Serves the Commercial Small Fleet Market of 10 – 50 Vehicles

Landscape Fleet Shortens Truck Lives From 15 to Five Years

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

The Summit Landscape Management team with its truck fleet. Photo courtesy of Summit Landscape Management.
The Summit Landscape Management team with its truck fleet. Photo courtesy of Summit Landscape Management.

After running his company for 18 years, Bill Vander Velde has made a change in how he obtains all of his vehicles. He has decided to give leasing a try.

“The deal is that I’m trying to turn them over quicker,” says Vander Velde, owner of Summit Landscape Management. "If I can turn them over in five years, I can keep my fleet looking nicer.”

According to Vander Velde, he has a history of buying fleet vehicles and running them for at least 15 years; this leads to older vehicles that are more likely to break down.

In 1998, Vander Velde started his company with two vehicles used for mowing, fertilizing, and landscape construction. As time went on, he added irrigation services in 2003 and tree service in 2005. Today, the fleet has expanded to 55 vehicles to cover the different business categories.

Vehicles include vans (Ford Transit Connect, Ford E-150, Ford E-250), pickup trucks (Chevrolet 2500, Ford F-150, F-250, F-350), and heavy-duty trucks with dump bodies (Ford F-650; Freightliner FL60 and M2 106; International 4200, 4700, 4900, and 7300; Chevrolet C8500; GMC Topkick).

Covering the western Michigan region, the trucks average 15,000 miles per year. The number of jobs per day depends on the type of service, commercial or residential.

Leasing Benefits

Currently, Vander Velde is leasing F-250 and F-350 trucks through Ford Motor Credit Co.'s TRACLease program. Through the open-end lease, the deal is to keep the vehicles for five years or about 75,000 miles. At the end of five years, he has the option to buy/sell or trade in the vehicles.

“It helps to know when I can turn them over rather than keeping them running for 15 years,” he says.

When determining the worth of leasing over buying, Vander Velde based his decision on the following items:

- Uptime ratio: With a truck that is five years old or younger, there is significantly less downtime for repairs. “With the increase in uptime, we are more productive, which in turn keeps the customers happy.”

- Appearance: The vehicles will look better compared to keeping them for 15 years. “My old vehicles look really rough at the end of their life.”

- Morale: Driving a newer vehicle versus an older vehicle helps keep the employees happy and improves morale.

“The biggest issue is keeping the vehicles on the road and having less downtime for repairs,” he says.

Currently, Vander Velde’s plan is to continue leasing the Ford pickups and buying the dump trucks. “This is my plan for now, but since I recently started leasing the vehicles, I plan to re-evaluate after the first five-year leasing stint.”

Seasonal Work

Because landscaping and irrigation services are seasonal in Michigan, Vander Velde adds snow plows to his trucks to continue working through the winter.

“From around March 15 through Thanksgiving, we do the landscaping and irrigation services in what we call ‘the outdoor season,’” says Vander Velde. “Depending on when it starts snowing, we consider December, January, February, and part of March the snow plowing months.”

Before the snow hits, Summit Landscape’s in-house mechanics check the oil and fluids, the brakes, the truck’s front end and rear end, and the frames to make sure there are no cracks.

“In the fall, I start rotating the trucks into the shop for a day or two, allowing the mechanics to go through the entire vehicle,” says Jeff Hoeksema, production manager. “I also have our mechanics look at the plow systems to make sure they are working properly and there is no visible damage.”

Out of its 55 vehicles, the landscape fleet only has eight to 10 vehicles rest in the winter.

“The trucks cost so much money that we try to use them year-round,” says Hoeksema. “There are certain vehicles that we just can’t use in the winter, but we try to use what we can.”

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