Use your vehicles to help drive revenue

By |  February 22, 2019
PHOTO: JASON A BLEECHER, JASONBLEECHER.COM

PHOTO: JASON A BLEECHER, JASONBLEECHER.COM

You don’t have to own a fleet of vehicles to realize it’s worth your while to plan routes efficiently, track fuel costs, and maximize marketing opportunities. Even pest management professionals (PMPs) who own just one vehicle can get the most out of their investments. “When you drive your vehicles all day long around the city, they become rolling billboards. It’s super important they stand out,” says Darren Gooch, owner of Zoellner Exterminating, Catoosa, Okla.

The company’s three full-size trucks and two Jeeps feature eye-catching designs that promote its services — and incorporate its phone number and website. “When I enter a parking lot in one of my vehicles, I look for a place to put my ‘billboard’ so it gets the most views,” he says. “Where I park my vehicles is a big deal to me.”

A PMP for 32 years, Darren started Zoellner Exterminating seven years ago with good friend Philip Zoellner. Darren and his wife, Dee, who serves as office manager, added graphics to the company’s vehicles at the onset. They know the strategy leads to additional business, because prospective customers who call are asked how they heard about the company. Often, the reply is, “I saw your Jeep.”

With nine company vehicles, Jeff King, president of The Pest Rangers in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., says people tell him all of the time “We see you everywhere!” The company’s name, phone number and web address are prominently displayed on each vehicle. The company mascot, an ant, is featured on the back — depicted as being behind bars in what looks like a paddy wagon.

Mobile marketing

Dee and Darren Gooch, owners of Zoellner Exterminating, Catoosa, Okla. PHOTO: JASON A BLEECHER, JASONBLEECHER.COM

Dee and Darren Gooch, owners of Zoellner Exterminating, Catoosa, Okla. PHOTO: JASON A BLEECHER, JASONBLEECHER.COM

Zoellner’s vehicle branding began when a friend who owned a sign business and created vinyl wraps wanted to help the Gooches get their business off to a good start. “We had just started our business; we had no customers,” Darren recalls. “My friend wrapped our first vehicle for us at no cost because he wanted to bless us with a gift to help us out.”

As the business grew, so did the branding creativity. Zoellner’s industrial steampunk design sets it apart from the competition.“We design the wraps with artists who know what we like and what stands out to us,” Darren says.

Dee notes that they quickly learned that wraps often last about three to five years, although it can be up to seven years in some cases. The products and processes have improved since their first vehicle was wrapped, she adds. Her advice for PMPs who want to explore vehicle wraps is to get about five quotes for the job because costs can vary widely. In addition, partial wraps are less expensive than wrapping entire vehicles. Only two-thirds of Zoellner Exterminating’s vehicles are wrapped.

Because vehicle wraps involve design elements, you must work with an artist who can create the look you want. Different artists will give you different ideas, Dee says. “I want the artist to give me their personal input,” she explains. “I want to come up with an idea, but then I want [the artist] to advance that idea and make me go, ‘Oh wow, that’s better than I thought.’”

Decals are another way to add flair to a company vehicle. Tucson-Ariz.-based Truly Nolen is known for its iconic vehicles. With one of the largest fleets in the pest management industry, Truly Nolen’s vehicles range from Volkswagen Beetles to stretch limousines. But wraps are not used because of the damage the harsh Arizona sun can cause. Instead, decals adorn the bright yellow vehicles, which are painted a custom color per company specifications.

The company’s distinct “mouse cars” have been on the road since 1961, says Mike Vialpando, Truly Nolen’s brand marketing strategist. He, too, considers them rolling billboards.

“It’s a good investment. If you would buy space on a billboard, you would spend $3,000 to $5,000 a month,” he says. “Our vehicles are strong marketing tools that stay consistent,” Vialpando adds. “You can see them in the neighborhoods when we service homes. They build interest, and that is the best way for a company to sell itself.”

Turning to technology

PHOTO: TRULY NOLEN

PHOTO: TRULY NOLEN

With 993 vehicles in its fleet, Truly Nolen relies on routing with GPS technology that is integrated with its customer relationship management software. “That’s a lot of vehicles to keep track of,” says George Lawlor, the company’s director of IT. “Keeping the fleet in shape is as important as anything else.”

To meet the company’s needs, Lawlor oversees a development team that adds custom elements not included in the software. Routing and GPS programs have been a game changer for Truly Nolen because, for example, you might have a hunch that routes are more efficient and windshield time was reduced — but once you see that data, you “get” it, he explains. “It’s not only good for the customer, it’s good for the company,” he says.

Determining the efficiency of the routes is important, Lawlor says, because it shows whether Truly Nolen is servicing its customers as best it can and is taking care of its employees. “We don’t want technicians driving all over town,” he says. “We need to get them from where they start their day, to all their stops, and then back home efficiently.” Companies can use the technology as they grow, too. Routes for new territories can be easily planned and efficiencies maintained.

Atlanta, Ga.-based Inspect-All Services has 45 vehicles in its fleet. Vice President Joe Sheffield says routing software helps the company reduce fuel consumption because it reviews and monitors expenses. It also tracks vehicle history. For instance, the smaller, lighter vehicles the company uses have helped reduce fuel costs. Inspect-All technicians also lighten their loads by no longer carrying unnecessary chemicals and equipment, Sheffield says.

In addition, Inspect-All’s technicians use a standard gas card fleet system that tracks and monitors fuel costs and tendencies. The company does its part to encourage savings by rewarding good behavior. “We suggest our technicians use specific gas apps on their smartphones to track the cheapest prices in the area,” he says. “We also have a contest for the technician who finds the lowest price per gallon of gas for the quarter.”

Fuel receipts are required for each fill-up, and technicians are required to take a smartphone photo of the receipt and email it to the office for review. “When you know prices are $2.10 per gallon average, and a technician turns in a receipt for gas at $2.25 per gallon, we give a courtesy call reminding them that gas prices are important and we want to get the best prices possible at each fill up,” Sheffield says. “They will respect what you inspect.”

Each Inspect-All vehicle’s miles per gallon are monitored. Every Friday, all drivers are required to enter their mileage into the company’s fleet management app. Technicians with The Pest Rangers know there’s a fleet fuel card in every vehicle. They can go to any gas station, enter their employee ID number and their mileage. Every Monday, King receives a report that shows where they bought fuel, how many miles per gallon they are getting, and other data to help manage fuel costs.

PHOTO: THE PEST RANGERS

PHOTO: THE PEST RANGERS

King is adamant every vehicle gets an oil change and tire rotation every 5,000 miles. As a result, some trucks can go 40,000 to 45,000 miles on their tires. “You cannot go to Mrs. Jones’ house and leak oil in her driveway. That’s bad for the company’s image, and that’s the only thing she will remember,” King says. “She won’t remember you helped her out, but every time she walks out on her driveway, she will see that oil stain and remember your company vehicle did it.”

For PMPs who do not use software to track their vehicle-related expenses, King advises diligently investigating their options. When looking at software, think bigger than where your company currently is and instead, consider where you want it to go. “It’s very stressful when you have a prospect on the line and you really want to service them, but you can’t because you know your software won’t be able to handle it,” he says.

PHOTO: ISTOCK.COM/TANAPHONG

Source: PCO Bookkeepers’ “2019 State of the Pest Control Industry and Operating Cost Study” PHOTO: ISTOCK.COM/TANAPHONG

GPS and routing tools help extend the life of vehicles because technicians are not driving an extra 50 miles several times a day, he points out, adding, “Add that up and that’s a lot of wear and tear, and expense. We’re able to reduce that by making sure we’re driving the most efficient routes we can.”

Monitoring drivers

Driving habits can conserve or waste fuel; however, GPS devices in each vehicle allow you to better manage them. For instance, seat belt use, hard braking, speeding and idling times are monitored, and corrective actions are taken when needed. Training technicians to drive defensively, not aggressively, helps too.

Truly Nolen’s GPS technology component keeps driver behavior in check with an audible warning designed to improve safety. “For the type of driving technicians might do without thinking — hard braking, accelerating, cornering — a noise goes off to remind them to relax,” Lawlor says.

Zoellner technicians are trained to keep in mind that “when they’re driving, our company name and phone number is on the vehicle,” Darren says. “So don’t ride people’s bumpers, or cut people off or speed.”

Dee notes that their GPS systems help track fuel costs for each vehicle. She also uses GPS to see drive times. When it appears technicians are spending too much time getting to service calls, she will work on scheduling and routing improvements. “Part of the cost of doing business is buying fuel,” Darren says. “It’s not something we have much control over, other than making sure we schedule jobs appropriately so we’re not driving back and forth across the city.”

Fighting fuel costs

PHOTO: ISTOCK.COM/LOCKIECURRIE

PHOTO: ISTOCK.COM/LOCKIECURRIE

For Truly Nolen, efficient routing practices help reduce the likelihood of getting burned by fuel costs. “Remember, there was a time not that long ago, when fuel climbed to $3 per gallon,” Lawlor says. “We were almost losing any profit we made because fuel was so expensive.”

For Zoellner Exterminating, fuel costs currently are low, and that’s having a positive impact on the company’s bottom line. “We’re spending half of the money to fill our tanks compared to what we were spending just last year,” Darren says.

With the exception of the Jeeps and a Dodge Charger used primarily as a backup service vehicle, Zoellner Exterminating uses full-size trucks. Two are four-wheel-drive, which comes in handy when servicing Tulsa’s rural areas. For instance, dirt driveways on hills can be a challenge to access in rain, snow and ice. Four-wheel drive is what it takes to reach some customers. “A car would be more fuel-efficient; however, all of our technicians are cross-trained and have multiple pieces of equipment in their vehicles that are not typically convenient for a car,” Darren says.

King says he looks at fuel as a cost of doing business for The Pest Rangers. “Last year, gas was really high and we absorbed the cost,” King says. “Now this year, it’s a little low.” He revamped the company’s service agreements last year, adding a line where he could add a fuel surcharge to the bill, just in case prices spike like they did 10 years ago.

Starting from home

To help conserve fuel, many companies allow their PMPs to take their work vehicles home. The practice has long been debated, not only because of the potential liability, but because of how the IRS interprets it as a fringe benefit to the employee. Still, the advertising and convenience aspects are something to keep in mind.

For Inspect-All Services, which has only one corporate office and a large service radius around Atlanta, technicians drive them home at night. “We hire service people who live in the areas they will service,” Sheffield explains. “Our technicians drive their vehicles to and from home.”

King says that although some of The Pest Rangers technicians come to the office to pick up their vehicles, most drive them home after each workday. “The routes are centered on where they live,” he adds. “If a technician leaves from his house, his first stop is within a half-hour.”

Truly Nolen technicians also take their vehicles home. The distinct vehicles serve as eye-catching marketing tools. “Their own neighborhood or the neighborhoods they traverse are where we want to be anyway,” Lawlor says. “They’re a partner of ours in the company, and where they choose to live probably is an area we want to service.”

PHOTO: INSPECT-ALL SERVICES

PHOTO: INSPECT-ALL SERVICES

Data don’t lie

GPS vehicle tracking also helps retain customers who complain that technicians didn’t perform jobs properly, or failed to show up for the service calls at all. Dee says she had a customer complain that the technician was on the job for only 10 minutes so he didn’t do a good job. But she had proof otherwise after checking GPS.

King says sometimes, customers say they were home all day, but claim the technician never showed up. “The GPS shows the vehicle was in front of the house for 10 minutes, and we know the tech knocked twice and called the office to ask what to do because the customer didn’t answer,” King says. “It’s helped in those situations, too.”

Keeping it clean

Companies that consider their vehicles “rolling billboards” typically have strict policies on how to keep them looking good.

For Inspect-All Services, quality assurance visits are conducted twice a month. They include vehicle inspections, which are part of an employee’s review process.

King says cleanliness is important, so technicians are authorized to go to any car wash. They each have a fleet fuel card and an American Express card. “I don’t care if the truck is muddy the day after the tech got a car wash, he gets it cleaned again,” King says. “Appearance is everything.”

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