Top Four Strategies to Manage HVAC Fleet Inventory
Contractors protect their bottom lines, ensure technician field success
Service and maintenance trucks are as diverse as the contractors responsible for their design and operation. Besides being a mechanically sound and clean transportation vehicle, the service truck is there to help ensure field technician success and to help protect contractors’ profit margins and bottom lines. The following lists four ways that contractors have chosen to stock their service and maintenance trucks to guarantee they keep rollin’ in the dough (pun intended).
CroppMetcalfe Services, serving Northern Virginia, Maryland, and D.C., operates 168 trucks using SAWIN, a software package from Sawin Service Automation Inc. According to Tim Cropp, president of CroppMetcalfe, this product is designed specifically for the HVAC industry and can be used not only to inventory trucks, but also to provide service for dispatch, jobs processing, and accounting, to name a few.
“When we stock our trucks, these are our top five considerations — frequency of use, cost of parts, likelihood of damage, temperature exposure, and length of time to acquire a part if ordered,” he said. “One thing we have learned over the years is that we are not in the inventory business. Proper truck stocking is a year-in, year-out struggle to properly maintain our fleet’s readiness. But after technicians, parts are the life blood of service.”
The importance of proper truck stock doesn’t only affect contractors and their technicians, but it also affects the customers’ perspectives of the business.
“If we don’t stock the right part, it has a snowball effect of negativity,” explained Cropp. “From the customer perspective, you will have to return to install the part once it is received. This causes a return call, which costs the company time and money. Not properly managing our inventory costs time, effort, frustration, and lost opportunity.”
Comfort Matters Heating and Cooling Inc. in Maple Grove, Minnesota, operates 10 service trucks. When it comes to truck stock, its goal is to keep the same stock on all trucks, regularly refill inventory, and avoid running out of parts. This keeps technicians in the home working, which builds the company’s net profit, according to Corey Hickmann, president of Comfort Matters.
“Running around wasting time at a supply house just costs more money than you can calculate,” he said. “Not only do we keep the same stock in every truck, but we also have a duplicate amount of stock in our warehouse managed by Ferguson Supply.”
Hickmann explained that after each call, his technicians call in to debrief dispatch. This includes giving a list of the parts used, which is then recorded on Google Sheets. The on-site warehouse will then refill the trucks from the contractors’ stock.
“Then once a week, Ferguson comes in to see what is missing and refills our warehouse stock,” said Hickmann. “To do this, you must have a good relationship with your supply house. You can’t bounce around buying from everyone in town.”
COMPUTERIZED INVENTORY LOCATION
Rosenberg Indoor Comfort in San Antonio operates 23 trucks. When stocking and managing the fleet, this company considers both the type of truck and the type of service the truck will be doing. If it is a service van or a pickup, there is a difference in how much storage the truck has and how many of what types of parts will fit.
“We also consider how often we need to top the truck inventory off so that we don’t run out of parts,” said Michael Rosenberg, president of Rosenberg Indoor Comfort. “We can’t sell from an empty wagon, and going on parts runs costs us money. It is also important to keep an eye on any inventory to make sure things don’t walk away.”
The company uses service management software as well, but it treats each truck as a computerized inventory location. As the company purchases truck stock, it is logged into a specific truck’s inventory, part number by part number.
“When we sell a part, the part number is listed on the invoice, and it is relieved from the inventory location,” said Rosenberg. “We run a report for each truck that tells us what parts the technician uses for a particular period of time so that we can restock their truck based on what they sell.”
The company is continuously working to improve its system and takes physical inventory once annually to protect its bottom line.
For some contractors, there isn’t a specific tool or method used to manage inventory. Take W.A. Soefker & Son Inc. in Memphis, Tennessee, for example. This commercial company runs 40 trucks, and the nature of its commercial business means they rarely have the exact parts they need on their trucks.
“We have several parts houses all around town, and they are our inventory,” said Steve Harvey, general manager of the company. “It allows us to keep minimal slow-selling items as well as avoiding inventory tax.”
Welsch Heating & Cooling Co. in St. Louis has 50 trucks, with 25 of them operating strictly in the service and parts departments. According to Denise Webb, vice president and service manager of the company, they don’t use a specific system either.
“We keep a basic truck stock, and for OEM parts, we constantly monitor the parts that are ordered,” she explained. “If we see a particular part being used often, we add it to our truck stock. This process works great for us.”
The basic truck stock chosen for each vehicle is based off the most commonly used parts and materials, as well as stocking the right parts to be able to complete a repair.
“It makes the customer very happy that we can complete a repair while we are there and get their system operating again quickly,” said Webb. “It saves us money when we do not have to drive around to get parts and then deliver them to a job, especially when there are delays that cause technician downtime. This drives up costs.”
Publication date: 3/25/2019