Magazine Article | December 28, 2011

Plumbing Company Sees Rapid Return On Fleet-Management Investment

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

By Brian Albright, Field Technologies magazine

GPS fleet tracking cuts fuel costs by almost 20% for 15-vehicle fleet.

In some ways, managing a small vehicle fleet can be more challenging than operating a very large one. Vehicle expenses and fuel costs are rising, and it can be difficult for a small business owner to justify an investment in a GPS-based fleet management solution. Luckily, with the advent of Web-based systems and lower-cost hardware, small fleet operators can realize a relatively fast return on a small initial investment in technology.

That was the case for Lambasio Inc., a family-owned plumbing, heating, and cooling company in Galesburg, IL, that operates a fleet of 15 service trucks. Owner and president Ted Lambasio implemented a GPS-based fleet tracking solution that, through fuel savings and productivity increases, paid for itself in just a few months.

Price was an important consideration for Lambasio, which is one reason the company had not deployed a GPS solution prior to 2010. While Lambasio knew that GPS tracking could improve dispatching and help track misuse of vehicles, the price tag of the solutions he looked at over the years was simply too high. Finally, while attending a meeting for Trane heating and cooling system dealers, Lambasio heard about Boston-based FleetMatics. Another attendee happened to be using the solution and was able to pull the hosted system up on his laptop and show Lambasio some of the tracking functionality.

“The last time I had looked into a system, it would have cost around $13,000, which was simply not feasible for a small company,” Lambasio says. “The other attendee at the meeting was able to show me what was happening with his trucks right there on his laptop, and it cost him only about 1/10 of that.”

The fact that the solution was Web-based and the low cost ultimately sold Lambasio on the concept. “What really caught my interest was that I could implement this for under $1,000 with the hardware,” Lambasio says. “It’s on the Web, and it’s updated every 30 seconds or however often you want it to be updated.”

Fuel Savings Pays Off
Lambasio had the GPS tracking units installed on his service vehicles just a few weeks after contacting FleetMatics. “They installed the units on all 15 trucks in a matter of a few hours,” Lambasio says. “Most of them are mounted in the window post of the truck. We were ready to go once they were finished.”

One of Lambasio’s primary goals was to keep better track of where the trucks were. Employees take their vehicles home with them at night, which means there was always an opportunity for off-hours misuse of the trucks. “There’s always that fear — where is the truck?” Lambasio says. “Those vehicles are a reflection of the company, and you don’t want them parked certain places or have them driven improperly. There are always rumors you hear that a truck was in this location, or the driver was speeding. We wanted a better handle on how they were being used.”

His second goal was to save fuel. The FleetMatics system provides reports and alerts on speeding and vehicle idling. By better managing how drivers used the trucks, Lambasio was able to cut his fuel bill by nearly 20%. “In the first month, we saved about $1,000 in fuel,” Lambasio says. “We average about $5,500 a month in fuel costs, so that was huge. That also goes right along with the truck running, so if we’re saving fuel, then that means the truck wasn’t running as long. It cuts down on wear and tear on the vehicle, too.”

Managing employee response to the system was a concern for Lambasio. He knew that some drivers were using trucks off-hours, and the GPS system provided a way for him to correct those behaviors while minimizing fuel waste. “As far as the fuel savings, I’d say idling was about 10% of that,” Lambasio says. “The largest part was just misuse after hours. They didn’t go straight to a job site, or they’d run errands or something. When we first went live, I found trucks that were still out on the road at 8 o’clock at night.”

Although Lambasio had to deal with these issues, he didn’t want to alienate his staff, so he let employees know what was happening with the tracking solution even before it was installed. “They knew I was looking at it, so I had a meeting to keep any rumors from floating around,” Lambasio says. “I told them my main goal was to control idling and service on the vehicle, and to manage customer complaints about how long they were at the job sites.”

While a handful of employees objected, most of the drivers fell in line. “It’s almost a little bit of a relief for them in some ways,” Lambasio says. “They know we can see what they’re doing, and the system keeps them from doing anything they shouldn’t be.” That includes speeding, which the company monitors in real-time. If a driver exceeds predetermined speeding parameters, Lambasio will receive an alert and then call the driver to correct the problem.

Customer Service And Productivity Improvements
By cutting down on personal use of the trucks and improving vehicle visibility, the company also saw a productivity increase. “We’ve gained around three-quarters to a full call per day, per employee,” Lambasio says. “Our dispatching efficiency also has improved. If the dispatchers are not familiar with an area, they can plug in an address and see which plumber is closest to the call, which saves a lot of time and driving.”

Because the company services a rural area, drivers can sometimes find themselves cut off by rivers, railroad tracks, or access roads that abruptly dead end. With the GPS system, they can call a dispatcher and get more accurate directions. “They may only be a quarter mile from the house,” Lambasio. “The dispatchers can get them there now without having to send them on a five-mile detour.”

The points of interest (POI) function within the GPS solution also has helped Lambasio monitor technician behavior. According to Lambasio, the system is aware of common stopping points like gas stations, restaurants, and supply houses, so he can monitor how long employees are staying at each location.

In addition, the system tracks vehicle mileage, so the company is alerted whenever a vehicle is due for an oil change or other maintenance. “The dispatcher is responsible for watching that information,” Lambasio says. “She gets an alert on her admin screen saying it’s time for service.”

The system also has helped Lambasio manage customer accounts, since he can tell exactly how long each technician was at a customer site. “We charge by the hour, and sometimes customers would try to minimize how much time we actually spent at a location,” Lambasio says. “I can print out how much time we were there, and I attach that right with the invoice.”

Lambasio is considering adding the GPS system to his sewer jetting and septic tank pumping trucks in order to provide more accurate tracking of job times as well. “I’ve had complaints for those trucks about what time the truck was at the house and when they left,” Lambasio says. “There’s no way I can prove one way or the other what the hourly charge should be without that tracking information.”

He’s also contemplating establishing an incentive program for good driving. “I’ve been talking to other Trane dealers about this idea,” Lambasio says. “We could put together a report card and give a monetary reward to whoever has the best driving record. I think it would be interesting to give the guys an incentive to be respectful of our $30,000 vehicles.”