April 22 2008 12:00 AM

You’ve gone to great lengths to research the perfect truck for the job.


Through experience, you’ve learned the fastest way to cut a lawn, and still have it look painstakingly detailed. You train your crews to be efficient. While never skimping on quality, you teach them, and perhaps even give incentives, to never waste time when they are working on a property. It’s all about getting there, getting the job done, getting out, and getting to the next one.

This is basic. This is how the money is made!

You’ve probably already invested in some of the best commercial-grade tools available in the business. Why? Because they last longer, take more of a beating, and don’t have to be maintained nearly as much as their consumer counterparts. They are also more likely to work harder, and do more work under a given time. They save money by helping to keep downtime to a minimum with less maintenance and fewer repairs. Coupled with your well-taught and experienced crew, they help rake in profits by helping a project get done faster, with superior results. The extra money that you spent on these tools is nothing compared to the profits that can be earned with their use.

Cabovers offer the opportunity to use walls as tool racks and compartments. In addition, you can drive the mowing equipment in and secure it safely. Enclosed vehicles offer the security and protection against inclement weather. Photos courtesy: Super Lawn Trucks

The trucks that you add to your fleet follow the same principle. You know that should a truck break down, there will be a few properties that won’t be taken care of, crew hours wasted, and profits lost. Hopefully you won’t lose a customer.

So what have you done? You’ve gone through great lengths to research the perfect truck for the job you will assign to it. It will be able to endure the abuse that this job will inflict upon it, and will get the miles-per-gallon you need to have for its particular duty. You made this purchase knowing it had the power to haul the equipment, the reliability to save money in expensive repairs, and the space for your tools.

You’ve taken the time to get the right tools, the perfect trucks, and you know the way you want your crews to work. But there could be something that isn’t running as smoothly as you would hope, and the problem is right in front of your face. Incorporating all three as efficiently as possible can be a challenge, but a relatively easy one to take care of.

The way the truck is rigged with your tools, and the way your crew is able to efficiently unload, and reload the equipment for any given time is something that many in the business can stand to improve. “Being organized leads to better productivity, and that is one of the core issues that contractors should consider when rigging their truck,” says Tony Bass, president of Super Lawn Trucks, Bonaire, Georgia.

In 1992, Bass took a six-month vacation just to watch the crews in his landscape company work. He made many discoveries of wasted man-hours and inefficient setups. He witnessed everything from misplaced tools to an exuberant amount of time wasted just pumping gas.

“Eighty man-hours per crew per year were devoted to the simple task of refueling,” says Bass. He later designed an additional tank system for the trucks that hold 39 gallons; allowing for only once-a-week fill-ups. Bass and his father designed solutions for other problems as well, such as a hydraulic ramp system mounted onto the trailer door of an Isuzu NPR forward-cab truck that allowed for easy loading and unloading of equipment, and doubled as a locked door, eliminating the theft issue.

Keeping hand-tools organized and stored securely in an open trailer protects them from damage during transportation, and provide better accessibility.Photo courtesy: Jungle Jim
There are certain things that contractors can do to make the use of their trucks more efficient; one of which is to make sure that the hand tools never get left in the bed of the pickup or the floor of the trailer.

“Tools will get torn up if they are left bouncing around in the bottom of the truck,” warns Tim Haas, vice president for Trimmer Trap, Louisville, Kentucky. “Then you get to a jobsite and spend extra time trying to get the tool to work because the engine is flooded or something is broken. Not a good thing at all.”

He recommends racks that are designed for a bed of a pickup or the side of an enclosed or open trailer to hold the hand tools. “Any of the power tools—trimmer, chainsaw, blower—can all go on these racks,” said Haas. “You’ll be able to walk up to the truck or open trailer and easily pick the tool you want without even having to climb up and dig around for it. It saves a lot of time.”

Haas said his partner designed the company’s first rack after suffering many problems indirectly caused by placing tools in the bed of his pickup.

Refueling mowers from the truck is convenient and saves countless hours, for increased productivity.

Photo courtesy: Super Lawn Trucks

“One of the guys in the crew did the normal routine of placing the blower in the bed of the pickup. Somehow, it got covered with lawn clippings and got dumped along with the clippings at the landfill,” relates Haas. “My partner rushed to the landfill, and was able to get the blower back, but it was already compacted. That was the final straw for him, and he set out to build his first rack shortly thereafter.”

Installing racks simply make things easier for the crew, and better for the equipment. “Unfortunately, a lot of people just throw their trimmers, gas cans, chainsaws, and blowers into a bed and trailer and don’t secure them. They end up getting stolen or damaged,” says Jennifer Wise, sales manager for Jungle Jim, Louisville Kentucky. “A lot of bed and trailer space is wasted by doing that, a rack system can fix that.”

Many racks are also equipped with a mechanism to lock the equipment in place in order to prevent theft. “These are expensive pieces of equipment,” says Wise. “A $300 trimmer here, a $200 chainsaw stolen there, and it starts hurting real fast.”

“Make sure every rack you buy is lockable,” advises Haas. “Theft has become a tremendous problem. I hear stories all the time about contractors running to the bank or stopping at McDonald’s for a bite to eat, only to come back to the truck and find equipment missing.”

It’s advisable that you keep the bottom of the pickup, cab-over, or trailer, free of hand-tools, and use it for the heavy equipment or yard waste to be umped later.

Keeping the tools safely secured at the side of the truck, and easily accessible to crew members, will save time, man-hours, and downtime in damaged equipment. Keeping a tight inventory of tools and supplies in each truck, and handing out such a list to each supervisor, is what Rich Wilbert, general manager for Robert Howard Associates in Bolder, Colorado, recommends to make things run a little smoother.

Locking mechanisms on tool racks help to deter theft.
Photo courtesy: Trimmer Trap

“We pass out a list to all the supervisors of everything that’s on the truck, and where it will be,” says Wilbert. “The standardization keeps everyone on the same page, and they save a lot of time from tearing apart a truck looking for a tool that they aren’t sure is even on there.”

Wilbert said that the company was frustrated at the unproductive time that went into a crew having to stop what they were doing on a jobsite to purchase a part that should have been on the truck. “The trips back and forth to the supplier were really killing us. Additionally, we found that the chore of picking up that part also lead to the crew taking a social hour. We don’t get paid for that, so we work very hard to keep that from occurring.”

Wilbert’s fleet is composed of 10 trucks. The pickup trucks are primarily used for irrigation work, and he prefers to use cab-over trucks for landscape maintenance. “Depending on the community you are working in, hauling a trailer around may not be the best option,” related Wilbert. “However, from a construction standpoint, we love them. For any construction projects we’re doing, we load up the trailer with all the equipment we need and simply leave it on the jobsite overnight, so no one has to cart it back and forth. Since most of our projects last four to six weeks, it works out very well.”

Kevin J. McLaren, owner of U.S. Lawns franchise based out of Baltimore, Maryland, also prefers trailers to haul his equipment. He has found that because a lot of his business is spring cleanups, trailers work best for him. “We now use enclosed trailers, and set them up with racks to take hedgers, chain saws, blowers, etc,” says McLaren.“The only thing we take out of the pickup truck is gasoline. Everything else is in that trailer.”

McLaren uses the bed of the truck for clean-up material and yard waste. “We don’t like to use trailers for mulch or clippings, because it becomes really easy to overload them and that becomes a safety issue,” he warns. “We use the bed capacity in the pickup for most of that.”

A typical set-up in one of McLaren’s rigs is a rack in the front of the trailer, where the “consumables” are stored, such as trimmer line, spare lawnmower blades, hand tools, etc. The sides of the trailer are equipped with racks holding the line trimmers and backpack blowers, spray rigs, hedgers, and chain saws. The floor is left clear for mowers, where there are tie-down straps to hold the mowers securely in place and keep them from banging around while being transported.

McLaren also strongly recommends that you keep a stringent equipment inventory, and keeps the crew and equipment consistent across the board. “We do a complete equipment inventory, and every piece of that equipment is assigned to a truck, and to a crew member,” McLaren said. “We never interchange crews, rotate people, or swap equipment. By doing this, we dramatically reduce time in the “lost equipment shuffle” and because equipment was assigned and a crew member was made solely responsible for its condition, breakdowns and repair costs went down dramatically as well.”

Some trailers have specialized compartments for hand tools, such as this hand blower to keep equipment secure.
Photo courtesy: Trimmer Trap

Keeping trucks organized not only keeps the crew efficient and the operation running smoothly, but it’s also a valuable marketing tool. “A contractor simply looks so much more professional and prepared when he doesn’t have tools thrown haphazardly around,” says Bass. “On a cab-over truck, with the equipment nicely racked and put away, everything looks so much cleaner. The company name and logo can also easily be seen on the sides of the truck, which makes a very effective billboard. When people see the cleanliness of a rig, they are impressed.”

John Gachina, owner of Gachina Landscape Management in Menlo Park, California, enjoys the benefit of getting noticed because of his rigs. “We use extended cab trucks, and we get comments all the time, complimenting us on how nice we look,” Gachina says. “People notice us a lot, and we get many leads from it.”

Whether you prefer cab-overs, pickups, open trailers or closed trailers, as with most things, there is a right way and a wrong way to set it up. However, there is no predetermined method, and your particular setup requires your own custom approach. One contractor I interviewed laughed at my request for his professional research in what setup works best: “Trial and error is probably the more accurate term in what we have done and continue to do. We just observe the best we can, and constantly try to improve how we set everything up.”

One acronym that might bode well when contemplating the setup of your rig is KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Hopefully, it will help you keep things organized, and well, simple.