September 2010, Business Fleet - Feature
Somebody Call Security!
Mike Jagger, president of Provident Security in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, has been cycling Toyota RAV4s into his fleet for several years. “The RAV4s are more expensive, but they work for us,” he says. “I have found that, the more you spend upfront, the fewer maintenance issues.”
No two fleets are alike, but those that serve the same industry tend to share more than a few common characteristics. For security system installers, the big, white van with shelves in the back and ladder racks on the roof has long been the standard bearer. Over the past several years, however, a challenging economic climate and soaring fuel costs have forced fleet managers in that industry to consider new options.
Just ask Tim Creenan, founder and CEO of Amherst Alarm Inc. in Amherst, N.Y., a suburb of Buffalo, who has added two Chevrolet HHR panel vans and a Ford Transit Connect to a 15-vehicle fleet that had been comprised entirely of full- and mid-size GMC and Chevrolet vans.
"My father sells GMC trucks, and he used to sell Chevys," Creenan says. "I guess you could say I have a bias there."
The HHRs' smaller size limits their use to personal vehicles for Amherst Alarm's installation and product managers, but Creenan considers the Transit Connect an early success.
"No bad feedback at all," he reports. "They could probably replace the Astro vans."
The TransCon's high profile also offers additional space for vinyl-wrap graphics, which now decorate every new addition to the fleet.
Procurement and Remarketing
Like Creenan, Mike Jagger, president and founder of Provident Security in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, has built his 36-vehicle fleet by procuring his installers' Chevrolet Safari and Astro vans from a dealer. He prefers to lease, but on an extended term.
"Our usual lease term is 30 months, which is based on estimated wear and tear," Jagger says. "That could be 10,000 kilometers per month for a guard vehicle. Our pattern has been heavy initial use, then a 'retirement' phase."
Cycling higher-mileage vehicles into more limited use helps the vehicles meet the 30-month lease term, but maximum efficiency remains Jagger's primary goal.
"At end-of-cycle, some are still worth something when they're returned," he says. "We just look at the vehicles as something we need to get the job done."
Dale Bonifas, vice president and second-generation owner of Alarm Detection Systems Inc. in Aurora, Ill., would agree. He manages his 120-vehicle fleet with little regard for resale value, preferring instead to send retired vehicles to the crusher.
"We have considered remarketing the vehicles," Bonifas says. "Our CFO has studied the advantages and disadvantages. There are good programs out there. But one of our concerns is that we don't want anybody driving around in an old vehicle with our graphics and phone number on it."
Amherst Alarm's Creenan moves his retired units the old-fashioned way, through the local want ads.
"They are high-mileage and a bit worn," he says. "But with the shelving and ladder racks, they're just right for somebody like a contractor."
Upfitting for Efficiency
For Provident Security's Jagger, the journey toward a more efficient fleet began four years ago, when he became interested in the 'Lean' management system credited to Toyota Motor Corp. The goal is to reduce waste by eliminating processes that offer no benefit to the end user - that is, the customer. When he opened the back doors of his installers' GMC Safari and Chevrolet Astro vans, Jagger saw shelves and bins that were full of junk.
"We had techs digging through pieces of cable and broken parts," he says. "We were shocked at how much extra stuff was in there. Now, they carry a lot less. Some of the vehicles don't even have racks; they're down to just plastic kits. We have found that, if there's a space, people will find a way to fill it."
His colleagues have taken a somewhat less scientific approach, relying on their own experience and that of their installers to keep their vehicles' weight down.
"Our upfitter is Kaminski and Sons, here in Buffalo, and the manufacturer they use is Adrian Steel," Creenan says. "By now, we know exactly what we want in there."
"The Chevy vans, for quite a while, have offered a package that includes basic shelving and ladder racks for free," says Alarm Detection Systems' Bonifas. "We have cut down on inventory. We try not to keep too much extra equipment in the vehicles."