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6 Markets, 4 States, 54 Vehicles: How to Manage a Dispersed Fleet

October 2017, by Amy Winter-Hercher - Also by this author

Owning multiple franchises across the country, Joe Loader has experience managing a dispersed fleet.

“We have a dispersed fleet,” says Loader, chief operating officer at Foris Solutions. “I travel to each location about once a month.”

Foris Solutions, the parent company for six Precision Overhead Garage Door Service franchises, currently serves markets in Michigan (Detroit, Grand Rapids), Indiana (South Bend), Texas (Austin, Houston), and Delaware.

Precision's F-150 fleet trucks are upfitted with boxes and racks. Photo courtesy of Foris Solutions.
Precision's F-150 fleet trucks are upfitted with boxes and racks. Photo courtesy of Foris Solutions.

Between the six franchise locations, the 54-vehicle fleet contains Ford pickups — mainly F-150s, a few F-250s and F-350s — and four long wheelbase Ford Transit vans. Upfitted with boxes and racks, each vehicle carries enough supplies to take care of four appointments per day. Each vehicle puts on around 30,000 miles per year.

Loader is considering replacing all the trucks with Transit vans, which protect parts from the weather. “Plus, the technicians can work inside the vans if the weather is bad,” he says.

Loader purchases the vehicles new from local Ford dealerships. “We do an annual ROI analysis on leasing versus buying and buying always comes out better in overall costs,” he says.

Benefits of Telematics

Using a telematics system has been a benefit for Loader in maintaining the company’s dispersed fleet.  Foris Solutions uses GPS Insight’s telematics system in each of its vehicles.

Telematics has helped promote safe driving, Loader says. Using the system, the company can monitor each technician’s driving behavior while behind the wheel, including incidents of hard braking, hard acceleration, and hard turns. GPS Insight sends an email when these types of incidents occur.

“At first, our technicians didn’t like the telematics; it was perceived as a ‘Big Brother’ thing watching over them too closely,” says Loader. “Now when we post the list of incidents, it’s a badge of honor to not have your name on the list. The technicians have made it into a competition to see who can get the least amount of incidents.”

Additionally, telematics has helped Loader pinpoint a method to reduce fuel costs: cut idle time. For every hour of idle time, each truck uses about a half-gallon of fuel, according to Loader. Before the telematics system, the company didn’t realize that its technicians had accumulated so much idle time.

“Our fleet’s idle time has been cut by 150 to 200 hours per month,” says Loader. “The technicians want the truck to stay warm or cool depending on the weather so they leave the trucks running longer. But they are out of the vehicles for two hours when serving a garage door; there is no reason to leave a truck idling for a full two hours.”

Once the telematics system identified the high idling times, each Precision location had conversations with its drivers about how high amounts of idling causes the company to lose thousands of dollars.

“We had one technician who worked 40 hours a week and his truck ran 40 hours per week; he never turned it off,” says Loader. “Last month, he had fewer than four hours of idle time.”

Foris Solutions received GPS Insight’s IMPACT Award for outstanding acheivements in fleet safety using telematics. Winners were chosen based on the impact that their safety initiatives have on their businesses, according to Ryan Driscoll, marketing director of GPS Insight.

Buying, Maintaining Vehicles

Loader usually purchases around four to eight vehicles per year. Before buying, he will compare prices with multiple Ford dealerships near Precision’s locations.

“I will buy all the trucks from the dealership that gives me the best price,” says Loader. “Then I will have those trucks shipped from that dealership to our locations.”

The telematics system has helped track the diagnostic codes in each vehicle, keeping up with regular maintenance. Twice a year, Loader will look at the maintenance costs associated with keeping the vehicle on the road.

“Before the telematics system, we didn’t take as good of care of the vehicles as we do now,” says Loader. “We are watching for when the vehicle gets toward the end of its life. We will start to evaluate any maintenance outside of brakes and oil changes.”

With regular maintenance checks, Precision can usually run each vehicle about seven to eight years, according to Loader.

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