GPS fleet management systems help plumbing contractors reduce fuel and labor costs.

Plumbing contractors are using GPS fleet management systems for much more than just monitoring employees. Critical payroll, insurance and fuel savings can be realized through this technology. (Photo courtesy of Networkfleet.)

GPS fleet management devices such as this one from Trimble can be easily installed in a service vehicle. (Photo courtesy of Trimble.)

Todd Lewisrecalls a curious scenario one of his customers told him.

“The company had 30 service trucks coming back to the shop between 5 p.m. and 5:05 p.m.,” says Lewis, president of GPS North America. “They found guys were meeting up at the end of the day at the local 7-Eleven. One guy would get there at 4 p.m. Another guy shows up at 4:15 p.m., and then they all rolled into the office.”

That tale of obvious inefficiency is something companies such as Lewis’ specialize in eliminating by using global positioning fleet management systems. GPS fleet management systems are helping plumbing contractors streamline efficiencies and lower critical costs in what must still be termed a cautious economic climate.

“The main thing these systems do is pay back the business owner and help him control his two biggest expenses - labor costs and vehicle costs,” Lewis notes.

Several fleet management systems (including SageQuest) have the ability to be used in conjunction with traditional GPS devices. (Photo courtesy of SageQuest.)

More Calls, More Income

An obvious benefit with GPS fleet management as it relates to plumbing contractors is the ability to route technicians to jobs in an efficient manner, thus maximizing not only the amount of work completed, but also the amount of revenue generated.

“You’re able to more effectively route a tech to one location instead of traversing across town,” notesJoyce Tam, director of product marketing for Trimble Mobile Resource Management. “With this technology, John Doe the technician can now do three jobs instead of two in one particular part of the city.”

Todd Ewing, senior project manager at SageQuest, notes his company is seeing average travel times of its customers that were once 15-20 minutes reduced to the 12-15 minute range due to the use of GPS fleet management solutions.

“It all adds up,” he says. “It’s allowing the owner to ask the question, ‘How many more work orders can I get done per day?’ Increased productivity is the benefit.”

Rafael Martinez, service manager at Winters, Calif.-based Same Day Service Plumbing, uses Networkfleet technology for the company’s roster of five service trucks.

“We’re able to pinpoint exactly where our drivers are at,” he states. “If we get another call in that area, we’re able to tell the customer the exact time when the tech will be there. That can add up to a couple of extra jobs a day by knowing where the techs are. If a call averages $600-$700, that can be significant.”

Superior customer service is a hot-button topic, and GPS fleet management technology is helping reduce those vague, “We’ll be there between 2 and 5 this afternoon” responses.

“We’re helping get people into short windows of time,” TomTom Vice PresidentMichael Geffroystates. “We’re helping plumbers spend less time on the road and more time working.”

Stacy Creech, owner of Creech Plumbing in Wilson, N.C., has a crew of techs that live predominantly out of town. The use of a TomTom GPS fleet management solution has helped familiarize techs with the area, thus increasing productivity.

“We’re in a rural area and the GPS helps me get the guys around quicker,” he says. “The techs are getting their orders right in the van and are getting the right information about how to get to the job.”

Time For A Tune-Up

Some GPS fleet management solutions offer contractors technology that addresses vehicle mechanical issues.

“We plug into the OBD-II port and monitor the engine and the engine computers,” Networkfleet Vice President of MarketingCraig Whitneystates. “If the check engine light comes on, we grab that and transmit it to the owner or the fleet manager. We monitor the power train and other areas and can send trouble codes. It’s advance warning. You might save having to get the transmission done because you received those warnings in advance.”

Martinez remembers a dealer giving him a specific service diagnosis on one of his trucks.

“Our GPS system said it was another thing,” he says. “All of a sudden, the dealer changed his mind to what we told him was wrong with the vehicle. It turned out to be a less-expensive repair. We get email notifications if something is wrong in any of the trucks. It reminds us about oil changes. Before a problem gets bigger, we are on top of it.”

Integrating GPS fleet management solutions into mobile platforms is a trend that will continue to develop. (Photo courtesy of Garmin.)

Fuel Hikes

Trimble’s Tam laments the price of premium gas in her area, at press time, had increased to $4.10 per gallon - a major source of consternation shared by plumbing contractors. The use of GPS fleet management technology is helping contractors reduce fuel costs for their fleets through the monitoring of metrics such as rate of speed and vehicle idling.

“I get alerts on my Blackberry if one of the trucks goes over a certain speed for a certain amount of time,” Martinez says. “The system tells me if the truck is idling for too long. We’ll bring it to [our drivers’] attention.”

However, there are times when the tech is not the cause of high fuel consumption.

“Our system checks the emission systems on the vehicle,” notes FleetBoss Vice President of SalesDaniel Lee. “Is the vehicle getting what it is supposed to get in terms of miles per gallon? If it’s out of emission standards, it’s burning more fuel than it should be. GPS systems today can check that.”

Perry Beyer, of San Antonio, Texas-based Beyer Plumbing, noticed his techs are more mindful on the road with Trimble’s GPS system in place.

“Instead of going to eat lunch with their wives on the other side of town, they are staying on their own side of town,” he says. “This is especially important when gas is supposed to hit $5 a gallon.”

Many fleet management systems like GPS North America now offer detailed routing and traffic information to their customers. (Photo courtesy of GPS North America.)

Eliminating Headaches

Contractors find GPS fleet management systems beneficial in putting out a variety of administrative fires.

“Three times in five years people have called to complain about our vans’ driving behavior,” Creech notes. “Our vans are prevalent in town. I investigated the three incidents and the GPS told me the vans were nowhere in the area during those times.”

Creech also was able to dispute a vendor bill through GPS technology. “A vendor sent a bill for material we supposedly bought. The guy at the counter said it was our van that bought the stuff. So I emailed him reports that showed our vans hadn’t been on his side of town in four weeks.”

More accurate driver and vehicle data can turn the tables on company accounting books, too.

“If you are the owner of a plumbing company and have four or five guys out there and you used to have 12 or 20, business has slowed down, but the overtime is probably still there,” Trackstick Pro Vice PresidentAndreana Barbieriexplains. “That’s digging into overhead. A data-logger will help with that. You get reports on each vehicle that you can compare to the driver logs.”

Accurate driver data can help settle inquiries with customers regarding actual time spent on the jobsite. “When a customer calls and says the tech was only there 30 minutes and charged this much, I can go back and show him the tech was there for an hour-and-a-half,” Beyer says.

The future of the industry is heading toward more integration into business systems and software such as accounting, payroll, fuel monitoring and job orders, says GPS Insight Marketing ManagerRyan Driscoll. Many companies are already advancing into the mobile/hand-held arena, such as iPhones and other smartphones. Garmin spokeswomanCarly Baltesnotes her company’s voice-activated navigation technology is gaining in popularity.

Effectively routing technicians to jobs can lead to increases in work orders and profitability for contractors. (Photo courtesy of TomTom.)

Is Big Brother Watching?

There are those who say the use of GPS fleet management solutions borders on the intrusive.

“Some people think GPS is a glorified babysitting service,” Lee states. “Actually, finding where your guys are is a small percentage of what these systems can do for a company.”

Ewing adds: “Many customers find the guys who don’t want to be tracked are often the guys whoneedto be tracked the most. Ultimately, how owners approach using the system will decide if it is perceived as Big Brother or a productivity tool. The best way to manage the system is to roll it out and let people know about the value it has to the company.”

Lewis stresses the benefits of GPS fleet management systems dwarf the “looking-over-the-shoulder” claim.

“It’s not meant to be a spy system because an employer doesn’t trust employees,” he says. “We have a customer in Augusta, Ga., who cut fuel bills by 20 percent. The insurance savings some customers have seen has paid for the entire system.”

But manufacturers alike agree in order for savings and efficiencies to be realized, the owner must fully invest in the technology.

“The data is the product,” Lee says. “What you do with the data determines the value of the proposition. That box is the key to admission.”

Lewis states: “Nobody buys these systems because it’s neat to watch a truck roll across a screen on the Internet. There has to be a direct return. What you do with it is what the payback is.”