The column on operational consistency in CONTRACTOR's December issue identified material waste as an issue that could potentially cost you big money. The example of a service truck was used to illustrate how easy it is to lose control of your inventory, incur damaged, squandered materials and generally bleed profit from your company.

The waste and damage impact is the same in a large company as in a small one. The more manpower and vehicles you have, the more you will lose on wasted and destroyed stock. In fact, the larger company has an even more difficult task because in addition to keeping an eye on materials, they must also be aware of vehicle maintenance and employee productivity for more than just a few trucks and men. So the problem is the same for everyone, it just expands outward as a question of magnitude.

Transportation vs. utility
Are your vehicles just trucks or are they platforms from which your personnel conduct your business? If your primary business is commercial, industrial or residential contracting, your trucks are really not much more than transportation for your crews with the occasional few lengths of pipe carried, or that supply house run when in need of a few items not on hand.

In that event, maintenance is your primary concern. Mileage and power are paramount (not that those things are unimportant to service companies). If contracting is your primary business, it is more important that your vehicles are always ready to take your people to the jobsites. However, if they fail, it is usually not catastrophic. If a truck breaks down, it might affect the driver, but the rest of your crew can always use their own vehicles or carpool to get to the jobsites.

A service truck, on the other hand, is the lifeblood of the company. While the mileage and power are an issue, just as they are for the contracting company, reliability is the holy grail of the service shop. If a service truck goes down for a maintenance issue, the repercussions are far greater for the company. One very successful company I know keeps one of their older service trucks fully stocked, fueled, maintained and ready to roll at all times to avoid such an incident. You know service to the customer is what it’s all about.

Heavy duty pickup trucks dominate the contracting company fleet, while vans, box trucks and trailers are more prevalent for service shops. The reason is obvious so I don’t want to belabor the point.

A place for everything
When you are working in your shop and you know where all of your materials are and you can reach out and put a hand on any tool you need without having to search for it, you are at your most efficient. Don’t you want to be just as efficient when you are going from job to job, place to place, working on a variety of systems? Wouldn’t it be nice to have that same level of efficiency at your command? Of course it would.

A service truck should be laid out as thoroughly as possible. Holder’s for B-tanks, sewer cleaning equipment and the like should be installed in logical, easily accessible places. Bins, cabinets and shelves should be laid out logically and allowances should be made for the movement that occurs when the truck travels, so doors and drawers do not pop open. This arrangement also keeps stray materials from being damaged.

If the vehicle is long enough inside (10 feet or so clear space), internal pipe racks should be integrated into the design for convenience and security. Likewise, your tool bins should have sturdy, secure locking mechanisms.

Bins and shelving should be labeled, and stocked with only the material labeled on the bin. On some of the larger box trucks, it is even possible to install a small work bench with a vice and a 12 volt fluorescent light for close work.

None of this is rocket science after all. It’s common sense to maximize your time, which in turn maximizes your profit. An added bonus is that a well laid out and stocked service truck enables you or your service people to work smarter and with less stress while making the most of the vehicle, inventory and effort. This is something anyone can do and it pays dividends immediately.

The Brooklyn, N.Y.-born author is a retired third generation master plumber. He founded Sunflower Plumbing & Heating in Shirley, N.Y., in 1975 and A Professional Commercial Plumbing Inc. in Phoenix in 1980. He holds residential, commercial, industrial and solar plumbing licenses and is certified in welding, clean rooms, polypropylene gas fusion and medical gas piping. He can be reached at allen@proquilldriver.com.