Choices for your travel

Choices for your travel

Features - Equipment Focus

Whether it’s the take-home policy or the purchase method, there’s a lot to consider when it comes to service vehicles.

May 30, 2019

Photos courtesy of Serpico Landscaping

From pickup trucks to vans to utility vehicles, landscape contractors can use a wide variety of vehicles for each specific job. Peter Novak, president of Serpico Landscaping based in Hayward, California, says his company uses pickup trucks for landscape maintenance.

The company, which employs about 150 people, tried out various pickup trucks and decided to purchase primarily one brand. “It’s the most versatile option,” Novak says. “We wanted to be able to maximize our utilization on our fleet, which means that the more versatile of a vehicle we can use, the more ways we can purpose that vehicle if we’re not necessarily sending it out to a maintenance route for the day.”

Novak’s fleet consists of roughly 85 service vehicles, the bulk of which are pickup trucks. Vans are used by irrigation crews. Management and sales staff are assigned either a company truck or SUV.

Different for each job.

Similarly, at Phase One Landscapes, a 50-employee company based in Denver, president Dave Graham says pickup trucks are used for maintenance crews.

Graham’s fleet includes a one-ton dump truck, multiple pickup trucks (large super duty ones for construction crews and smaller ones for management and a small gardening division) and a handful of trailers to pull behind them. The company has about 20 vehicles in the fleet.

Vans aren’t used at his company. “We haul too many materials. The stuff that we have to utilize on projects doesn’t really fit in a van. The tools are all carried either in a toolbox or trailers now,” Graham says.

Serpico Landscaping uses vans for irrigation work.“Irrigation technicians are typically the highest paid labor that you will have as a landscape contractor,” Novak says. “The wise thing to do is to make sure that you eliminate as much non-productive time as possible. You have to have an inventory of things with them at their hands ready to go.”

That inventory includes all tools and parts that would likely be needed for irrigation repair.

“The van works well for that because we can house those parts and equipment, those materials. We can secure them. We can lock the van up,” Novak says.

All-season approach.

At Elegant Landscape & Design, President Eric Koeppel says the company uses UTVs with their crews in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

Elegant Landscape & Design is a full-service lawn care and maintenance company. The company works with country clubs and employs about 145 people.

Koeppel’s fleet consists of one grapple truck, three or four pickup trucks and about three dozen utility vehicles, some of which are hooked up to dump truck trailers. They also have a single passenger van and trailer for a mowing crew.

The utility vehicles carry a lower minimum liability for insurance purposes and are typically stored on the client’s property, Koeppel says. They are also less intrusive to the grounds at the high-end properties.

“They give us much more access to areas that we may not be able to get to if you were in a truck,” Koeppel says.

Take home policy.

Koeppel says employees can drive vehicles home but are not allowed to use them for any personal use. Novak says his company policy is that crew trucks and irrigation vans are not taken home.

“The employees depart our warehouse with them in the morning and return to our warehouse. They are housed here at night,” Novak says. Management and sales staff can take vehicles home and often need to because of the nature of their work.

“They are out prospecting or doing whatever they need to do at various times during the day, and they may have board meetings or evening client meetings that they need to attend to,” Novak says.

“The wise thing to do is to make sure that you eliminate as much non-productive time as possible.” Peter Novak, president, Serpico Landscaping

To lease or finance?

When the company started, Koeppel says the first two trucks were leased. Since then, the company has purchased vehicles. They will finance if a low APR is being offered.

Novak says vehicles are not leased, as they’ll finance them or purchase them outright as new vehicles or high-quality lease returns. At 150,000 miles or more, vehicles are flagged.

“We use a red, amber, green type system. It kind of keeps us aware as we’re doing our budgeting planning for the following upcoming year,” Novak says.

Graham says most vehicles last seven to 10 years before replacement is considered.

“We got in a position during the 2008 to 2013 range, where we spent more money on repairs and keeping our trucks alive than we should have because at a certain point you’re going to spend as much money on repairing them, as you would just making another payment,” Graham says.

The author is a freelance writer based in Ohio.