Defining the Small Fleet Manager
Photo courtesy of Tuff Turf Molebusters
How do smaller companies manage their fleets? When it comes to fleets operating fewer than 50 vehicles, it varies company to company — some smaller fleets have a dedicated fleet manager while others divide fleet responsibilities among several employees. Some companies even outsource particular fleet duties to offset the workload.
“We run into companies that don’t have a specific fleet manager,” says Russ Cass, fleet director for Piemonte National Fleet, a national fleet distributor. “They don’t want to spend the money to hire another person and end up having a current employee handle it.”
After the Recession, many small companies got rid of their fleet departments to save money. Cass saw several companies remove fleet managers and then lump all the fleet responsibilities into the purchasing department, which had no previous experience sourcing or managing vehicles.
Business Fleet conducted an informal online survey and talked to several small service fleets to learn more about how they handle fleet duties within the company — and whether they outsource duties to a third party, such as fleet dealers or leasing/fleet management companies.
Fielded by Business Fleet, the survey was conducted online from Feb. 8 to Feb. 20. The survey’s 54 respondents were Business Fleet magazine subscribers who operate small service fleets utilizing a variety of vehicle types. The great majority of respondents run pickup trucks (87%), followed by medium-duty trucks (77%), vans (71%), sedans, tractor trailers, and vocational trucks.
Our informal survey revealed that managers of small fleets have a range of titles and responsibilities, though most titles have some relation to vehicles in a work capacity. Titles ranged from fleet manager to facility and maintenance manager to shop foreman to administrator.
What portion of the total fleet duties does this person manage? The results were down the middle: 48% of respondents said this person manages most fleet duties and 45% said he or she handles all fleet duties. Only 7% answered some fleet duties.
Of those companies who designate one fleet manager to oversee all in-house fleet responsibilities, the top five duties included vehicle procurement, fuel management, maintenance management, telematics/GPS system management, and upfits, according to the survey.
As vehicle fleet manager, Matthew Eberle handles all of the in-house fleet duties for Northwest Fisheries Science Center’s 25 vehicles — many of which are mentioned in the survey’s top duties list.
Vehicle procurement and fuel management represent the primary duties of those managing small fleets. Only 16.7% of respondents manage all duties.
With a background as a mechanic, Eberle can take care of some vehicle maintenance in-house. “I can detail the cars, perform minor repairs like fixing lights, and run vehicle diagnostic checks,” he says.
For major repairs, Eberle works with a local dealer. “By working with the dealerships, I can keep track of repairs more easily,” he says. “And when we receive a new car, I can call up the dealership to see if there are any open recalls before we put that vehicle into service.”
Tuff Turf Molebusters, a pest control and lawn fertilization company, appointed one of its lawn technicians as the overseer of all fleet duties. With a mechanic background, the technician takes care of the company’s 13 fleet vehicles and all the equipment in the on-site repair shop. This means Owner Jim Zylstra doesn’t need to outsource any repairs or maintenance to a third party.
“We were fortunate enough to have an employee with a mechanic background who also likes to start work early in the morning,” says Zylstra. “He can work on vehicles prior to the crews coming in and then starts his own route after the repairs are done. During our off-season in the winter, he does all the major maintenance work on our vehicles, such as putting in new hoses and replacing brake pads.”
Technological advances in telematics and GPS management systems can help a small fleet reduce maintenance expense, manage drivers, and schedule routes.
“Telematics systems consolidate fleet duties and eliminate extra work for employees,” says Gary Kulp, owner of Shade Outdoor Living Solutions in Austin, Texas. “By using the maintenance records and flagging alerts, fleet operators can keep their eyes on everything through the system.”
Instead of hiring a dedicated fleet manager, some small fleets develop a system for several employees to share fleet duties.
According to the survey, the top five fleet duties handled by other employees included safety/accident management, routing, driver management, tax/title and licensing, and vehicle remarketing.
At Payne Pest Management in Southern California, the fleet duties are shared among several employees. As the pest control fleet has grown to 50 vehicles, Jason Payne, president, needed more help with the fleet responsibilities.
“We got to a point where I couldn’t handle my daily responsibilities while still managing the fleet,” says Payne. “Our fleet is still not quite large enough to have a full-time fleet manager, so we got creative and decided to put those duties on the plate of our human resources director.”
Because the human resources director doesn’t have time to check every vehicle on a monthly basis, the company’s division supervisors have been assigned this role while checking other equipment on the vehicles, according to Payne.
Idaho Youth Ranch, a nonprofit that gives troubled children and their families the opportunity to live and work on a ranch, has divided its fleet duties between the director of distribution and the transportation logistics manager. The two employees are responsible for handling the 33 fleet trucks and taking care of driver safety and routing.
“By dividing the duties between the two of us, it allows us to be consistent and remain focused on specific tasks from day-to-day operations to long-term goals,” says Jason Whitley, director of distribution.
Northland Mechanical Contractors spreads its fleet duties between a two-man team. Vehicle maintenance is handled by the warehouse manager while vehicle upfitting and purchasing equipment are completed by the fleet manager, according to Matt Tieva, co-owner of the 25-vehicle service fleet.
“The fleet manager gets the vehicle upfitted and ready for service,” says Tieva. “Once the vehicle is put into service, the warehouse manager will handle the service side of the duties and then log the maintenance history in our tracking software.”
In the survey, 60% of respondents said that they outsource fleet duties to a third party. When asked to identify the type of company, 44% answered leasing/fleet management company while 11% said a fleet dealer. The remaining respondents answered “other.”
For Michael Crafton, using a leasing company has given his building services company support with documentation, cash flow, and fleet maintenance alerts. Each of Team 360’s fleet vehicles is on a four-year lease with a buyout option.
Through the Enterprise Fleet Management program, Hometown Home Health & Hospice, a health care provider in Michigan, can monitor vehicle repairs, insurance, and fuel costs for its 26-vehicle fleet — eliminating the need for a full-time fleet manager.
“We look to our fleet company to keep us in a positive equity,” says James Reynolds, Hometown’s chief financial officer. “They provide ways to minimize our overall costs through programs that offer discounts such as fuel cards.”
Additionally, Enterprise has helped Hometown expand its fleet with newer and more reliable vehicles. “Enterprise has a great relationship with the manufacturer,” says Reynolds.
Working with a dealer program has provided Idaho Youth Ranch with a full maintenance package. To add convenience, Kenworth Sales Co. brings a mobile technician to the fleet’s facility to complete the preventive maintenance for each vehicle, according to Whitley.
When asked about the specific fleet management duties that are outsourced, a majority of the respondents answered maintenance, including body work, alignment, transmission replacements, and tire management.
With its 33 trucks on the road six days a week, Forgotten Harvest keeps to a strict preventive maintenance schedule using outside repair shops.
“Every four months, the trucks undergo a Department of Transportation (DOT) safety inspection at a local Star Leasing location,” says Mark Lamerson, transportation manager of Forgotten Harvest, a Michigan-based nonprofit that rescues fresh food and delivers it to local emergency food providers.
For City Uniforms and Linen, outsourcing maintenance makes sense financially for its 24-vehicle fleet. “We outsource because our fleet is not big enough to justify the cost of supporting the overhead of an in-house repair shop,” says Roy Mason, service manager.
To save money on maintenance bills, Wheelz Up — a vehicle parts delivery service — performs routine maintenance in-house and then uses outside repair shops for specialized services such as transmission issues and alignment/suspension. Owner Jeb Lopez defines routine maintenance as oil changes, tire changes, brakes/rotors, and fleet wash.