Many Ways To Communicate

A plumbing service company that has grown to more than 50 employees and 35 trucks on the road would do well to invest in the proper communication equipment - and Benjamin Plumbing, Madison , Wis., has done well.

The driver's seat of Benjamin's four service vehicles - two Chevy 4500 cube trucks and two Chevy one-ton vans - is a Radio Shack of pagers, cell phones, two-way radios and scanners. President and founder Ralph Benjamin and son Lee don't see this as over-kill, though; each gadget has its own purpose.

Two-way radios communicate with Benjamin's service dispatcher and other company members.

"For our service techs to be able to exchange information during the day is extremely valuable," Benjamin explains.

The cell phones are for customers to let them know a technician is on his way, and to confirm a person is on location so there's no wasted trip. A pager is called for after-hour emergency service.

Also seen in each service vehicle is a PDA/bar-code scanner to identify any product Benjamin sells.

"We believe that a service tech should be able to remain on the road all day without having to return to the shop or a wholesale house to re-supply," Benjamin says. "Any supplies he will need for the day should be on his truck that morning when he begins his service calls."

The scanning system works well in pricing service parts without going to a time-consuming catalog. Parts are scanned at each service call, and at the end of the day everything is downloaded wirelessly to the office computer system. So with Benjamin's labor and material already priced electronically, it is easily invoiced. The process takes a fraction of the time of manual pricing and invoicing.

"The next phase of this project will be to print invoices directly from the service trucks and collect payment on-site, which includes processing credit cards with the same scanning equipment," Benjamin says.

Most of Benjamin's 35 trucks are one-ton Chevy vans and are used for new residential, remodeling and commercial projects. The two Chevy 4500 cube service trucks are a recent change for the company from the ones it used in the past. The smaller vans could not carry the necessary inventory that Benjamin techs needed to do their jobs.

"We constantly emphasize to our service techs the importance of maintaining a neat, clean and well-stocked truck," Benjamin says. And at Benjamin Plumbing, communication is key.