Serves the Commercial Small Fleet Market of 10 – 50 Vehicles

A Clean and Uniform Fleet

With onsite refueling, custom-built vans and proactive maintenance, Ziker Cleaners and Uniforms uses unique partnerships with local vendors to keep its fleet running smoothly.

July 2009, by Ashley Willis and Chris Brown

Established in 1917 by Joe Ziker, a tailor for Vaudeville performers, Ziker Cleaners and Uniforms has been a fixture in South Bend, Ind., for more than 90 years. "In this market area, we're very well branded," says David Ziker, co-owner of the company along with his brother-in-law Dave Fischgrund. That recognition has its benefits.

The third-generation, family-owned company has formed unique partnerships with other longstanding local businesses such as a Ford dealership, an oil company and custom van builder Utilimaster to aid the company in managing its fleet.

Vehicles in the Fleet

Ziker Cleaners and Uniforms has two divisions, both run from the main location in South Bend. The dry cleaning service, which offers home pickup and delivery, runs from one central plant in South Bend. The uniform rental division has an additional depot in Griffith, Ind., from which the company launches its Chicago operations.

The dry cleaning division uses cargo vans, cutaway vans and a Dodge Sprinter. The company puts 30,000 miles a year on the Sprinter, and Ziker expects the durable diesel engine to last well past its present 115,000 miles. "They're fun to drive; they're easy to drive," Ziker says. "They run great."

The uniform division is divided into a sales division, a delivery squad and a service team, each with unique business vehicle needs.

For business-to-business uniform sales, the sales force uses three Scion xBs that are covered in full vinyl advertising wraps, which promote the Ziker name in the community.

The delivery squad uses 16-foot Utilimaster step vans with Ford E-350 chassis.

The company at one point tried cab-overs, however the cab-over design proved to be difficult for drivers to access the back by exiting the vehicle and walking around to the roll-up. Adding a side door didn't help.

The service team calls on existing customers and backs up the delivery squad. Ziker had been running cargo vans, but switched to the Chevy HHR panel van when he realized he needed less space and better fuel economy. "We're getting more than 30 miles per gallon on the HHR," says Ziker. "With the cargo vans, maybe we got 12 [mpg]."

Utilimaster: A Unique Partnership

Ziker formed a unique partnership with Utilimaster in 2000. Headquartered in nearby Wakarusa, Utilimaster has used Ziker Cleaners and Uniforms as a test case to match custom upfits to specific applications based on information the van builder obtained during ride-alongs.

One of the first things added to the vans were bulkheads, which help keep heat in the cabs during the winter. Mounted on the bulkhead are jump seats, a much-needed improvement over the previously used folding chairs. Because the vehicles do not have air conditioning, a fan was installed that points at the driver.

Utilimaster added a work table along the passenger side for doing paperwork on the go. Clips were added to keep paperwork in place.

Safety equipment, such as fire extinguishers, has also been added to the vehicles at the recommendation of Utilimaster. Utilimaster added rubber to the step-up, the cab area and the floor to prevent drivers from slipping in bad weather conditions. Utilimaster also added cell phone plugs so drivers can talk hands-free while driving.

Buying Smart

Ziker prefers to buy his vehicles, though the company leases some cargo vans through Ford Motor Credit.

On the purchases, Ziker takes accelerated depreciation through Section 179 of the IRS tax code, which allows businesses to deduct the full purchase price of qualifying equipment purchased or financed during the tax year.

On the Ford E-350s, Ziker uses his Ford fleet identification number (FIN) to take advantage of fleet incentives and program information, advance notice of product information, vehicle option availability, vehicle order status and scheduling and priority scheduling and allocation.

Though he gets the Ford fleet discount, he negotiates the price of the truck with Utilimaster directly. "I've been the truck guy for a long time, and I have pretty good relationships with a lot of these people," says Ziker. "I think we're getting a pretty fair price. We shop around a little bit."

Ziker adds that it is important to plan ahead when purchasing the body because it can take three months to receive the completed project. The company purchases two vans a year from Utilimaster and tries to keep a couple of older units on hand in case of emergency.

For step vans, "We found that five years is a really good cycle for us," explains Ziker. By the end of their five-year run, the vans will have accumulated 80,000 to 100,000 miles. At that time, maintenance costs rise and the graphics start to wear off. Older units are kept as spares if needed.

Ziker's remarketing plan is simple. "Usually we just stick them out in front of our production plant, put a sign on them, and they get sold," he says.

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