Custom Truck Beds Cut Non-Billable Hours

Learn how custom truck beds cut non-billable hours making you a more profitable lawn care company.

If you’re not using custom trucks and custom truck beds, it’s worth considering it, especially over the winter season. Optimizing your fleet to give your team in the field the opportunity to be as efficient as possible is smart business.

Labor is your number one expense. The more you can drive that down, the more money you make. It’s way cheaper to invest in better equipment, better trucks, better truck beds, than it is to invest in more and more people.

Here are several pictures from GIE of custom truck beds. I think you want to get trailers out of your business as much as you can. Like I said, you want to drive that non-billable time out of your business. The way you do it is by giving your guys a perfect set-up to work with by minimizing load and unload time and by making sure they can find all their tools.

This last picture here is from Tony Bass’s company where they sell custom trucks. I don’t know what they cost and I’m not endorsing them. I’ve never actually even met Tony but I’ve heard great things about him. He is completely on to something with the custom truck beds in all different forms. They could be open truck beds. They can be on the back of Ford Rangers. They could be on the back of F-150s. I have several different types of them.

Custom truck beds work. You should look at it in your business, whether you work with somebody like him or you figure out how to do it yourself. There’s a lot of wisdom in this approach. There’s efficiency in getting trailers out of your business as much as you can.

My First Truck And Lawn Mower Were Worse Than Yours

Jonathan shows pictures of his first truck and lawn mower to show where he started and how he grew his business.

In a recent video I made mention of how easy it is to get discouraged when you look at somebody else who’s talking about how great their business is. Maybe they are giving you ideas about how to grow yours and you’re looking at the scale and the size of their business. Maybe you’re thinking they’re lucky, or wondering how in the world do I ever get there, or thinking they must have had some advantage that I didn’t have. Who know what you and I probably have thought over the years when we see somebody else that’s way down the road way ahead of us.

I thought it would be interesting to show you a couple pictures of where I started. This would have been about late 2004 and I don’t have the exact pictures. I really regret that I didn’t take pictures of the team and of our set up in the very beginning.

For those that know me, I was in the lawn care business from about 15 to my freshman year of college. I got out and I was out quite a while. I got back in the business in late 2004. The truck you’re seeing on the screen was my very first truck and the piece of equipment here, the Cushman, was my very first piece of equipment. They did not look good.

Now, these two pictures I didn’t take. I went and found a couple pics on Google that looked very similar to what I had. The way I ended up with this set up is, I bought this equipment off somebody just to get started and that was 10 years ago now and it looked old back then. You can only imagine how we first looked.

Then a little later we took over a, basically there was a big commercial property that we took over and they were doing their own maintenance and their maintenance team took care of 9 properties. We took over all 9 of those commercial properties. They were doing it in-house and we bought their trucks and equipment.

My second truck was a beat up F150 that had just been beat to death and it had about 150,000 miles on it. The interior was covered in dirt and grease and I’m sure they smoked in the truck. It was a mess. It had a giant dent in the back tailgate from a trailer and then on the side it had a dent behind the opening third door, I guess you’d call it, because it was an extended cab.

That’s where I started. Nothing was wrapped, nothing was painted, all my trucks were junk. Then I went to another used truck which was an older F150, like an old body style F150, 3 generations ago now and that was my third truck. After that with the 4th, 5th, 7th truck that’s when they started to get better. I was still buying used but they started to improve.

That was the beginning of the business. That’s how I got started and I so wish I had the pictures now because people that come on to the team now have no idea what it was like in the beginning. All they see now is a big organization that runs pretty well. It’s not perfect but they don’t know what it took to get started. They don’t know how hard it was, they don’t know what we went thorough, they don’t know how we would grind it out, they don’t know where we started with hardly anything.

When we had a little bit more, we bought a little more and we kept making incremental improvements. Now what you see is a pretty interesting organization but it took a long time to get here and there was no way I could picture this. My early team, there’s no way they could picture this 10 years ago and say this is what it’s going to look like someday. We didn’t even know how we were going to get here. At first we just wanted to get to 1000 clients and that seemed like this insanely monumental task of how am I ever going to do that. Because there were hardly any companies that were that size in our local market so it just seemed really ambitious. The way it happened, we could see as we slowly made more and more progress, as we had a little bit more money, as we had a little bit better people, as we had a little bit better equipment, it’s like “Oh, I can see how I can get to the next level and then the next level and the next level.” One day you look back and you’re like wow, I cannot believe where we came from.

Most of us that weren’t handed a whole lot of money in life and didn’t have some form of advantage all started with the pretty boring uninteresting set up and we progress from there. That’s how it happens. The guys giving you advice, and the big companies you’re looking at, some have few advantages, but most probably didn’t and they just did the time and they did the work and they reinvested and worked their butt off.

Be optimistic and make it happen.

The Three Best Lawn Care Trucks That Work For Our Company

This video lists and describes the three best lawn care trucks Jonathan runs in his company.

Many lawn care and landscape business owners want to know what kind of trucks we run in our company and why. I’m going to answer this question and then it would be awesome if you would post below in the Comments section why you run the trucks you run and what those trucks are?

If you have something that you’re really proud of and you’ve been super happy with it, comment below so others can share in the feedback and see what’s working for you. I’m going to tell you right now what’s working for me. By the way, if you’ve never subscribed to my channel, please click Subscribe now.

Let me tell you why or better said, let me tell you what I run. What we do is, and keep in mind in our business we have every kind of property in our market. We have big commercial and small commercial. We have small residential. I think of small residential as under 16,000 gross lot square feet. We’ve got multi-acre properties, half-acre properties; I’m talking about residential in this case. We’ve got everything.

Everything’s available to us but know that in our business, as we’ve become smarter about our business, we focused more on certain types of properties. My set-up will probably differ from yours because I’ve chosen to focus on what we believe are the best properties for us.

What we run for the big stuff, for commercial, we run Isuzu NPRs. You can look up the Isuzu NPR box truck. We run that truck with a dovetail-type back-end for commercial. We run Isuzu NPRs for our fertilization and weed control. We can put a lot of fertilizer in that truck with a 1,600 gallon tank and quite a number of pumps. We have to make some modifications to customize the interior that we build out, but we run that as our fertilization and weed control truck.

Back in the day, we started with an F150 and a little eight-foot trailer that we mounted a Lesko 300-gallon tank and a pump on. Then we upgraded to a F350 with a custom aluminum bed on the back that let us place two of those big Lesko, I believe they were 300-gallon tanks. It could have been 200-gallon tanks. I can’t remember now. We went to that F, oh excuse me, F-350 with a flat aluminum bed and the tanks mounted on the exterior of the bed, meaning that it wasn’t covered and hidden. Then we progressed from that into a Isuzu NPR box. That’s what we do for fertilization and weed control.

We run pest control out of F150s. At times we’ve used Ford Rangers. We run irrigation out of F150s, sometimes the long bed. The F-150 with the shell on the bed and the interior of that shell is customized to store T’s and elbows and parts and everything we need. Then we’ve historically run Ford Rangers. We have lots of Ford Rangers with custom beds on the back. Now keep in mind these Ford Rangers were only used for one purpose and that was to run small residential, and so we’d run 3 21s, a couple weed-eaters, stick-edger, a number of blowers, pretty much everything we needed off the back of that custom bed.

In our market, we predominantly mulch and so we don’t deal with a ton of debris, and if we have to deal with debris, we’ve got a system for that because it’s not really possible to carry around a lot of debris on a Ford Ranger with a custom bed on the back of it since it’s not enclosed. If you do a little Googling, you can find an example of those trucks.

Now, the Ford Rangers have been discontinued so we’ve already made the switch and at this point we’re now building out just F150s with the custom beds on the back. Since the Ranger’s going to eventually end and we always bought used Rangers, we figured we might as well go ahead and make the switch, and so we’re running F150s for our small residential as well, with again, the custom beds on the back.

We do pull trailers but only for bush trimming. You might call it some enhancement work, so if we’re doing flowers or sod, or we’re doing bush trimming, flower bed clean-ups which we will often do with the bush trimming, all of that’s still running out of a F150 pulling a 16-foot trailer. That’s our set-up. We try to keep it as simple as possible.

So, that’s all the trucks we have. We have a lot of trucks and they are predominantly Ford Rangers, Ford F150s and Isuzu NPRs. There’s a miscellaneous bigger truck built-in that we have here and there, but that’s our predominant set-up and we’re slowly moving towards, again, predominantly just F150s and Isuzu NPRs.
We’ve been pleased. We’ve had good results. We like the gas-powered Isuzu NPR better than the diesel because we don’t drive a ridiculous number of miles because we have pretty tight density, and so that set-up’s worked out nicely. We’re pleased with it and anytime we can run a truck without a trailer, that’s a big plus.

Again, post below if you’re having great success with another set-up and tell us why so that everybody can learn from you. Thanks a lot.

Stand Out From The Competition And Have Customers Remember You

Watch this video and learn what makes customers remember you in your market.

Are you highly visible in your market? As you’re looking at your trucks today, pay attention to how they show when someone that doesn’t know you sees your trucks on the road. Or, if you have a whole bunch of white trucks, is that doing anything to constantly pound your name into your prospective client’s mind?

Just as important, when you send out marketing, or another client refers you, you want the person, the prospect, to have an association with your company. If I refer you to my friend, you want my friend to have thought, oh yeah, those are the guys I see all the time. I have see them.

That gives them confidence. That makes them feel like they’re making a safe, wise choice. So, running around in an all-white or all-black truck…well, if you’re my competitor, it’s awesome. I would prefer that you continue doing that. But, if you’re not my competitor, I’d suggest that you don’t do that.

Here’s a simple black truck and just look what the pink accents do to this truck. I guarantee if you have five of these running around, people will remember you. Your marketing will work better, referrals will work better, all kinds of things will work better.

Being remembered is important and when you’re seen, you need to be able to be easily differentiated from everyone else in your marketplace.

1 Man vs 2 Man Mowing Crews – Which is Better?

Watch this video and learn how to decide if you should run 1 man, 2 man, or 3 man lawn mowing crews.

This question is from Joshua.

“I’m getting to the point where I need to expand. I have about 45 residential lawns and five commercial accounts. I am wondering if I should invest in better equipment like 32 inch Scags and just run one man crews. With my current density, I can get about 10 to 12 lawns done a day by myself or 15 with a helper using 21 inch mowers.

Please help me understand the pros and cons of this. I always see single man crews with fertilization but never in lawn maintenance. I know a guy in my city who does 75 by himself because he has the right equipment and density. It seems like the money I save in labor would well cover the equipment cost. No accountability and morale would be an x-factor, but it seems like one man crews are more efficient and a better way to go. Your thoughts?”

My thought is no. You should not do one man crews. I’m certain of that. I do not think one man crews are the way to go. I think you should consider two man crews. I actually run three man crews at our company for residential, but I totally see why two man crews are better.

Here are some things to consider. You could build out a new crew with one man, but I don’t think the angle is to run one man crews. The reason for that is, if you just look at human behavior and how we operate, there’s a level of accountability that’s created with a team.

This is even for us as owners. If you happen to have a business partner, your business partner brings a level of accountability to what you get done, what you do, at least if you have any desire to be a performer and hold up your side of the deal within that business. You’re going to work a little bit harder and you’re going to do a little bit more because you’ve got a business partner.

If you have one person working by himself, short of being measured into job costing and GPS data, really they don’t have anybody to hold them accountable. The guy could make an excuse for being late, for example, the customer came out to talk to him. They don’t use that excuse if you have two people on the job.

Also, I think there’s some value in simply having somebody to work with. Working in isolation is not that exciting. Now, if you put two guys together that hate each other, that’s worse. But, if you put two guys together that work well together and sort of thrive off each other, they can motivate each other when they are tired.

When you think about stuff like that, teams are better. I really believe in the team concept in general. I think teams need to be small. I believe in teams outside of just talking about lawn mowing, lawn care, or landscape crews. I just don’t think a one person crew holds up over time. You may see a spike in the beginning and some benefit in the beginning but they don’t hold up.

I also believe that you can get very close to the same level of efficiency with a two man crew. For example, if one guy can do 10 properties, two guys should be able to do about 20. That’s my belief.

The third guy is where I think you start to see less efficiency and less production value. I think two tends to be the magic number, depending on what you’re doing. If you run a scenario where you actually mow and trim bushes and pull weeds and do a number of different things all at the same property, then I think you can get more efficiency out of three guys.

I also think if trained and managed properly, you can get efficiency out of three guys because you can have that third guy do extra things. If you have super tight density, the third guy can move on to the next lawn and just roll his mower, or take his weed eater or whatever down to the next property versus sitting in the truck.

Your business will evolve. What might work today, won’t work in five years or might not still be the best and most efficient approach. Think about these things.

It doesn’t matter if you have one guy or four guys on the property. At the end of the day, equipment matters. You could have one guy and give him the wrong equipment, he’s not going to be productive.

Equipment, doesn’t in my mind, play a factor here. Whether you have one guy or fifty guys, you still have to give them the most efficient equipment. Equipment is a non-factor in this conversation, in my mind.

Also, a lot of times you might look around at most marketplaces, there’s a tremendous number of guys out there that are the owners doing the work. The owner may get 75 jobs done a day, but he has different motivation than a guy that’s getting paid by the hour, maybe even by the job.

The owner has to do this if he wants to feed his five month old baby and his wife and keep up with the rent. He also in most cases can’t just walk away from this thing tomorrow and get another job down the street. That wouldn’t be in the best interest of him and his family.

Whereas, a guy that you’re paying x number of dollars an hour, or by the yard or whatever, he’s got all these options in many cases. He doesn’t have the pressure that the guy that owns the business has. For example, if he slacks off tomorrow, he could probably go get another job in this industry. There’s a great need for people.

I’m simply saying that the business owner is completely invested in his business. You probably won’t find another guy to hire to do those same 75 yards. If you do, he may not be able to maintain that number after 3 years and he is tired and burned out. Will that hold up over time is my question. I don’t think you want to build your business assuming that an employee can accomplish as much as an owner, where all the weight is on that guy’s shoulders.

The other thing that I think you need to think about is as the business scales, asset utilization becomes a challenge. If you’re going to run one man crews, you have to agree with me first and foremost that you could actually make a two man crew almost as efficient as a one man crew.

If you can buy into that, then asset utilization is an absolute consideration. For every additional crew that you start, you have to buy another truck, another truck, and more insurance. With that, you have greater risk. Meaning, for every additional truck you put on the road, there’s a higher probability that somebody’s going to have an accident or something will go wrong that may harm the business.

You start to think about things like that. How can you reduce the number of trucks on the road? How can you reduce the number of trucks you have to buy? How can you reduce the number of pieces of equipment you have to buy? And on, and on, and on.

Then, you start to realize that a two man or three man crew starts to make a little bit of sense. In my company, I think we’re at 40 trucks or something like that. I don’t know the exact number. Let’s say I had to go to all one man crews. Does that mean I need 120 trucks and 120 pieces of equipment?

Well that would be crazy and I’m not going to do that. I need some asset utilization because there’s a lot of hidden cost that comes with each additional truck and each set of equipment that I put on the road. I need to utilize my assets as efficiently as possible.

Also, I believe that one of the absolute biggest hindrances in growing any business is money. It’s cash flow. If you are ready to add another crew but you don’t have the money to buy a truck, the equipment, or all the other things that come with that, then it’s going to slow down the growth of your business. Asset utilization becomes critical as the business starts to scale.

Also I’m going to leave you with this one. If you build your business around one man crews, then you have the real risk of when one of your guys quits. You have a little less risk when you have two or three guys on a crew because if one guy doesn’t show, the other two can carry the slack. Maybe they finish at 6:00 normally, but now they finish at 9:00. But, at least the work got done. Or, maybe they don’t complete the jobs that night, but you take a couple properties from that crew and you spread them out among other crews. The work can still get done.

From the standpoint of service autopilot, the software company that I have, one of the things that I notice is that we have a set of customers that seem to have a level of peace in their life and in their business. Then we have a set of customers that the world is burning down around them every single day.

Everything is a disaster and the world is going to end at any given moment. That’s the basic take I have on how a group of our clients live their life. I understand it and I get it. The difference is, in most cases, how they manage their business. If you organize your business in such a way that you look at all the potential bottlenecks, you look at all the potential failure points and you say, how do I mitigate this risk, how do I eliminate this risk, that brings a level of calmness to your company and it brings a level of calmness to your life.

The reason I just said that to you is, imagine that you create your business around a lot of one man crews. Things happen all the time. When guys don’t show up, it screws with everything. Now you’re really screwing with your business. If you don’t have a guy show up, you’re scrambling and everything is a mess.

You have to reroute everything. You jeopardize customer service. And now, you’re screwing with your other employees because you’re having them take on the extra jobs. You’re having everybody scramble to help you get out of this bind which then makes your employees’ lives miserable as well. Everything they do for you becomes a burden because they are constantly helping you put out one more fire in your business because you’re not on top of your game.

Contrast that to a guy that has multiple crews with multiple people with backup people in place. If a guy doesn’t show, that’s ok because you have a backup plan. You already know what you’re going to do.

I guess that’s maybe one of the best arguments for not having a one man crew. What I see are, most successful clients have their stuff together. They have thought ahead and solved the potential problems. They’ve created backup plans.

When things go bad, and they go bad every single day, they can make quick changes and the world doesn’t fall apart on them. They don’t become stressed out. I think if you went with the one man crew, you’d create that. I think you’d constantly be in the state of scramble.

For that reason alone, don’t go with the one man crew. Go with two, and eventually you can reconsider everything and look at three. The way to do that to run a test. You measure it, you track times, you see how you perform, how much money you make per day per man when you’re doing a two man crew. Then, throw in a third man and see how they do.

Don’t just assume that they’re going to do everything right. Get out there and see what they are doing. Teach them how to be efficient. Take a look at density. If you sold a couple more yards, would that solve the efficiency problem the three man crew was facing?

You go through this set of questions and try to figure out why you can’t make three man as efficient as two, and you see if you can solve it.

If eventually you’ve asked yourself a series of 15 questions and nothing you’ve tried fixed the problem of efficiency, then you know.

Everything is a test. Everything is a trial. As your business evolves, you have to retest everything and that’s a lot of work. It’s hard but that’s how you create a highly profitable business. Two men, don’t go with one. Eventually test three and see if it works for your company. Periodically reevaluate as your company completely changes as you grown over time. Good luck.

Best Lawn Care Truck Stand to Mount Laptops and iPads

 

I think the best stand to hold your laptop or iPad in your lawn care / landscape truck is a Ram Mount stand.

I’ve been asked many times if we use iPads, mobile phones or laptops in our trucks.

The device we use depends on what the crew / tech / manager does in the field.  Many of our trucks are fitted with (and will be for a while to come) inexpensive refurbished Dell laptops.

They are inexpensive and give us a lot of power.  Most important they have a full keyboard that is fast to type on.

It is much easier and faster to type notes, call details, estimates, etc. from a full keyboard than it is from a small iPad keyboard.

We use a Ram Mount laptop stand.  You can visit their site at www.ram-mount.com.

Over the years, we have tried inexpensive stands but they have not been worth it.  Ram Mount stands are the best.  The laptop stays still while driving and does not bounce while typing.  They are very much like the stands used in police cars.

If you want to mount your iPad in the truck they have a stand for it as well…
http://www.ram-mount.com/NewProducts/AppleiPadMounts/tabid/2614/Default.aspx