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Cutting fleet and operating costs

March 11, 2020 -  By
Mechanic performing fleet maintenance (Photo: J. Barker Landscaping Co.)

Time saver Having a mechanic on-site decreases J. Barker Landscaping Co.’s labor costs by 30 percent. (Photo: J. Barker Landscaping Co.)

As a smaller company, filling up the trucks before the first job of the day was just part of the routine for Norm Ripper and his crews. But as his company, Helping Hand Lawn Care in Apopka, Fla., began to grow, fueling up a fleet of 25 trucks suddenly became a time-consuming hassle.

“I just couldn’t afford to have 40 or 50 guys at the gas station at one time to get fuel,” says Ripper, company owner. “Combined with rush-hour traffic, it was a logistical nightmare that just wasted time every morning.”

Ripper needed a solution to his dilemma that would save time — and ultimately money. He researched the possibility of bringing fuel tanks on-site and realized it was a lot easier to do than he thought it would be.

“I never thought we could afford to bring our fuel on-site until I looked into it and found out it was actually really easy,” Ripper says. “In our realm, the time savings help us. It’s all about minutes a day.”

A fleet is one of the biggest, most important investments landscape contractors will make. Like Ripper, contractors know that efforts to reduce fleet expenses and operating costs can add up to big savings.

Fueling up

Ripper says the idea of bringing fuel tanks on-site was intimidating when he first considered it two years ago. He contacted a local fuel delivery company and, after agreeing to purchase a set amount of fuel per year, the company provided Ripper free tanks and pumps. Ripper now has two 500-gallon tanks at both Helping Hand Lawn Care locations. The fuel delivery company fills them twice a week during peak season, and Ripper says having fuel tanks on-site saves an average of 30 minutes per employee each day. Helping Hand Lawn Care is a $3 million company that provides 90 percent mowing and maintenance services to government and municipal clients.

“Since we are in government work, the low bid wins. We have to be careful every year to save money while still being profitable,” Ripper says. “Our guys can fill up on-site and get to their first properties before rush hour even kicks in.”

On-site expertise

About two years ago, Brandon Barker realized he was spending a lot of time and money going to commercial truck centers to keep his 20-vehicle fleet up and running. In an effort to increase efficiency, he hired a full-time mechanic to maintain all of the company’s vehicles and equipment. Barker says this move has decreased labor costs associated with his fleet by 30 percent. J. Barker Landscaping Co. in Bedford, Ohio, provides 40 percent design/build, 25 percent landscape maintenance, 20 percent snow removal and 15 percent dumpster and demolition services to a 60 percent residential, 40 percent commercial clientele.

“Having a full-time mechanic on-site allows us to quickly get up and running again,” says Barker, commercial operations manager. “It’s definitely a convenience thing. We can make our trucks a priority.”

Isuzu truck (Photo: Isuzu)

Take care Some dealers offer night or weekend hours, so trucks can stay on the road during the workday. (Photo: Isuzu)

The mechanic is also responsible for keeping a thorough inventory of parts and accessories. Items like engine oils, headlight bulbs, windshield wipers, filters and snow plow hoses and springs are always available when needed. Barker says this meticulous inventory system saves money and prevents waste. It is particularly helpful during the winter months if something breaks when plows are working during the night.

“Having someone available throughout the day — and in the winter sometimes 24/7 — means a down truck can get repaired right away,” Barker says. “We need to keep our trucks on the road and serving clients so we can make money.”

Option to lease

Ripper leased his first truck about four years ago, and now all 25 of the company’s vehicles are leased. He adds an extended five-year warranty to each vehicle and trades them in every five years. Because the warranties cover all regular maintenance costs, Ripper knows exactly how much each truck will cost every month, which helps with budgeting and planning.

“With older vehicles, there are always potential problems, so you never really have a handle on long-term costs,” he says. “Combined with the warranties, as long as there isn’t an unexpected accident, there are never any other costs associated with each vehicle.”

Regular maintenance

“One of the easiest ways to keep fleet expenses under control is by following each vehicle’s preventive maintenance schedule,” says Brian Tabel, executive director of marketing for Isuzu Commercial Truck of America in Anaheim, Calif.

“As long as contractors take care of their trucks and do the required maintenance, it helps prevent those costly issues that may arise down the road.”

Tabel says Isuzu offers a reminder program to their dealers that alerts customers of upcoming maintenance needs.

“This gets in front of the customer,” he says. “Contractors are often busy during peak times of year, and they just forget, so a friendly reminder is always helpful.”

For contractors in seasonal areas, it makes sense to take care of maintenance needs during slower months, Tabel says. He adds that contractors should seek out dealers who offer evening or weekend hours to prevent having a truck off the road during the workday.

“Having a truck down for service is never an ideal situation,” Tabel says. “A lot of dealers have off or late-night hours, and it makes sense for contractors to take advantage of that.”

About the Author:

Emily Schappacher is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.

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