Priority on parts

An organized shop can mean quicker turnaround with busted equipment, which results in more money to your bottom line.

La Rosa has strong relationships with dealers that allows the company to hold parts and pay as it uses them.
Photo courtesy of La Rosa Landscape Co.

Pieces and parts – they add up to a load of inventory and a major investment when you’re talking about the shop at your landscape firm. How do you track parts and order what you really need? What systems keep your shop organized, productive and profitable?

This month, Lawn & Landscape spoke with three companies to learn how they manage their shops.

Stay on track

“We put a premium on tracking parts and service, and managing where the dollars are going,” says Richard Rush, operations manager at Rush Management in Lafayette, Colorado.

To accomplish this, the company uses an online asset management system called EMA. It allows Rush Management to list every vehicle and piece of equipment, and set up service alerts. “If we need an oil change every 5,000 to 7,000 miles, the system will send us an email when a vehicle is due,” Rush says.

If a piece of equipment needs a repair, a work ticket is generated and the shop receives the notice. “We can pull up the ticket online, monitor technician hours and figure out exactly how much we spend on each vehicle at the end of the year,” he says.

“We put a premium on tracking parts and service, and managing where the dollars are going.” Richard Rush, operations manager, Rush Management

Rush Management has four in-house technicians, one of whom is a service manager. The shop is an organized space with shelves for parts that are kept in stock. There is also a 1,200 square-foot area where they can store parts and a few different bays where they can pull in trucks and equipment for service.

“We have a good amount of space and we can always use more,” he says, relating that not every landscape firm has the area a functional shop requires.

But it’s worth dedicating real estate to repairs at Rush Management. The ability to stock parts and service vehicles and equipment without sending assets out for repair is huge for preventing downtime, Rush says. Keeping up with maintenance is critical.

“We bring in trimmers, blowers and mowers on a weekly basis,” he says. Older vehicles are in the shop every two weeks or so.

As for parts, Rush keeps mower blades, fuel filters and other common parts on the shelves. “We have relationships with local dealers so we can run out and grab parts as needed,” he says.

Now, the company is working on a more accurate parts inventory system that will include bar codes, Rush says. Knowing how important tracking is, Rush says embracing technology has been critical to keeping the shop organized. Before using EMA, the firm relied on an automotive industry program called ShopKey. “We graduated to the system we are using now,” Rush says, relating that the online access to information is a real benefit.

Because, depending on how a shop is organized and maintained, it can be a blessing or curse to the bottom line. “As a business owner, it’s up to you to implement a system,” Rush says.

Follow the numbers

Shelves full of parts are silent but costly, especially when economic speed bumps crop up and business slows down. “I’m a numbers guy – very data driven,” says Mike La Rosa, president of La Rosa Landscape in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, explaining his approach to managing parts and the shop overall.

After 27 years in business, he has learned that the little things add up to big expenses. So even through air filters or other parts required to repair mowers, hand-held equipment and more might not be expensive by piece, a shop storage area of them is a real investment.

To combat this, La Rosa has developed strong vendor relationships with equipment dealers that allows the company to hold parts and pay as it uses them.

“Dealers have a parts cache here that is basically a consignment-style system,” he says.

“They’ll stock our shop with what we normally go through in parts, and they come every two weeks and anything that is used, we are billed for.”

This gives La Rosa instant access to parts, which is critical to revenue-producing up-time.

“That keeps our equipment on the road, and keeps the crews active,” he says.

“Also, it helps with our budget, because we are not carrying a huge amount of inventory (expense),” he adds.

La Rosa has been stocking parts this way for about a decade, and the company reviews repair track records to determine what to stock. Again, it’s back to the data.

“We know the idiosyncrasies of each piece of equipment – are we going through belts on these mowers, are we going through brakes on these trucks?” La Rosa says. “We know which repairs parts we consistently use.” A fleet manager oversees the shop. “If there are bigger repair issues that we are challenged with, we conference in and make decisions together,” La Rosa says. “But the day-to-day operations and keeping the fleet on the road is his job.”

For now, La Rosa Landscape does not use a parts or inventory software program to track its shop inventory. “We use Include business software and our assets are managed through that program,” he says. “But honestly, we use more of a manual system than anything else.”

In the field, crews are aware of when service is due on equipment. Based on hours, manual requests are created for service and machines are rotated in and out of the company shop.

As for the amount of inventory La Rosa stocks, “It’s quite a bit,” he says. Tires, filters, belts, hydraulic hoses and more are right at hand.

“I’d guess that’s between $10,000 and $20,000 in parts,” he says. But a stock-now-pay-later system with vendors takes the financial burden off of the company.

“Our vendors know what we are using, and they check with our mechanics so they can anticipate what to stock here,” La Rosa says.

Meanwhile, maintaining a positive attitude in the shop is an important for morale and productivity – and all this feeds into performance at the end of the day, La Rosa says.

“We keep a mindset that the repair shop’s customers are our crews in the field, and their job is to keep crews productive,” he says. “With that philosophy, it really becomes a team effort.”

Owning minor maintenance

Joseph Rabago had always depended on his equipment dealer to manage all of the maintenance on his equipment – the mower, trimmer, blower. “But I get so busy that we just don’t have the time stop and take something to the shop, especially if it’s located across town,” says the president of Divine Landscapes in Dinuba, California.

The closest dealer Rabago works with is about a half-hour drive. That’s not far, but round-trip plus downtime without the equipment could add up to a half-day’s work. And in a smaller organization, there isn’t back-up equipment or crews to step in and keep the revenue rolling in while a piece is down.

“So recently, I’ve started doing some service myself,” Rabago says.

“It can take you months to save for a piece of equipment or save up for extra parts, and it takes someone about 15 seconds to steal it.” Joseph Rabago, president, Divine Landscape

He purchases parts online or at local outlets. He can change oil and filters, no problem. “It’s cheaper and I get it done faster,” he says, adding that of course he’d prefer to have the dealer manage these maintenance points. But time is money.

Minor equipment upkeep is work Rabago can do before the day starts, but he reserves any major repairs for the dealership. As for trucks and trailers, “I don’t mess with that,” he says. So, he doesn’t need to stock parts for this type of maintenance.

But Rabago does need to stock parts to run his irrigation division, and having the right pieces on hand is critical for completing jobs on time. He keeps these parts secure in an enclosed trailer.

“You have to keep your eye on parts, otherwise, they’ll grow legs,” he says, relating how easy it is to misplace or for others to lift small and large assets. “It can take you months to save for a piece of equipment or save up for extra parts, and it takes someone about 15 seconds to steal it,” he says.

Because Rabago is based at home, he relies on the enclosed trailer as a “warehouse” that is equipped with an alarm system. “It goes off when the doors open,” he says.

Rabago plans on servicing his equipment about three to four times annually, and gradually he is growing his firm and investing in the fleet. With 19 years of experience in the industry, and a previous career working for a large landscape design firm, he’s proud to be growing his own.

That includes learning what works with parts and maintenance, to adding services like synthetic turf. “I’m a bit of a perfectionist,” Rabago says, adding that he hopes to add two more people to his team this year.

October 2016
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