Inspect what you expect

Keep up with trailer inventory and maintenance for smoother business.

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It can be easy to forget about logistical details like trailer organization when focusing on big picture tasks. But one quick way to stall progress is to get to a project site and not have the equipment needed to get the job done. For many contractors, keeping a routine inventory of trailer equipment is a necessity to prevent those kinds of slip-ups.

“It’s one of those ‘inspect what you expect’ things,” says Travis Jinright, general manager for Russell Landscape in Sugar Hill, Georgia. “As a management team, if you’re not keeping your eyes on the crews on a daily and weekly basis, that’s when things start to slip.”

Keeping tabs.

E.A. Quinn Landscape in Glastonbury, Connecticut, utilizes a numbering system to keep tabs on its 12 trailers and equipment. Each truck or trailer has a unit number, and each piece of equipment has the truck or trailer number printed on it or etched into the plastic. Periodically, the management team checks in with the foreman to make sure all of the tools are in their possession, says Scott Pinney, landscape maintenance manager.

“It’s important to stay organized with even the smallest of tools,” Pinney says. “If you have a V-nose trailer, make sure there is shelving to keep the small stuff like mix oils, oils for mowers and spill kits in case of hydraulic leak on a mower.”

Similarly, Complete Landsculpture in Dallas has been tracking inventory with numbers for more than 10 years. A manager manually inputs data into Excel spreadsheets, and a fleet management software system tracks and analyzes the details, Vice President Gene Freeman says.

“The fleet management system sum totals it, so we know that we have 48 push mowers and 32 weed eaters and 70 shovels, etc. If we need to transfer a piece of equipment over, it is easy to do and still know where we’re at when we have the same quantity of equipment at all times,” Freeman says.

The fleet management system also allows Freeman to track how much the company is spending on repairs for each piece of equipment, as well as to isolate which crew members used that equipment to identify any potential equipment abuse. Later this year, the company plans to implement a digital barcode system to further expedite and simplify inventory management for its 20 trailers and the equipment inside them, Freeman says.

“Each piece of equipment would get its own barcode, and you would take your phone and scan it to know exactly where the equipment is at all times. The trailer will also have a barcode on it that you can scan, and it will give you an inventory of everything that should be in that truck. You can quickly look and see your machines and your sprayers, blowers and weed eaters,” he says.

The barcode system will cost about $10,000 for both the software and the implementation, which Freeman expects to take a few days. There is also a monthly fee that varies based on the amount of equipment and selected features, Freeman says.

E.A. Quinn Landscape organizes its trailers with easy track mounted to the walls to store blowers, string trimmers and other items.
Photo courtesy of E.A. Quinn Landscape
Inside trailers.

Beyond equipment counts, the physical organization of that equipment on the trailers is important for contractors to manage. Having a standardized setup fleet-wide can keep crew members efficient and interchangeable, Jinright says.

“There was a time a couple of years ago when we noticed that not all of the trucks were being set up the same way, so we made it more of a focus so that if crewman A goes to work on crew B, everything should be in the same spot and he doesn’t have to ask somebody where to get the weed eater or the weed eater string,” he says.

Inside the trailers at E.A. Quinn Landscape, easy track is mounted to the wall to store blowers, string trimmers and other items so the only equipment on the floor should be the mowers, Pinney says.

“For our maintenance crews, the enclosed trailers or enclosed box trucks are self-sustaining, mini-businesses on the road. We really like utilizing 30-gallon fuel tanks inside the trailers so you aren’t carrying around a bunch of gas cans. The mowers pull right into the trailer and you can fill right off the tank,” he says.

In the past, a majority of their trailers were open trailers that had to be loaded every morning and unloaded every night, Pinney says.

“That’s a lot of wasted time. The company realized that if everything was enclosed, nothing has to be taken out of the trailer or trucks every night and everything is ready for the next day,” he says.

As a result, their open trailers are now used for hauling large construction equipment like skid-steers and excavators. For Jinright, however, open trailers are preferred because they are more versatile for maneuvering palettes of sod or rock in and out.

“If you’re not keeping your eyes on the crews on a daily and weekly basis, that’s when things start to slip.” Travis Jinright, general manager, Russell Landscape
Keep up on maintenance.

A logical way for contractors to work in an inventory check is to do so each time their vehicles need servicing. Every morning, Jinright’s foremen check a few things: if the check engine lights are on; if any lights are out; if oil or coolants are low; if there is excessive wear on the tires; and if there are any broken windshields, wiper blades or side mirrors. The managers will then check the trucks to make sure crews have all the equipment they will need, including a fire extinguisher and first-aid kit. Every evening, the equipment is checked in to make sure nothing was lost or stolen during the day, Jinright says.

The most common trailer maintenance issues tend to be related to tires and electrical connections or deteriorating wood flooring. While trucks and trailers will typically last contractors many years, vehicles with recurring maintenance issues may signal when it’s time to selectively retire certain vehicles.

When upgrading, contractors may want to consider the logistics when it comes to vehicle maintenance. Jinright found out the hard way that certain designs could make servicing the engine difficult.

“We had a seal around the radiator break in our parking lot and cause the radiator to puncture. With the design of the (trailer), you have to remove the entire cab to get to the radiator. We are looking for easier access, whether it’s a hydraulic lift or something like that where the cab can be tilted forward to get to the engine and all of its components,” he says.

Looking forward.

Improvements in truck and trailer features may provide an enticing reason to upgrade vehicles in your fleet. For instance, Freeman hopes to move away from wood flooring that is prone to rotting and replacing it with a synthetic material that is lightweight enough not to add anything to the gas mileage consumption.

Freeman also hopes to upgrade to vehicles with safety features like slow-release hinges so that when crews are opening the tailgates, they aren’t supporting the whole weight and risking injury.

“We are always looking for efficiencies; for a better mousetrap,” he says.

The author is a freelance writer based in Kentucky.

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