For companies large and small that depend heavily on vehicular transport, the gas shortage in the southeastern United States proved to be the great equalizer this month.
After news broke of a cyberattack crippling Colonial Pipeline, which distributes about 45 percent of fuel to the Eastern seaboard, panic-purchase trends led to gas shortages in 11 states, including Tennessee and its neighbors on all sides. In Tennessee, small businesses like Nash Painting saw significant logistical difficulties as a result. Ordinarily, the business puts about 15 vehicles on the road per day, mainly across Nashville, Franklin and Brentwood as well as neighboring cities, but by mid-month, Bill Nishanian said the shortage was threatening to grind his business to a halt.
“We’re streamlining trips and cutting out any non-essential travel. I’m off the road today,” Nishanian told Homepage at the time. “Our crews are out today and using the Gas Buddy app to identify stations with fuel.”
Since then, Nash Painting — ranking among the largest, non-franchise painting contractors in Middle Tennessee — has narrowly evaded drastic consequences by ridesharing, reaching multiple destinations per trip and tracking down fuel as cost-effectively as possible using GasBuddy, a mobile app that maps gas stations, sorts them by price and crowdsources a fuel availability tracker. The day Nishanian talked to Homepage, the app crashed for several hours during the afternoon.
Throughout the worst of the shortage, the painting business aimed to utilize these methods without contributing to the panic-buying trends.
“We’ll do what’s best for everyone. We will not hoard fuel out of fear,” Nishanian said.
The significance of the shortage, however, was magnified by being in the throes of pandemic recovery, though. Like well over 6,400 businesses in Williamson County and 14,000 more in Davidson, Nash Painting received Paycheck Protection Program loans. Nishanian was committed to making it through the pandemic without letting go of any staff, and PPP loans were the difference maker due to the pandemic’s effects on their contracts.
“People weren’t comfortable having workers inside their homes. Many people lost jobs — or feared that they might — so they deferred maintenance on their homes where they could,” Nishanian said. “We give all the credit to God for getting our company through those difficult days.”
The pandemic was a lot to overcome due to the sustained decline in demand, but prior to the gas shortage, that economic downturn saw significant reversal for many services, including in-home maintenance requests. The pipeline hack threatened that uptrend by making it difficult for Nash Painting to capitalize on the return of regular opportunities due to the increased costs to dispatch staff to job sites.
Nash Painting also has higher prices than its competitors “because we won’t compromise on quality,” Nishanian told Homepage. Inflation for fuel prices has trimmed the company’s profit margins to a razor-thin extreme compared to pre-COVID revenues. Owner-operated competitors who undercut Nash Painting’s prices for what Nishanian says is less valuable can compensate for gas prices a bit more easily.
“It looks like the main lasting impact may be higher gas prices. We will feel the impact of that, no doubt,” Nishanian said. “But it won't be insurmountable. Compared to the pandemic, it will just [be] a bump in the road.”