Sunday, August 27, 2000

Traveling sales reps' find gas tanks have a bottom line

By Carla D'Nan Bass
The Dallas Morning News

        Thomas A. Hulsey loves to see his dream car, a Lexus RX300 sport-utility vehicle, parked outside his home.

        And that's exactly where he wants it to stay — until gas prices drop.

        “It's a gas guzzler,” said Mr. Hulsey, an account manager for the e-commerce consulting company Candle Corp. in Dallas.

        So Mr. Hulsey and his wife, who's also a sales rep, now share their 4-year-old Ford Taurus, the one with more than 100,000 miles on the odometer. Whoever has the day's longest sales call gets the car.

        Such tactics aren't unusual as salespeople seek to prevent their gas tanks from eating their commissions in these days of $1.50-per-gallon gasoline.

        “I think we get reimbursed 32 cents a mile,” Mr. Hulsey said. “That's not what it costs to run a car today. You are actually spending more than that. You're not coming out ahead. People don't always take that into account.”

        Many sales workers spend as much time in the car as they do in the office — or more.

        “Anytime a cost like this goes up, it's one of those things that really hits those people who use their vehicles to make money much, much harder than the average consumer,” said Allen Mesch, director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University.

        One of the first things to go is multiple in-person calls to the same client, Mr. Mesch said.

        “For an independent sales rep, it can be in some respects prohibitive and really puts the squeeze on them,” Mr. Mesch said. “They may be selling a product that doesn't reflect the higher cost to market it. They can't really recoup those costs directly.”

        But Carl Griffith, president of Sales and Marketing Executives International-Dallas, said sales workers shouldn't neglect their gas-tank investment. Cutting down on in-person sales calls will just hurt business down the road, he said.

        “The additional amount paid at the pump is a nit compared to successful selling,” said Mr. Griffith, regional director for epicRealm in Richardson, Texas. “Obviously, if they were smart about what they are doing and when they are doing it, it might cut down on drive time as well.”

        John O'Grady, an account representative for a Web development firm in Dallas, said he's always been careful to make several calls during a single trip. He works independently and has to pay for his own gas.

        “Sitting at home would affect my bottom line more than driving across town with expensive gas,” Mr. O'Grady said. “What I do to compensate is to try to combine trips.”

        Still, he estimates he spends as much as $25 to $50 a month more on gas than a year ago. “I would rather take my wife on a date with that money,” Mr. O'Grady said regretfully.


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