Landscape Trailer Design
About nine years ago the trucks at HighGrove Partners were reorganized as part of a lean process improvement. Prior to that, it was anything goes, according to Gary Tomlinson, vice president of operations for the Austell, Ga.-based company.
“Originally they were a mess, ” he says. “Everything was scattered everywhere. It was just really kind of chaotic and dirty.” HighGrove Partners primarily provides maintenance, along with some design/build. Customers include commercial, retail and multi-family units. About 210 people are employed during the peak season and annual revenue totals $16 million.
Today trucks at this company have cages and shelves on them for tools and equipment. Cargo boxes line the sides; one is marked for fuel, another for weed killer and ant bait. A locked cages holds expensive equipment such as blowers.
“The vehicles are set up to have every piece of equipment you would need to use on any job. Every truck is exactly the same, ” Tomlinson says.
“Everything is designed for speed, efficiency and security as well as safety.” According to Tomlinson, the first step to truck organization is evaluating equipment and frequency of use.
“We went through and analyzed what does each truck need, then standardized the equipment load that was on the trucks, ” he says.
This spring a dozen new trailers were purchased at Ruppert Landscape and are being outfitted with a new build. Existing trailers are being retro-fitted. The first new prototype at Ruppert was built in May. It was designed on paper, then mocked up and reviewed by field managers and management.
Once the final design was decided upon, instructions, scaled drawings and a bill of material were created to provide consistency among future builds.
A large mechanical toolbox stores tools, hooks were added for raincoats and brackets hold tools like pole shears. Improved organization has created more space, too, says Ken Railey, director of fleet operations for the Laytonsville, Md.-based company.
Ruppert provides commercial landscaping services including construction and maintenance. Revenue this year is projected at $105 million and more than 1, 000 employees work for the company.
The new trailer design incorporated specialized aluminum bracketing to store string trimmers and shears and shelving to hold gas cans, blowers, sprayers and other equipment. This improves organization and creates more space, Railey says. The new racks also have a narrower profile, making it easier for crews to reach for tools. Heavier equipment is housed on lower shelves for safety.
“The design and prototype was primarily focused on our people’s needs. I think it makes the equipment neater, more organized, easier to access, ” he says. “It also prevents equipment damage. A lot of folks wanted more storage. People literally had to walk on top of equipment in order to get to the next piece.”
At the Spokane, Wa.-based franchise of The Grounds Guys, organizing equipment based on when it’s typically used on a job helps, says Kenny Smith, owner. The Spokane location employs 14 people and annual revenue is 0, 000.
The Grounds Guys provide general maintenance, design build, irrigation service and installs to residential, commercial and multi-family customers.
Large mowers are placed with the weight on the trailer axles for towing safety and to reduce wear on tires.
At the front of the trailer, an organization unit with bins provides a location for tools needed for field repairs, safety equipment such as earplugs and a first aid kit, Smith says.
Open versus closed.
All contractors interviewed for this story prefer enclosed trailers over open trailers, as unsecured tools can easily be stolen or damaged. Railey says that a closed trailer also protects expensive equipment from the elements.
Smith said that a closed trailer also serves as a large “rolling billboard” wherever his crews go and saves time at the end of the day.
“You don’t have to empty the trailer at night. It works as a shed or storage unit, ” he says, adding that having a trailer with a side entry door provides two points of entry.
He conducted Internet research before purchasing racks and holders for equipment. Today he has also found success with the lightweight custom metal hooks available at hardware stores.
At HighGrove, items used less frequently, such as chainsaws, are signed out for use. The company does have a few open trailers in its fleet.
Tools are mounted on the inside and outside of the trailer and there is an equipment cage at the head of the trailer.
Communication between crews and management is ongoing. “We are continuing to improve upon the product we just built, ” Railey says.
Inspections range from daily to weekly depending on the company. Inspection is not limited to inventory. During inspection if an item is worn it will be repaired or replaced. Supply needs, such as oil and fuel are also checked.
“We do weekly inspections on our trucks to make sure everything is in its spot, to make sure everything is locked down and working. It’s real easy to get messy again, ” Tomlinson says.
In the end those habits help a business run smoother.
“You want to equip your team to succeed and do well in the field, ” Smith says. “All that organization is great but … you’ve got to develop a habit of keeping those things in their place and having them stocked.”
Keeping crews accountable and following organization protocols is an industry-wide best practice.
“Our real driving force behind this is our people and convenience and helping them do their job more efficiently, ” Railey says.