Tips for maintaining a clean trailer

Features - Trailers

Clear landscaping trailers of clutter to protect equipment and save crews time on site.

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October 31, 2017
Catherine Meany
Landscape Associates in Wisconsin uses a lean management approach to organizing its trailer setups to boost efficiency.
Photo courtesy of Landscape Associates

You’re already taking the time to maintain your equipment to ensure that it performs optimally on the job, but how much care do you put into the way it gets there? Maintaining a clean and organized trailer can prove to be a major asset to landscaping crews.

For Gerry Andrews, president of Landscape Associates in De Pere, Wisconsin, applying a lean management approach to his trailer setups seven years ago served as an important step in making his company as efficient as possible. Lean management is based on five S’s: Sort, Shine, Straighten, Standardize and Sustain. You sort everything out, clean it all up, organize it and keep it that way, Andrews says.

“When we first started this, our toolboxes would be totally packed with tools, and you could never find anything. It turned out we had seven different types of shovels. After we went through the five S’s, we are down to two shovels,” he says. Once the different types of equipment were streamlined, the next step was to determine the best way to organize them.

“We’ve gone through and made an assessment of what should be on the trailers and where it should be located so we can easily find it. We’ve standardized that and have photographs posted of what should be where so that we can be consistent and all the trailers are set up to be exactly the same,” he says.

This uniform system enables employees to quickly find equipment, no matter which one of the six Landscape Associates trailers is used that day. Each truck is assigned a color, and all the tools on the truck are color coded accordingly. If crews double up on a job, it’s easier to ensure that the right equipment returns to the right truck.

Keeping track.

At Landscape Associates, the foreman is responsible for making sure all of the standardized equipment is loaded on the trucks and ready for their crews for the day. If the job requires any extra equipment, it will be listed on the foreman’s work order and can be checked out from the shop. Likewise, if something breaks, the foreman is supposed to tag it and check out a replacement tool from the shop until the repairs are made.

Andrews performs spot inspections once or twice a month to ensure everything is still where it is supposed to be. Those results then become part of the twice-a-year performance evaluation ratings, he says.

At other companies, such as Byron Smail Landscape Contracting in Roaring Spring, Pennsylvania, this organizational responsibility is shared, says owner Byron Smail.

“In the morning, I make sure everything is organized. But at the end of the day we come back and like clockwork, our guys know it’s time to clean up and get ready for the next day,” Smail says.

Trial and error.

While everyone will have different needs for their trailers based on the amount and types of equipment they have, contractors can figure out where to start by looking to other businesses for inspiration.

Every company should configure their trailer to meet their needs, based on the equipment they use.
Photo courtesy of Landscape Associates

Andrews got a lot of ideas for his own trailer setups from ones he’d seen at trade shows or at other companies. For instance, Landscape Associates has two Tony Bass Super Lawn Trucks in its fleet for technical maintenance crews. The back half of these trucks can dump and the front half is a trailer with a large walk-in box with a ramp. These trucks have been ideal for work at residential sites or other sites that don’t need big mowers. Andrews’ team customized many configurations used in Tony Bass trucks and others to work on their own trailers. Also, every winter, Andrews’ team evaluates their storage configurations and tweaks it to increase efficiencies, he says.

“We had to go back and retrofit our enclosed trailers with heavier plywood to attach stuff to the walls securely. That was probably one of our bigger challenges. Those trailers bounce around, so we had to find ways to modify hardware to hold the equipment securely and keep it where we want it to be,” Andrews says.

Smail Landscape Contracting’s team also built their own custom wooden shelves to store their tools on the box trailer walls. Their storage system continually evolves based on trial and error, Smail says.

Open or closed.

Smail Landscape Contracting has two open trailers for mowing crews and two enclosed trailers that can be locked and stored at the job site on multi-day projects, Smail says.

“When we first got the box trailers, I had gotten them for mowers because I thought it would be like a garage on wheels. That worked really well until we realized we could be more efficient with the open trailers,” he says.

Andrews’ mowing crews also use open trailers for mower storage and transport. However, with open trailers, contractors need to consider rust and weather damage issues. “We are probably going to move away from the open trailers to protect the equipment from weather,” Andrews says.

Bells and whistles.

When choosing a trailer, contractors should consider the storage potential and the functionality of the vehicle. Open trailers may be preferred for housing mowers, but other vehicle options like dump trailers may be more versatile.

“Dump trailers are the way to go for landscaping trailers,” Smail says. “They are better than dump trucks. They are cheaper, less maintenance, and you can haul more material legally.”

For Andrews, keeping trailers tidy also helps his employees feel valued and take responsibility for their work.

In return, he continually looks to upgrade the trailers and outfit them with the latest luxuries, whether it’s a new coat of paint or a microwave for the crew to have hot lunches.

“I want the guys to take pride in the trailers and any request they make, we fulfill it,” he says.

The author is a freelancer based in Kentucky.