Manage the Fleet, Control the Budget

Dec. 1, 2007
Managing a fleet of lift trucks can be like herding cats. Here are three examples of how companies are getting the job done today.

There are less-difficult ways to manage a fleet of material handling equipment vehicles than with a pencil and clipboard, a not uncommon practice, even in today’s highly computerized distribution centers. Turning the job over to a third party, human or computer, is one way to go. Here are three examples of how to tame this critical, labor intensive task.

“Customers don’t always know what they need,” says Myron Huitt, regional manager, mid-south division, Barloworld (Charlotte, N.C., www.handling.

“But they do know what results they want from their trucks. So, we’re here to get them out of the lift truck business and back into their core businesses.”

Barloworld is a material handling equipment distributor that operates 35 branches in 15 locations, primarily in the Southeast. It is the primary distributor of Hyster lift trucks for this region of the country, says Huitt.

“We begin with an assessment of what the customer already has in place,” he says. “When we have all the essential data about its present fleet, we base our recommendation on what the company really needs, not what it has.”

More Than Maintenance
Managing fleet data is sometimes as challenging as controlling the actual trucks. “A common thing we’re seeing more of these days,” says Huitt, “is companies with multiple locations around the country, yet they want a single bill from a single maintenance supplier, for example.”

To resolve this problem, Barloworld established a service center in Atlanta. There, it receives all customer calls for service, regardless of the geographic location of the truck. All invoicing when the job is finished, are also funneled through a single point of contact. Customers’ wants and needs are becoming more diverse, says Huitt, so a cookie-cutter approach from an equipment distributor will no longer work. “Successful fleet management for us,” says Huitt, “means being able to adapt to the customer’s needs.”

When talking with a potential customer, the words Huitt likes to hear most are, “I want to get out of the forklift business.” It means the customer recognizes the truck distributor as the expert, he says. “When the customer stops to analyze the cost of running a fleet of vehicles—payments for maintenance in particular— they quickly see the savings in having a third party run the program,” he says.

Technicians formerly assigned to lift truck maintenance can be put to better use as plant maintenance operators. “The other thing that’s important,” says Huitt, “is that when we establish a contract with a global company, that manager, regardless of where he’s located, does not have to deal with different maintenance contracts or labor rates.”

Since a big issue with lift trucks has always been downtime, in the past, companies trying to manage their own fleets simply purchased a couple of extra trucks, just in case. Those days are over, says Huitt. Barloworld offers a guaranteed response time to customers if a truck goes out of service. One challenge for a distributor managing a fleet of vehicles, even when they’re the same brand, is that while the customer might be headquartered in Little Rock, its operations will be in areas outside the distributor’s territory.

“When that happens,” says Huitt, “we work out the arrangements [maintenance contracts] with the Hyster dealer in our customer’s area. For the customer, it has to be seamless. One call to the service center is all he has to do.” The Hyster dealer in the area where the work is done then bills Barloworld for the work.

Real Data Supports Better Decisions
Sean Bennett, senior financial operations support manager, MBM Food Corp. (Rocky Mount, N.C.) reports that his company was looking for a way to get a handle on the real costs of its fleet of equipment.

MBM fulfills customer orders through a nationwide network of 32 distribution centers and a fleet of more than 400 distribution vehicles. It was an early adopter of the InfoLink wireless fleet management system from Crown Equipment Corp. (New Bremen, Ohio, www.

“Currently, we have 92 operators who log into the system,” says Bennett. “Its acceptance among employees has been rewarding. They now have ‘ownership’ in the pallet jack they’re using.”

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