Fleet Managers Share Best Practices

Installing security company executives explain their strategies for procuring, maintaining and keeping track of their vehicle fleets. Among their priorities are identifying fuel efficiencies, managing drivers and upfitting.

No two fleets are alike, but fleets that serve the same industry tend to share more than a few common characteristics. For security system installers, the big, white van with shelves in the back and ladder racks on the roof has long been the standard bearer.

Throughout the past several years, however, a challenging economic climate and soaring fuel costs have forced fleet managers in the installing security industry to consider new options.

The changing business landscape has affected operational decisions such as whether to purchase or lease, how vehicles are maintained, the need to implement new efficiencies, managing drivers and other aspects of fleet management. 

Three installing security contractors, each with varying fleet sizes, share their insights and vehicle management methods that have proven successful in their operations.

Procurement and Remarketing

According to SSI‘s 2010 Security Industry Demographic Census, which polled managers from all levels of installing security dealer and systems integration organizations, 94 percent of surveyed companies buy their fleet vehicles, opposed to leasing. That’s an increase of six percentage points compared to the previous survey results in 2008.

That study (March issue) also revealed that many companies have pared the number of vehicles in their fleets — likely the result of cost-cutting measures. In 2008, the average number of fleet vehicles at a typical installing company was 10. At the beginning of this year that number had fallen to six. 

Mike Jagger, president and founder of Provident Security in Vancouver, British   Columbia, Canada, has built his 36-vehicle fleet by procuring his installers’ Chevrolet Safari and Astro vans from a car dealership. He prefers to lease, but on an extended term. Jagger’s operation is unique in the industry for operating response as well as installation vehicles.

“Our usual lease term is 30 months, which is based on estimated wear and tear,” Jagger says. “That could be 10,000 kilometers [6,214 miles] per month for a guard vehicle. Our pattern has been heavy initial use, then a retirement phase.”

Cycling higher-mileage vehicles into more limited use helps the vehicles meet the 30-month lease term, but maximum efficiency remains Jagger’s primary goal.

“At end-of-cycle, some are still worth something when they’re returned,” he says. “We just look at the vehicles as something we need to get the job done.”

Dale Bonifas, vice president and second-generation owner of Alarm Detection Systems Inc. in Aurora,  Ill., would agree. He manages his 120-vehicle fleet with little regard for resale value, preferring instead to send retired vehicles to the crusher.

“We have considered remarketing the vehicles,” Bonifas says. “Our CFO has studied the advantages and disadvantages. There are good programs out there. But one of our concerns is that we don’t want anybody driving around in an old vehicle with our graphics and phone number on it.”

Tim Creenan, founder and CEO of Amherst Alarm Inc., located near Buffalo, N.Y., operates his company’s vehicles for about seven years. Creenan then moves his retired units the old-fashioned way, through the local want ads.

“One reason we’re able to keep them running so long is that our techs do an inspection each week. They are high-mileage and a bit worn,” he says. “But with the shelving and ladder racks, they’re just right for somebody like a contractor.”

Creenan has added two Chevrolet HHR panel vans and a Ford Transit Connect (TransCon) to a 15-vehicle fleet that had been comprised entirely of full- and midsize GMC and Chevrolet vans.

“My father sells GMC trucks, and he used to sell Chevys,” Creenan says. “I guess you could say I have a bias there.”

The HHR’s smaller size limits its use to personal vehicles for Amherst Alarm’s installation and product managers, but Creenan considers the Transit Connect an early success. “No bad feedback at all,” he reports. “They could probably replace the Astro vans.”

The TransCon’s high profile also offers additional space for vinyl-wrap graphics, which now decorate every new addition to the fleet.

Indeed, vehicle graphics represent a highly cost-effective advertising method. For many installing companies it is the leading marketing tactic. The designs can range from a simple company logo to a full-color, billboard-style advertisement.

While the sky is the limit, a less-is-more approach is advised.

“The challenge with those wraps is that you can put anything on — you can literally fill every inch with full-color images and it often becomes too busy and distracting,” Jagger says.

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