When it comes to fleet management, many small fleets are stuck in neutral in a 1976 Chevy Monza. This was reaffirmed when I called a company near my office that installs and services mainframe computer systems. I asked for "the person who runs the fleet."

This is what I got from him: They run 30 cargo vans spread out among headquarters and four satellite offices. They get an OK price on new vans at a local dealership because an employee's brother works there. They run the vans until the wheels fall off. After de-fleeting, they sell a few units to employees or a broker buys them for next to nothing. They've implemented a GPS fleet tracking system, but haven't tapped into all the functionality.

I tried to draw out "the person who runs the fleet" further.

What about safety?

"We make them watch a video when they're hired."

How have you adjusted to the downturn in the economy?

"We pretty much stayed the same."

What did you do during the spike in fuel prices?

"We pretty much ate it. I mean, we couldn't do much."

I tried to dig further. There's a story in every fleet, and it's my job to needle out a best practice worthy of print. But what?

"That's it, pretty much," he said.

Addressing the "Oh, Yeah" Attitude

The exchange was frustrating, but not uncommon. "The person who runs the fleet" may be an apt title in a world that often has an "Oh, yeah" attitude toward fleet management. In the domain of small fleets, those managerial duties are often tacked onto other job functions served by the director of risk assessment, warehouse supervisor, maintenance manager or Groundskeeper Willie.

Large fleet managers, on the other hand, get their own title. The large fleet overlords have vehicle manufacturers that cater to their buying power with annual fleet preview events. They gather throughout the year to hone their management skills, learn about the latest products to save money and time and celebrate excellence with awards. Not so with small fleets. "The person who runs the fleet" is busy with a host of supposedly more important company matters.

The Silver Lining

This attitude can be frustrating for the editor of a magazine that serves small fleets. But here's the silver lining: So little attention to fleet best practices means so much room for improvement.

I thought about what this company could be doing better. Could some routes be served by a smaller van model with less payload capacity but better fuel economy?

Cargo vans depreciate quickly. Would the decision makers consider leasing used vans, which will save on depreciation, but still get the vans out of fleet "before the wheels fall off?"

With a little foresight, could they factory order to get their exact specs? If they stick with buying off the lot, are they taking advantage of manufacturers' small fleet programs, which offer rebates and free rack-and-bin packages or upfit cash?

In addition to tracking employees, could they be using their GPS system to measure average miles and time per visit against revenue per customer, enabling them to make smarter routing decisions? Would this allow them to cut their fleet?

Before going to a broker, could they simply park their next out-of-service van in a heavily trafficked construction area for a week with a "For Sale" sign on it?

Earning Your Keep

Managers of large fleets must earn their keep by constantly improving processes. They're constantly thinking and rethinking through these questions. They toil to implement initiatives that yield a 2 percent savings.

For small fleets, however, the upside is tremendous. With so much room for improvement, small fleets could reap 10 to 20 percent (or more) in savings and efficiency by analyzing and implementing fleet best practices. And it's not that hard.

If you're the "person who runs the fleet," and you can do this, replace "person" with the word "superstar."

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