This year, Turf Masters Lawn Care will probably add 18 vehicles to its fleet of cab-over landscape trucks, which will accommodate the growth that owner Andy Kadrich is expecting. For every $160,000 of expected new revenue, the company will add one vehicle. This year, the business grew by about $3 million.
“We service 35,000 customers, so we have to be very process-driven,” Kadrich says. The trucks Kadrich runs suit the company’s systems because of the tank configuration they can accommodate – a 600- and 200-gallon pair for making high-volume applications, which Kadrich finds to be most effective.
“These trucks streamline everything,” he says. “And, if the trucks are all the same, if our route managers have to switch vehicles, they know it will be the same type of truck they were driving the day before.”
Currently, Turf Masters has 130 work trucks in its fleet, and the company employs 170 people. Consistency has been key for managing a large fleet. “Our supplier knows what to put on every truck we order – which pumps, regulators, everything.” Kadrich can send a text message to the dealer to buy a truck, and it’s done.
Don Tracey, owner of Associated Landscape in Osteen, Florida, takes a different approach to vehicle purchases, opting for pickups and focusing instead on customizing trailers for the company’s various services: irrigation, landscape enhancements and lawn maintenance. And, as for the vehicle mindset at his firm: “We treat our trucks like a tool, because that’s what they are.”
Indeed, trucks are every bit as essential to a landscape operation as the equipment they carry on board. “It’s a huge part of the business,” says Tim Primrose, president, Primrose Landscaping, East Stroudsburg, Pa. “You really have to match the truck to the application.”
For Turf Masters, landscape trucks with a cab-over design allow the lawn care teams to carry a day’s worth of product so there’s no wasted windshield time and non-billable hours spent driving back to the shop and refilling spray tanks.
“I’ve always gone with the vehicles that are the right capacity so our people can do a full day’s work with the type of volume we like to apply,” Kadrich says. He’s found the 600/200 gallon split tank combination fits the bill. On the other hand, route managers operate pickups with spray tanks on board so they can handle making applications – but since that’s not their primary role, their vehicles don’t need capacity for servicing one account after the next.
Kadrich does find some versatility in this vehicle design because once he retires a lawn care truck, the spray tanks are removed and the vehicle is reconfigured into a flat bed. “We can use those for aeration and seeding because those trucks don’t get as much use every day,” he explains, noting that the lawn care trucks generally last about a decade.“We take the spray systems off of our old trucks and put them on the new ones, our supplier replumbs them and it’s a new vehicle,” he says.
Generally, Kadrich says his company replaces about two trucks per year and it adds vehicles based on expected revenue. So, having a dealer who can deliver exactly what Kadrich needs on short order is important for keeping operations running smoothly. “Our dealer has three different options for financing, so those lines of credit are already set up and he picks the best interest rate at the time we purchase,” he says.
At Primrose Landscaping, trucks are purchased for specific tasks. For example, the firm has smaller 1-ton dump trucks outfitted for hardscaping crews, and heavy-duty trucks for landscape maintenance. Because the company performs excavation for all hardscape projects, it has a single-axle dump truck that can haul materials and tow equipment. All of its trailers are fully enclosed.
Primrose doesn’t run the cab-over landscaping trucks because access to a dealership that can sell, service and provide parts was not plug-and-play in his area. “Having the right dealer there for you when you have a breakdown is essential,” he says.
Managing the fleet.
Dealership support is mission critical – and so is a fleet management plan so vehicles are properly maintained and replaced when the time is right.
At Turf Masters, a dedicated fleet manager oversees vehicle safety and repairs, which involves tracking from the trucks’ GPS systems.
With maintenance records, the fleet manager can determine if a truck’s repair expenses are more than its value – and if it’s time to retire a vehicle and invest in a new one. “We will run a vehicle until it is costing us too much in repairs and we make the judgment as the year goes on,” Kadrich says.
Primrose buys new trucks for landscape maintenance and installation, and he’s generally paying for three to four truck loans at one time. Supervisors drive leased vehicles that are turned over every three years.
“Those are a 100-percent write-off for the business, and they are usually not getting damaged because supervisors are doing more driving versus hauling tools,” he says.
Primrose chooses new versus used trucks because, “In the construction and landscape business, trucks get worn out. When you have new and we are maintaining them, we know what abuse the vehicles are going through and who is driving them.”
There is one driver dedicated to each truck at Primrose Landscaping, and two fulltime drivers with CDLs operate the commercial dump trucks that haul equipment.
Associated Landscape buys both new and used trucks, but its used vehicles only come from government auctions, Tracey says. When local municipalities or counties trade out their vehicles, he will consider purchasing those trucks and feels he knows what he is getting.
“They usually have very rigid service programs, and when a truck is put to auction, they don’t do anything to it. They don’t even wash it. If I were to go to a dealer for a used truck, they put lipstick on the pig and make it look as good as they can.”
Marketing On wheels.
Landscape trucks are rolling billboards, and companies that take advantage of the marketing “side” of their vehicles can spread the word about their businesses without doing any extra work.
“We letter our trucks up nice and big, and our vehicles are constantly running all over the place,” Primrose says. “Every time we go out to give an estimate, people will tell us, ‘We see your trucks everywhere.’”
Most of the marketing at Primrose Landscaping is word-of-mouth, so treating trucks like mobile business cards pays off.
Of course, a truck can also be bad advertising for a company if it’s not kept clean and properly maintained. Primrose brings a younger worker in on Saturdays and pays him for a few hours to clean all the vehicles. Kadrich says, “We take a lot of pride in the quality of the lawns we care for,” and the trucks his company puts out into the field need to spread the same message.