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Fleeting thoughts

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  • SIMA
- Posted: September 25, 2017
By Cheryl Higley

Mariani Landscape: Multi-use, longevity key

Mariani Fleet 1_edited (400x271)
Year-round use: Mariani Landscape opts for multi-use equipment that can serve its snow, turf and green clients.

Mariani Landscape in suburban Chicago is in for the long haul when it comes to equipment. Vice President of Operations Ron Fiocchi, who has been with the company for nearly 30 years, says the company has become adept at getting the most out of its fleet.

The company is a landscape powerhouse, with over $40 million in revenue; yet, its snow revenue tops just over $1 million each year. That disparity is the No. 1 driver of its purchasing perspective.

“Snow is important but it’s a secondary thought for when we purchase equipment. Because our growth is on the green side, most of the managers look at what they need there and then I balance it with how it can work in snow,” Fiocchi says. “We try to look at multifunctional equipment that can be used year-round, but it’s a fine line. Not every piece is suited for multi-use.”

Putting green first also works, he says, because of the company’s snow portfolio ­— primarily high-end residential and homeowners associations. Mariani Landscape’s commercial clientele is smaller privately owned office buildings that are managed internally so it doesn’t need as much heavy equipment.

Lifecycle and capacity

Being used year-round across service channels requires the equipment to be able to withstand the rigors of the work. Fiocchi says because of the company’s economies of scale equipment is spec’d and built with longevity and value in mind.

“We tend to overbuild things. We spend money on the front side in the design, whatever we think will keep it from having downtime or requiring major repairs,” he says.

Because of the upfront focus on durability and a top-notch in-house maintenance team, Mariani Landscape believes in maximizing the life of equipment. Whereas some companies are choosing to cycle equipment every 3 to 5 years to coincide with service programs and warranties to avoid heavy repair bills, Fiocchi says the company averages 10 years on its vehicles, with some topping 12 and even 17 years.

Not only does the philosophy keep capital expenditures in check, but it allows for greater backup capacity. When it is time to purchase new equipment, it gives Fiocchi the opportunity to look at machines that are well-suited for green but can provide better efficiencies in snow.

As an example, the company would typically purchase small 2-wheel-drive pickups because they were more economical and had better fuel mileage. In the event of a heavy storm, however, those vehicles couldn’t be deployed for snow because they can’t carry the weight of a plow package. Now, when a vehicle comes up for replacement, Fiocchi is more apt to choose a 4x4 half-ton short bed that can help with residential driveways. The company is also shifting into leasing some larger snow equipment better suited for its HOA clientele.

“Years ago, we would run everything we had and made repairs in the field to get things done. With today’s technology, it’s not always an easy, quick fix. Today, customers don’t want excuses if equipment goes down. We’re choosing equipment that we might not have looked at in the past because it gives us that added comfort of capacity,” he says. “It is a balancing act. You have to be careful and know the limits of what the equipment can do. If you hold onto a loader for too long and it’s only worth $10,000 and it blows a transmission, you’re looking at $18,000 in repairs.”

Maintenance and repair

Mariani Fleet 2 (400x207)  Mariani Fleet 3 (200x175)
Maintenance: The expertise of the Mariani Landscape maintenance team helps the company extend the lifecycle of its equipment.

Understanding those limits falls to an 11-person maintenance team, which is responsible for all maintenance and repairs and keeping the fleet running with a rigorous maintenance plan. As the fleet and green business grows, however, Fiocchi says the team is challenged to be able to work far enough ahead to get the equipment ready for winter while balancing the need to keep equipment in the field.

The system has worked for several years, but Fiocchi says the time may come when the company has to reevaluate its purchasing philosophy.

“You have to play to your strengths. If you have people with a good understanding of repair and maintenance and the resources to do it internally, it works,” he says. “As our seasoned mechanics/technicians retire and with the changes in equipment technology, we may have to change our strategy.” 

Global Industrial services opts for quick turnover

Global Fleet 1 (400x258)

With over 5,000 sites to service, most of which are Fortune 500 and multi-site clients, Global Industrial Services needs a lot of equipment (more than 500 for snow) to get the job done. Despite its scale, Global self-performs the majority of its work, dispatching from nearly 25 branch shops across the northeastern United States.

As such, Director of Operations Dan Williams says the company chooses to purchase and cycle its equipment every 3 to 5 years and rely more heavily on lease programs for larger equipment.

“Turning over more frequently is better for us,” he says. “Our average rate is 5 years on vehicles, depending on how it’s used; and with leasing we are able to turn over equipment a lot quicker than if we bought it.”

Because of its buying power, vehicles are purchased directly from the manufacturers, installed to their specifications. When the trucks are delivered, they are ready to be placed into service. Leasing is impractical, Williams says, because of mileage uncertainty and the bumps and bruises the trucks can incur during a snow season. That damage can result in higher lease payment and/or having to pay for repairs.

Fleet management and capacity
Jim Morris, senior regional manager, says the fleet is inspected and evaluated annually. Vehicles will be rotated based on mileage and condition to maximize the value in those 5 years. For example, trucks assigned to a large campus site typically have low miles; those may be swapped out with vehicles that have been assigned to a route and have higher miles.

Williams says they also rotate vehicles that may be assigned to another profit center (landscaping, etc.) to ensure they aren’t sitting idle all winter, which can compromise performance and reliability.

All branch offices are equipped with additional reserve vehicles and equipment in the event of breakdowns or heavy storms. All management, supervision and lead staff vehicles are equipped with plows and spreaders. They are not assigned routes and can respond quickly for backup as needed.

“Our ability to reposition our equipment at a moment’s notice is a main strength and key differentiator for us,” says Director of Business Development Lee Trachtman. “As many of the players in the snow services field move away from owning and operating their own equipment, we feel these assets give us a true advantage in the marketplace.”

Relying on new and late-model equipment also helps drive efficiencies and cost savings for Global and its customers - key when competing against asset-light national vendors, Williams says.

Maintenance

Global Fleet 3 (400x186)  Global Fleet 2 (200x165)
Global Fleet: Relying on newer equipment and implementing shorter lifecycles opens the door to innovations and technological advances.

Newer equipment also shifts most of the maintenance and repair tasks to the vendors. The equipment also has its own computer software that not only can be used to track and redirect operators as needed in a storm, but it also tracks operational hours, maintenance requirements, etc. It sends alerts of potential problems, which allows the service technicians to fix it before it breaks in the field.

The rule of thumb for Global is that if a branch has more than 25 pieces of equipment, it is staffed with an in-house garage with mechanics. Those with fewer than 25 pieces partner with a local service provider that understands Global’s business and the need for quick turnaround (especially in the winter). The team is responsible for inspections and routine maintenance.

Morris says they partner with a third-party auction company usually once a year to sell the equipment when it has outlived its usefulness for Global’s needs.

At the end of the day, Williams says Global needs the reliability and efficiencies new equipment provides. “We are always looking for the latest technologies. Every year we re-evaluate what we’re using and what’s new. Our equipment choices come down to response time and labor costs. If we can get a property done with less time and better service and cost savings, we want that equipment working for us.”
Things to Consider
 

Purchasing

  • Size of company
  • Availability of capital
  • Need for multi-season vs. snow-only equipment
  • Contract types/Clientele
  • Client requirements for dedicated equipment
  • Growth plans
  • Lease/rent options
  • Capacity
  • Technology
  • Sustainability
  • Safety
  • Training
  • Ease of operation

Maintenance

  • Lifecycle preferences
  • In-house vs. contracted maintenance team
  • Warranty vs. in-house preventive maintenance
Cheryl Higley is editorial director of Snow Business magazine. Contact her at cheryl@sima.org.
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