By Cheryl Higley
Leadership: CFO Robert Johnson, Business Manager Brianna Parr, President Mark Aquilino and Vice President of Operations Brian Ducharme drive Outdoor Pride’s quest for excellence.
“Good Enough.” For Outdoor Pride Landscape & Snow Management President Mark Aquilino, there is no such thing for his Manchester, NH-based company; and he preaches it to his team daily. Aquilino took over the 30-year-old company four years ago after his father, Michael, retired. Since then, Aquilino has brought a new vision that builds on the infrastructure and foundation built by his father.
That vision is rooted in the Japanese philosophy of Kaizen - constant and continuous improvement of processes that result in change for the better. Adopting that philosophy has fueled Outdoor Pride’s growth. “It’s a great way to run a business,” Aquilino says. “We are always trying to better something. That happens throughout each department and has changed how we think about equipment.”
Combining kaizen with breakthroughs in technology and a structure that allows each manager to “own” their department, Aquilino says Outdoor Pride has become much more analytical. The key, he says, is to put that data into action.
The company’s departments meet regularly to look at the data, benchmark it against their business and financial models and see where efficiencies can be gained. That constant communication keeps everyone on the same page; and when there are disagreements on the path forward, the numbers bring the direction back into focus.
“It’s great to have GPS to track equipment or business management software to help with job costing and CRM, but if you don’t analyze the data, these technologies just become part of a process and not something that can make you better,” he says.
Outdoor Pride uses a mix of snow-only and four-season equipment that totals about 50 trucks, 38 loaders, 45 skid steers and 50 pieces of sidewalk equipment. The company owns and maintains about 80% of its fleet, and 20% comes from a few subcontractors and rental/lease agreements with local dealers as needed to service the company’s clientele, which includes hospitals, larger commercial campuses and trucking facilities.
The Kaizen method figures prominently in how the company manages equipment acquisition. The snow managers constantly analyze “what’s new and what’s innovative” and then look beyond what it can do in the field to how it can help the organization. Once the data is on the table, the team looks at whether or not buying is the right move and meets the needs of the operators and the clients.
“We have strong checks and balances when it comes to equipment. We don’t purchase equipment; we invest in it. We look at the return on investment from all sides...equipment cost, repair and maintenance, life expectancy, use in other parts of the business, etc. Then, we analyze whether it makes us more efficient and can streamline the business. Only then do we make the investment,” Aquilino says.
Well-outfitted team: Outdoor Pride embraces new and innovative equipment to ensure its operations team can work smarter and better serve its customers.
During quarterly purchasing meetings, the management team develops budgets, projects growth, reviews current and future needs, and determines whether the assets they have in place are what they need or if it’s time to cycle out older equipment.
Because of the fleet’s size, concerns about reliability, and the desire to have the most innovative and effective equipment possible, Aquilino says the company leans toward shorter lifecycles for most of its equipment.
He says the company doesn’t have a strict lifecycle timeline and relies on its metrics, financials and relationships with its vendors to assist in the evaluation process.
“You can’t look at every three years getting rid of equipment. You have to look at the market, how you use the equipment and the point where you will fully maximize its ROI. In standardizing that process you may miss an opportunity. We look at each piece, and what our ROI should be; but if there is an opportunity to improve, we will look to capitalize on it,” he says.
Outdoor Pride has three dedicated mechanics that manage the company’s fleet. Because the company has relatively new equipment that is backed by vendor service and warranty programs, the maintenance team can devote most of its time to building processes they and the operators will follow between storms to extend the equipment’s life and minimize the downtime:
- The team tracks data generated by the fleet programs, which logs scheduled service as well as codes that are “thrown” that indicate a problem has or is about to occur. This allows the mechanics to be more proactive with maintenance or to schedule repair.
- They establish inspection checklists for the operators to conduct pre- and post-storm, which helps identify problems and helps with recordkeeping in terms of equipment hours, maintenance, etc.
- They take an active role in training to offer feedback based on the types of repairs they see. If, for example, an operator is going through too many shoes and cutting edges based on the documented hours of use, they can share that data and offer operational adjustments.
- They mobilize in the event of an in-storm breakdown to troubleshoot and repair if possible or to deploy backup equipment.
The company will be expanding its fleet and maintenance team this year.
“We ask a lot of our team. Currently, operators perform inspections after long shifts. That’s tough to ask of them,” he says. “Plus, we simply cannot take the chance of having equipment be inoperative. If even 2% of our fleet isn’t working, the cost in terms of repair and downtime would exceed what we’re paying that extra person.”
In addition to the hands-on role they play in equipment maintenance, the mechanics manage the relationships with the vendors. Aquilino says they spend as much time talking with the vendors as the management team does with the company’s customers. Building those relationships has allowed Outdoor Pride to become a research and development partner that tests equipment in the field and delivers feedback. In addition, it provides a healthy forum for constructive feedback on the equipment Outdoor Pride invests in.
“We let them know if we have heavy maintenance costs we don’t think should be there and where there is room for operational improvement. If vendors are sharing our philosophy and want to be innovative, they appreciate the feedback,” he says.
It’s show time
Aquilino says the company’s diligence in equipping its operators with the best, most efficient tools that allow them to work safer and smarter allows him to rest a little easier when the storms start to bear down in the company’s New Hampshire-northern Massachusetts market.
Once all the pieces are in place and ready to go, Aquilino shifts into service mode.
“Most of my work is ensuring the follow-up and procedures in place are adhered to. I visit sites, talk to people. I ensure my team has everything it needs to be successful. I don’t want to get in the way or take over. I’m there to support them and willingly give whatever they need from me.”
Kaizen Philosophy: Steps for continuous improvement
1. Standardize: Establish a process for a specific activity that’s repeatable and organized.
2. Measure: Examine whether the process is efficient using quantifiable data, like time to complete, hours spent, etc.
3. Compare: Compare your measurements against your requirements. Does this process save time? Does it take too much time? Does it accomplish the desired result?
4. Innovate: Search for new, better ways to do the same work or achieve the same result. Look for smarter, more efficient routes to the same end goal that boost productivity.
5. Repeat: Go back to step one and start again.
Equipment choice: systematic approach
Snow and ice management is a hands-on business, so while Outdoor Pride Landscape & Snow Management Mark Aquilino relies heavily on the data to make equipment decisions, it doesn’t drive the whole conversation.
: Part of Outdoor Pride’s winter closeout is meeting with the operators to gain insight into whether they had the best equipment to be successful. They also can bring to the table any equipment they’ve seen that they believe could be a better tool.
: Each site is reviewed to ensure the equipment is the most efficient piece available to achieve the required level of service.
: A key component for Aquilino is standardization, not specialization. “We don’t want 25 types of attachments, for example,” he says. “Standardizing the types of equipment and the brands you buy is good for maintenance, the vendors we buy from and our training programs.”
: Outdoor Pride management and operators have the opportunity to visit industry peers that are of similar size to get a closer look at how those companies use equipment. Vendor factory visits are also arranged to gain an up-close view of how the equipment is made and how it works. Aquilino says those vendor relationships have opened new sources of revenue and allowed the company to improve their relationships with their customers.
“Using a team evaluation approach is a good way to make an informed decision. We have operators and managers sharing meaningful input, and we have vendors bringing us tools to help us be more successful,” Aquilino says. “Before we invest, we have to see how it fits the operations structure and the business model. Because we have such great checks and balances, our decisions are much more successful.”
Hands on: The Outdoor Pride maintenance team keeps the fleet in top shape, whether it’s mounting plows, setting up liquid operations or testing large equipment to ensure it’s working properly.
Finding efficiencies through sustainability
Outdoor Pride Landscape & Snow Management has adopted a Triple Bottom Line philosophy that considers people, planet and profits to support sustainable business decisions.
President Mark Aquilino says adopting sustainable practices is more difficult in snow given the tremendous amount of equipment and chemicals involved; but any time it can make a green investment, the company tries to capitalize.
“As we refine our approach, we scrutinize everything we do, including looking at the most efficient blades, switching to electric-powered spreaders and choosing fuel-efficient equipment and trucks,” he says.
Aquilino says its primary focus is on reducing salt consumption through improved calibration and application rates by using more technologically advanced equipment; implementing liquids; and training.
Outdoor Pride began testing the use of liquids last season, after much research and networking with peers who have had success. The goal was to introduce liquids to 20% of the company’s sites. At the end of the season, the team reviewed service levels, equipment hours and materials used and compared those to service areas that experienced the same winter. They saw the potential for improvements in the process but also that benefits could be gained by expanding the program. This season, the goal is to increase the use of liquids to 50% of the geographical areas the company services.
“You don’t want to put energy into something that doesn’t work. If it doesn’t work, customers will know and we will know.
“We want to be part of helping to change the industry and reduce the amount of salt we as an industry put down,” says Aquilino, whose company is involved with the New Hampshire Green SnowPro program that is focused on sustainable salt use.
“We want to help elevate the entire industry by encouraging the use of best practices that should hold every company accountable while also protecting them in the event of a slip and fall claim. We need to be emphasizing programs that are not only doing good for the environment but also protecting everyone in our industry.”
Technology: Outdoor Pride’s software systems help drive efficiencies in the office and in the field.
Right equipment won't matter without training
If you look at equipment from an investment perspective, one of the fastest ways to compromise its ROI is to ignore training.
“Training affects your team’s safety and is a direct contributor to the indirect costs incurred on every piece of equipment,” Mark Aquilino says. “If you don’t have well-trained operators, you have inefficiencies, poor workmanship and higher maintenance and repair costs. The right equipment is key, but the real work begins after you purchase it.”
He says Outdoor Pride’s approach is constantly evolving and involves a mix of SIMA and in-house resources, vendor engagement and hands-on training.
Outdoor Pride conducts preseason training at each of its sites. Part of that training is equipment overviews conducted by their dealers, who give insight into safe and efficient use of the machines. On-site training also allows the team to reacquaint themselves with the facility, scope of work, level of service, etc.
“It matters to our employees. Training isn’t just that they know how to use the equipment, it’s essential to employee development and seasonal retention,” he says.
Of all the training resources Aquilino uses, he says the most valuable by far is the investment into hands-on training. It costs more and is time intensive, but he believes given the commitment he has made to his clients, they cannot afford to have a lackadaisical mindset when it comes to training.
“Training costs money but you have to look at the costs and the risk if you don’t do it. To be successful in snow, you have to be proactive. If we’re going to continue to grow and gain market share and employees, we have to be spend that time to build efficiencies, standards and develop the best workforce we can,” he says.
Supplier partners: Mark Blanchard from Bobcat of New Hampshire provides pre-season training to the Outdoor Pride team.
Cheryl Higley is editorial director of Snow Business magazine. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.Photos by Kate McNamara.