In his book, Built to Last, management expert Jim Collins examines how it is that some companies manage to achieve and sustain excellence across decades, and even centuries, through multiple generations of leaders. By studying companies that have prospered over the long term, Collins and his team were able to identify timeless fundamentals that enable organizations to endure and thrive through constantly changing times. One fundamental that I find particularly resonant is the concept of “dynamic duality.” Collins explains:
“On the one hand, enduring organizations have a set of timeless core values and purpose that remain constant over time. On the other hand, they have a relentless drive for progress—change, improvement, innovation, and renewal. Great organizations keep clear the difference between their core values (which never change), and operating strategies and cultural practices (which endlessly adapt to a changing world).”
Most fuel dealers have the first part down pat. Their core values—service, dependability, honesty—have informed their businesses from the start. It’s the second part of the equation—the willingness and ability to adapt—that separates fuel dealers who will endure from those who will flicker out.
Make no mistake about it: For those who sell or consume fuel, there have never been more variables around which to adapt. Growing competition from natural gas and renewables aside, with the policy directives currently being placed on refiners and OEMs, today’s ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuels are proving increasingly problematic for heating oil customers and diesel fleets alike.
While Ultra Low-Sulfur Diesel is certainly a cleaner burning fuel—especially when blended with biodiesel—it is not a fix-all for every common fuel problem, nor does it come without its own set of operability concerns.
Because sulfur acts as a natural lubricant, ULSD is “dryer” than traditional diesel, meaning that its lower in lubricity, more prone to holding entrained water, and more susceptible to water and microbial contamination—the precursors to corrosion.
The refining process used to remove sulfur also removes oxygen, nitrogen and other functional elements, yielding a fuel that is more paraffinic, or waxy, to the detriment of its cold flow operability, and less stable in storage. ULSD is also more solvent, or liable to loosen filter-plugging deposits in tanks. Lastly, just because ULSD is “cleaner” than traditional diesel, it is not any less corrosive to tanks, pipes and system components if left untreated.
For diesel fleets, ULSD has plagued High Pressure Fuel Injection systems with a number of issues, including injector failures, filter plugging, loss of power and reduced fuel economy. More recently, fuel injection systems with exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) and diesel particulate filters (DPF) are increasingly more problematic.
The point is, businesses that tout premium service but continue to sell generic fuels that meet minimum ASTM specifications are simply not built to last in today’s rapidly evolving market. In fact, they’ll be the first to fall. Now more than ever, quality of fuel is every bit as important as quality of service.
A fuel maintenance program that combines today’s advanced additive technology with sound storage, transportation and general housekeeping practices can prevent unnecessary fuel problems and optimize performance to create a premium product tailored to meet the needs of customers. Cold flow additives prevent fuel gelling to keep diesel engines and heating systems running smoothly through the winter. Detergents keep tanks and injector systems clean. Combustion catalysts increase fuel efficiency and decrease emissions. Corrosion inhibitors protect tank linings. Biocides control microbial contamination. Water control treatments prevent fuel degradation and other water-related issues. Biodiesel (though not an additive) is a cleaner burning, renewable fuel that can be blended with traditional diesel at rates that beat natural gas on environmental benefits. This is the kind of information that fuel dealers should be sharing with their customers. For a few cents more per gallon, they can have a cleaner, higher performing product that will quickly pay for itself in the form of restored efficiency, reduced maintenance and less down time.
Offering a premium product can only serve as a differentiator if consumers are educated on the subject. Raising consumer awareness via website, social media, marketing brochures, traditional advertising, customer newsletters and through personal interaction are all good ways to market fuel quality. However, the most effective marketing strategy is to provide evidence that the enhanced fuel actually works. Showing customers their fuel filters, tracking efficiency measures, and recording drops in maintenance issues goes a long way towards debunking the tired “oil is oil” narrative, strengthening your value proposition, and building a business that won’t just last, but thrive.