How We Do It: May 1999, Route Management: The Big Picture

Departments - Business Management

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November 23, 1999

For those who work for a landscape maintenance company, route management is the most critical aspect to an individual company’s success. Once a set of jobs is sold for a given year, effectively placing these jobs on routes for completion is what determines how successful a company will ultimately be that year.

Route Management

    5 KEYS TO SUCCESS

  • Plan the route at the beginning of the season

  • Know the proximity of the jobs to one another

  • Determine the most effective crew size

  • Choose the proper equipment for each route

  • Know the amount of time spent at a site

Mike Rorie, president of Groundmasters, Cincinnati, Ohio, has worked hard to help his company turn routing into a science, as well as a business.

Proper Focus. “Some people in the industry think of landscape management as a maintenance business when it’s really a route business,” Rorie explained. “Too many people get caught up in thinking it’s something else. But if you look at UPS, or a uniform delivery company, or a company that delivers bottled water, their success and profitability really hinges on the route.”

What kind of work was sold, who it was sold to and what the final price was, are answers that need to be established before the first mower hits the site, Rorie noted.

Setting Benchmarks. Another essential element of route management is setting standards by which route performance can be evaluated. Groundmasters developed its standards over the years through good record keeping and trial and error.

“We tell our crews that we don’t want more than 15 percent of their 8-hour day to be indirect,” explained Chris Hayes, vice president of operations at Groundmasters. “This indirect time is the actual amount of time spent driving to and from jobs.”

Getting Input. Planning the routes at the beginning of each season is another important key to success. Groundmasters’ account managers and operations managers tear the routes down each winter and evaluate every aspect of the route. Input is gathered from all employees and used to create the master plan.

New equipment and techniques are also considered. “When new equipment or techniques come to our attention, such as new ways to do bed edging or mulching, we’ll take them into consideration,” Rorie noted.

Ongoing Updates. The planning process isn’t where changes in the route plan stop. Peak efficiency depends on ongoing monitoring of the crew’s efficiency. “If the crew is working faster or slower than our plan estimated, we need to find out why and get it corrected as soon as possible,” stressed Rorie.

“We typically try not to change the routes throughout the season,” Hayes explained. “We only do this if we lose or add work. We will either add a worker to a crew or add a property to an existing route.”

Proper route management considers every aspect of a crew’s movement and has a significant impact on how successful a maintenance company is over the course of a season.

“A company should want all of its accounts side by side and the crews making as few moves as possible to do the maximum amount of work,” Rorie said.

Crew Size Is King. Landscape maintenance companies should consider its crew size for each job. What size crew will do the work most efficiently?

“Commonly, 65 percent of each job consists of mowing time, leaving 35 percent for the horticultural and ornamental side of things. It makes most sense to design a crew so that as the mowing technicians are loading their equipment onto the truck, the horticultural member or members of the crew are finishing up,” Rorie explained.

Equipment Is Equal to Manpower. Rorie said that the basic rule of thumb for equipment choices is: big machines for big yards and small machines for small yards. “Again, custom fit equipment to each level,” Rorie restated. “It’s like a Rubick’s Cube. Whenever you change one side you change everything else.”

Number Crunch. Rorie also explained that some serious number crunching goes into a strong route plan. “Everything is quantified to the hour – time spent on the site and the indirect time of how long it takes to get to the site. Everything is measured to the hour and the minute. An hour of our time is equal to $40. It’s calculator city,” Rorie said.

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