run or high mileage fleets that require frequent refueling.
They use Ford F-350 dually trucks and Isuzu box trucks. RCI still uses some larger diesel trucks for hauling larger equipment. But because the maintenance division uses a lot of fuel to reach clients across southern Louisiana, Tennessee, and the Mississippi gulf coast, bi-fuel removes concerns that a propane autogas refueling station might not be available somewhere along the drive. Bi-fuel trucks also give the company the option of switching to gasoline if prices drop below propane autogas.
“But we’re still cheaper by the gallon than gas is at the pump by a fair amount,” Martin says.
As they were transitioning both their on-road and off-road fleets to propane autogas, RCI was also in negotiations with their propane retailer to build on-site fuel tanks and refilling stations at a new headquarters and operations facility in Slidell. They have a total of 3,000 gallons of propane in several tanks, to separate on-road, which uses more of the fuel, from off-road.
Martin says the tanks have to be refilled 2 to 3 times per week during peak season, which can run from March to October in Louisiana. Overall, he estimates they’re saving about 40 percent on fuel compared with what would be spent on gasoline.
“In addition to a low price per gallon of propane, we continue to see cost savings beyond the cost of fuel due to reduced maintenance, repairs, and parts,” Martin says.
SAVINGS BEYOND THE PUMP
RCI noticed that propane machines weren’t showing as much wear and tear as their gasoline counterparts during the John Deere project. Except for concerns of voiding their warranty, Martin says the company could probably extend their routine maintenance intervals on their propane equipment because the fuel burns so much cleaner in the machines.
“In reality, I’m changing oil sometimes when I feel like I don’t need to be changing oil,” he says.
“We just don’t have the problems that we see with the other mowers.”
In fact, they haven’t had any problems with propane. RCI digitally tracks when a machine goes in for maintenance, and minor repairs are more often related to external causes — like self-inflicted casualties or operator error — than the engine or fuel system.
“We just don’t have the problems that we see with the other mowers,” he says, like clogs from carbon buildup, or fuel injector and carburetor casualties.
Using propane also eliminates any risk of employees mistakenly adding fuel containing ethanol, which can cause corrosion and create serious problems inside small engines, or adding the wrong fuel altogether.
MAKING THE MOST OF ALTERNATIVE FUEL
Throughout the process of standardizing their on-road and off-road fleets, RCI worked with the Propane Education & Research Council to purchase several of their mowers with assistance from the Propane Mower Incentive Program. The PMIP offers contractors $1,000 toward a new mower or $500 toward converting an existing machine.
“PERC has been great to us,” Martin says.
Along with the PMIP, propane users can file for federal tax credits or state credits. Louisiana, for example, offers tax credits for alternative fuel vehicle conversions and fueling infrastructure. Louisiana’s Petroleum Gas Commission also offers rebates on propane vehicle and mower purchases or conversions.
“There are some things that you can do for yourself where you can save more,” Martin says.
RCI benefitted from their relationships with John Deere and their propane retailer, as well. Through their corporate partnership with John Deere, maintenance employees have been trained in specific repairs and details of their mower fleet. Limiting their mowers to one OEM eliminated the challenge of keeping the right parts stocked and streamlined in-house repairs.
The company’s propane retailer provided training for propane use, including troubleshooting in the field and refueling, and returns to train new operators or managers when hired. They helped the company set up refueling infrastructure for their trucks and mowers.
“They were there every step of the way and took care of everything,” Martin says, “so transitioning to the alternative fuel was seamless.”