Putting the pieces in place

Features - Equipment Focus

Efficiency comes down to keeping parts and equipment organized not only in the shop, but out in the field, too.

Subscribe
November 1, 2021

Lowney’s Landscaping houses its spare equipment on an organized rack in the shop, so spare tools are easy to locate in a pinch.
Photo courtesy of Lowney’s Landscaping Center

There isn’t a piece of equipment at Yard Barbours’ shop that Tim Barbour doesn’t know like the back of his hand.

“I’m not happy unless I know where I’m at on every piece of equipment,” he says.

Barbour, the shop manager for the company based in Elizabethtown, Ind., has created a detailed log system over the years to catalog everything from small equipment, like hedge trimmers, all the way up to mowers and trucks.

He keeps track of all maintenance, along with when the equipment was bought and for how much.

“By being this organized, I don’t have to think about it,” Barbour says. “I can just pull a log out and see where we stand.”

One man with a plan.

At Greenscapes Landcare in Worton, Md., Production Manager Brodie Usilton is the point person for all things parts and equipment.

Usilton says having just one person take the lead on organizing, ordering and distributing keeps things running smoothly.

“Sometimes you can get too many people in charge of ordering and putting stuff away and it just gets to be too much,” he says. “There just gets to be too many hands in the basket.”

At the start of every day, Yard Barbours’ crews fill out several checklists to ensure they have all needed equipment on board their trucks.
Photo courtesy of Yard Barbours

And while Barbour takes on that role for his company, he says he works right alongside Yard Barbours’ mechanic, Matthew, every day.

“He’s the one who keeps everything running,” Barbour says. “So, what my position began as was to run down parts for Matthew for the trucks he was working on and then for every piece of equipment they owned.

“I’ve learned the model numbers and serial numbers for each mower, and all the different parts that are needed for these mowers. It’s been my job to learn these parts, locate them on a schematic online and then purchase them,” he adds.

Logged savings.

That’s where his logbooks come in handy.

“So, if the No. 7 mower needed something, I have a log of what happened and what we did for it,” Barbour says. “I’ve maintained those logs for the last six years. So, now I have a history of what has been done, and now we know where we stand and how much money we have in each unit.”

Barbour says these logs help him and Matthew determine whether a certain piece of equipment has reached the end of its useful life.

“There’s a string trimmer here next to me that needs a clutch,” Barbour says. “I know how much it cost to purchase it four years ago, I know how much has been put into this one string trimmer and now I’ll go back to Matthew. I’ll give him the history and see if he wants to put another clutch in it. It’s his call, but I can give him some facts, so that he can make a decent decision.”

“The truck is our employees’ office. There’s times when they spend more time in that truck then they do at home, so everything they need is in there.” Brodie Usilton, production manager at Greenscapes Landcare

Barbour says he tries his best to review all the logs each week. This way he can keep an eye out for any preventative maintenance that needs done. He adds that before coming onboard, this was only done during a one-week period early in the season and then never revisited.

“We’ve seen repairs go down 300% over the last two years,” Barbour says. “Because I’m staying on top of the smallest things I can do. I change all the plugs; I change all the air filters; I grease all the string trimmers. I’m hands-on with all of it. There’s not a piece of equipment I haven’t had my hands on sometime over the last 14 days.”

And as the company has grown, so have Barbour’s logbooks.

“I went from one notepad that I carried in my back pocket, to two portable filing systems that I carry with me,” he says.

It’s a numbers game.

Like Barbour, Usilton and Summer Reed, production coordinator and maintenance supervisor at Lowney’s Landscaping in Appleton, Wash., use a numbering system to keep tabs on their expanding fleets and all other equipment.

“All of our equipment is numbered. It’s usually a two-digit number, so the first number classifies it as a hedge trimmer, or a truck or a trailer and then the second number is which one,” Reed explains. “We’ve expanded quite a bit over the years. I’ve been here about four years, and when I first started, we had two hedge trimmers…now we’re so big we have seven or eight and this crew needs one and another crew needs one. It’s a lot easier to figure out who has the no. 5 hedge trimmer. It’s worked out very well for us with all the moving parts of everything.”

She adds this system also helps speed up the repair process for Lowney’s mechanic.

“So, when we fill out a form for the mechanic, he can easily find whichever piece of equipment it is,” Reed days. “There’s an area where we leave everything for him, and once his work is completed, he leaves them outside the door with a tag on them and then we just come and scoop them up.”

In addition to numbering everything, Usilton says he’s implemented a color-coding system to make sure the right equipment is on every truck.

“All the tools are color-coordinated to the truck, so you can always tell when there’s a different piece of equipment on a truck because everything has paint marks and tape marks to match a truck,” he says. “There’s a big chart right inside the shop for everybody to see which truck is which color.”

Usilton says having all the equipment already on the truck for crews has cut down on things getting lost, and crews arriving to jobsites unprepared.

“When we first started out, we had a couple trucks here and there, and all the tools were in the shop, so you’d just grab your tools every morning,” he says. “Now, we’ve come to the point where every truck we own has a box on it and every tool you’d need for a job is in that box.

“That box houses all your rakes, your pitchforks, chainsaws, pole saws, ladders – everything. You can hop in any of our trucks and go do any landscaping job that needs to be done.”

To make maintenance easier, and to keep track of things, Lowney’s Landscaping not only numbers its equipment, but employees fill out comprehensive forms for the company’s mechanic when services are needed.
Photo courtesy of Lowney’s Landscaping Center

The system also eliminates the need for crews to make return trips to the shop if they realize they need other tools than originally anticipated.

“The truck is our employees’ office,” Usilton says. “There’s times when they spend more time in that truck then they do at home, so everything they need is in there.”

Usilton says the time saved by having everything ready to roll is immeasurable.

“Time savings is the biggest thing,” he says. “Of course it cost a little bit of money upfront to get everything in that box, but when you go do a job you don’t have to remember to go grab a certain tool out of the shop. It’s already on the truck.”

For Lowney’s Landscaping, Reed says she prefers to keep extra equipment organized on a rack, where crews can come pick up what they need.

“I really like organization and cleanliness,” she says. “There used to be equipment everywhere. So, I now have a nice racking system where we have everything organized and accounted for.”

Reed adds she’d like to add a large display next to the racks to make crews aware of what gear they should be grabbing for each job.

“I plan to have a big list that says what’s on each truck and the standard of what should be on them,” she says. “I’ve been listing out everything.”

Check one, two.

Another organization tip that ensures efficiency are checklists.

“When our guys get ready to load their trucks, they have truck and trailer check-off lists,” Barbour says. “There are several different categories they have to go over, and inspect, before they can leave for the day.”

Barbour says crews are making sure everything on the truck is good to go and that all equipment is in working order. They also list everything they are taking with them for the day.

“One of the struggles is making sure the crews are attentive and paying attention. ... The accountability is really important.” Summer Reed, production coordinator at Lowney’s Landscaping

“The checklists give them an opportunity to know they’re leaving in pretty good shape,” he says.

Barbour collects the checklists and if anything needs repaired, he adds it to a whiteboard for the mechanic.

While out in the field, Barbour says another checklist must be completed before crews pack up and head to the next jobsite. He says it helps prevent things from getting left behind.

“And when they get out on a job, they show the tools going out to that job and coming back onto the truck,” Barbour says. “They take a walk through the yard and make sure they haven’t left something behind. They’re busy — they’re trying to get a job done, load up and get to the next one.”

Reed says keeping things from getting lost is a common obstacle.

“One of the struggles is making sure the crews are attentive and paying attention,” she says. “I always say walk around your property and make sure it looks wonderful…but also make sure you aren’t leaving a rake or tool behind. The accountability is really important.”

Reed says she used to give each employee their own hand tools, but too many were forgetting them – so she switched to a new system.

“Smaller hand tools are easy to lose,” she says. “We used to give every person a small hand pruner and a hand saw, but with the amount of times they lost them, I changed it to we have a toolbox in each truck and those stay in the truck. They don’t have the opportunity to leave them at home or forget them in their car.”

Usilton says they utilize checklists at Greenscapes, too. But he suggests waiting until the start or end of the season to implement them or add additional tasks. That way he has time to go over things thoroughly with employees and not piling on more during their busiest time of the year.

Shop Manager Tim Barbour keeps a detailed maintenance log for each piece of equipment Yard Barbours owns.
Photo courtesy of Yard Barbours

Barbour says he reviews the checklist process with employees regularly.

“You’ve got to revisit it about once a week,” he says. “We bring it up at our Monday morning meetings. And bring up if there was something wrong with a checklist and use it as an opportunity to identify problems.”

Barbour also recommends having the same one or two employees always filling out the checklists to keep things consistent.

Avoid ordering an overabundance.

Organization is also instrumental in the ordering process when it comes to spare parts and materials.

Lowney’s has come up with an estimating equation that Reed says makes it easy for her to load up the right amount of mulch, stone or other materials for her crews.

“I’ll get a job sheet from a salesperson who uses an equation to determine how much it will be,” she says. “We load the jobs up with that estimate and then we’ll record how much mulch is actually used. We use that to make sure we aren’t overestimating or underestimating.”

Barbour also likes to air on the side of caution when it comes to excess ordering.

“We run a real thin inventory of everything, but especially parts,” he says. “What I’ve figured out along the way is each piece of equipment, whether it’s a mower or a backpack blower, has a weak point. It’s that piece I’ll put in inventory and keep on hand and stock.”

“We’ve seen repairs go down 300% over the last two years because I’m staying on top of the smallest things I can do.” Tim Barbour, shop manager at Yard Barbours

Barbour adds that committing to one brand of products also simplifies things.

“Because our fleet is all one brand, parts like belts are interchangeable among the mowers,” he says. “That makes it easier for me.”

Now that Greenscapes has grown, Usilton says the company’s suppliers take care of most of the ordering.

“The biggest thing for organization in the shop is that we have certain vendors who take care of everything in the shop such as oil, diesel fuels, tool supply, mower blades and more,” he says. “We’ve got vendors who come out to the shop periodically, about once or twice a month, to make sure stock is up to par on all those things.”

Usilton says having these relationships with suppliers has been a big help.

“At the end of the year, they take what we used the most and make sure we have the most of it at the shop at all times,” he says.