From buying used to leasing through a fleet management company then back to owning, Superior Mechanical, a commercial plumbing services company serving the greater Washington, D.C. area, has tested multiple fleet management strategies.
Owners Paul Wilson, Andy Weir and Dottie Depfer fired up Superior Mechanical in 2002 as a result of their former employer closing doors after 50 years. They started with a few used vans, but quickly changed this approach to leasing through a fleet management service. “It sounded good at first,” Depfer says. “But what we found is that the service is only as good as the information you feed them.”
Superior Mechanical noticed that reporting items such as fuel spend and mileage often got ignored. “Months would go by because we were so busy, and then we’d be scrambling because we wouldn’t know who had oil changes,” Depfer says.
Moving away from leasing as the fleet continued to grow, for the last three years the company now buys new. Superior Mechanical currently has around 25 Ford E-Series vans, five F-150s, 25 utility trucks built on Ford chassis and three Peterbilt dump trucks. While its local Ford dealerships don’t do commercial sales, they help with the ordering and upfitting.
So the company found its fit for vehicle acquisition, but what about the daily fleet management duties?
The Winning Strategy
As the company progressed to owning its fleet and the economy took a hit, Superior Mechanical hired a consultant to research GPS/telematics software. “We thought, ‘how can we keep overhead down, yet increase our volume,’ and software is the way we found it,” Depfer says.
Based on all the criteria the company wanted, the chosen solution was SageQuest — a branded offering of the Fleetmatics Group. Superior Mechanical has now been using the software for four years. The system is integrated with Garmin devices in each vehicle for job site navigation.
More importantly, SageQuest is also integrated with the company’s billing and accounting software Data Basics, which technicians use to create job tickets. The integration eliminated any problems of over-reporting job hours as well as customers claiming they were overbilled.
“If there is any difference in labor of what the technician is putting on the ticket, we get a variation report that tells us he really was there for six hours even though the ticket says eight,” Depfer says. Before SageQuest and Data Basics, the dispatcher had to manually compare the company’s old GPS data to every ticket. “It saves more time inside our office than anyone could’ve imagined,” she says.
While Depfer says the software costs directly compared to the fleet management service were probably about the same, the company has reduced its yearly maintenance costs. With maintenance getting out of control due to the lack of record keeping, Superior Mechanical is now saving $10,000-$15,000 a year on major repairs. By tracking mileage, the software keeps maintenance organized by sending an email when a vehicle needs regular maintenance.
The software, which also monitors driver behavior, has given way to stricter safety policies at the company. Drivers must now adhere to a speeding policy, in which if they exceed the speed limit by 10 mph, the safety director is alerted by email. Two emails equal an aggressive driving class. If speeding continues after training, the result could be termination. Depfer says last year the company reduced its accident rate by 40%.
Superior Mechanical has also lessened its fuel use. If a customer needs an emergency repair, the dispatcher isn’t spending time phoning every technician. As well, “Now we’re not sending guys halfway across state,” Depfer says.
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