Which Works Best for You: Truck or Trailer?
|By DANNY FASOLD|
Nothing is more crucial to a landscape contractor than his equipment, so when it comes to moving equipment from point A to point B, efficiency is key. After all, you wouldn’t want to spend three or more trips loading and unloading your materials, wasting all that gas, just to go back and get that last mower you couldn’t fit into the bed of your pickup truck the first two times around.
Easy access to your equipment and ample space for bulk materials— these are the services a good trailer provides. Without a means of transporting equipment, a contractor is essentially lost, stranded up a creek without a paddle. But before you make that big investment, there are a few things to consider. How big is your staff? How much traffic can you typically expect? And how much cargo area do you need?
Sometimes it’s not always best to opt for a trailer. Today, there are a number of innovations being made with trucks, and with features such as cab-overs and customized truck bodies, you can now store as much equipment into your vehicle as you would in a trailer. But how do you know which option is best for you? Before you make that decision, you should understand what’s out there.
There are a few ways a trailer can be put to use, such as for hauling and for disposal. Contractors haul equipment when there’s maintenance work to be done. Things like mowers, string-trimmers, rakes, shovels and chainsaws are common maintenance tools that you’ll need on a regular basis. Disposal, on the other hand, hauls away construction waste, such as dirt, debris, tree branches and grass clippings.
Depending on your budget, your location and the type of jobs you’re doing, there are four different types of trailers you can choose from.
The first is a flat-bed, or an open trailer. Because flatbeds tend to be inexpensive compared to other types of trailers, they’re often the best choice for new contractors just breaking into the business. However, they can only withstand a certain amount of weight, and as your contracting business grows, you’ll probably find a flatbed less and less suitable for your everyday operations.
Cargo trailers can store much heavier loads. And because they’re enclosed (unlike flatbeds) you can use them to store your equipment over as long a period a time as you wish—just make sure they’re secured with a padlock.
“Cargo trailers are the greatest thing,” says Dee Sanders, director of operations at Gachina Landscape Management in Menlo Park, California. “There’s less chance for theft because your equipment is locked up and no one can see it. They’re basically your own portable storage facility.” If your job is mainly to unload bulk material, dump trailers are the best choice. They have more maneuverability than a dump truck, so they’re easier to back out of tricky spots. They also hang lower to the ground, so your crews won’t have to lift debris quite as high as they would to get it into a dump truck.
If you’re considering investing in a dump trailer, it’s essential you knows the trailer’s weight and volume capacity. “If you don’t have a dump trailer that’s properly weighted for the jobs you’re doing, it will get overstocked and give out quicker,” says Sanders.
Combination trailers offer two worlds in one. They can operate as a flat-bed or as a dump trailer, perfect for contractors who are involved in maintenance just as much as they are construction.
Trailers are a practical choice for contractors, especially when things go wrong. “If we have a mechanical issue with the truck, we can always find a way to get the trailer pulled to a jobsite,” says Paul Wolbert, vice president of U.S. Lawns in Orlando, Florida. “But if I’m hauling all of my equipment exclusively in the truck and it breaks down, I could be out of business for the time the truck is in the shop.”
Within the last 10 years or so, the landscape industry has witnessed a growing trend in customized trucks. Companies such as Super Lawn Trucks in Fort Valley, Georgia, allow contractors to add a variety of accessories to their existing trucks. Features such as truck body length, cab-over engines, built-on storage racks, customized ramps and rear doors—all of these can be added at the customer’s say so.
Contractors can select a body size of their choosing, from 12 feet to 22 feet in length. They can then outfit the body’s interior with storage racks—an especially handy tool for companies that don’t have a warehouse to store their equipment. “Trucks offer a neat alternative to trailers,” says Tony Bass, owner of Super Lawn Trucks. “You can stockpile everything you want into the interior of the body. By converting your truck to an enclosed cab-over, it literally becomes a warehouse on wheels. This also eliminates daily loading and unloading of your tools, which can take up a lot of time.”
Maneuverability plays a huge factor in making the decision to opt for a customized truck. “They’re easier to mobilize than trailers,” says Bass. “They’re a lot less cumbersome to learn how to back up.” In areas where contractors can expect heavier traffic and tougher parking, trucks are usually the preferred route.
Customized trucks also offer better gas mileage than trailers. According to David Pursell, owner of U.S. Lawns in Jackson, Mississippi, trucks with trailers attached to them usually get about nine miles per gallon, whereas trucks without trailers get about 11.5 miles per gallon. “I think that before long we’ll have it documented quite well that we get better fuel mileage out of the trucks,” says Pursell.
Drivers can save even more on fuel by attaching additional fuel tanks to the sides of the truck. Super Lawn Trucks offers fuel tanks ranging from 14 to 54 gallons in size. Because they take their reserve gas with them, crews spend less time stopping and filling up. “Our studies show that for the average company, their crews will stop three times a week to go to the fuel station,” says Bass. “With an onboard fueling station available, you can reduce that to one stop per week. What that translates into is a savings of almost 50 man-hours a year, plus the travel time back and forth from the gas station.”
Whether you’re more comfortable with a trailer, a truck, or you prefer to mix it up with a little bit of both, you have a wonderful opportunity to capitalize on one of the greatest tools you can possibly use: mobile marketing.
Trailers and customized trucks are both large enough to support whatever logos or designs you want painted on. You can splash your vehicles in the company colors or get creative and paint a catchy new slogan across the sides, something that will really grab people’s attention. With such a wide variety of colors to choose from, you’ve essentially a portable billboard at your disposal.
“Contractors stand to benefit tremendously from billboard-type graphics,” says Bass. “Most companies can only put their billboards on the side of the highway, but contractors can take them to neighborhoods or wherever else they go.” With customized trucks, you’ve the option of installing special hardware on the side of the body that allows you to insert large graphics that can be changed from season to season, an ideal feature for companies that offer holiday lighting services in the fall or snow removal services in the winter.
In order for the advertisement you’ll paint onto your vehicle to be effective, it helps to put yourself at a distance to gauge whether or not the lettering will be large enough. Bass recommends a distance of several hundred feet. “Think of it like this,” says Bass. “If you were sitting at an intersection of a four lane highway, could someone looking across the intersection read your company phone number? If you’ve a large truck with your information printed clearly on all four sides, the likelihood that someone will pull out their cell phone and call only increases.” Whether it’s through trailers or customized trucks, hauling your equipment and debris is a necessity, so you might as well turn that necessity into an opportunity. By employing savvy mobile marketing strategies, you won’t just have a warehouse on wheels, you’ll also have a portable advertising campaign.