4 Keys to Lowering Cost and Improving Productivity in Your Lawn and Landscape Business

Fleet and asset management helps lawncare and irrigation businesses fight waste & optimize productivity

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Whether you’re a contractor with vehicles, power tools, and “yellow iron,” or an owner-operator with a few trucks for mowing and blowing, fleet management technology will help you better manage your assets and improve your business.

GPS vehicle and asset tracking can provide a high return on the initial investment because fleet management expenses are a cost center of your landscaping or irrigation business that needs to be smartly managed. These costs include fuel use, new vehicle purchases, depreciation, maintenance, and accidents involving company equipment.

Telematics allows a business owner or manager to gather data around several of these costs and launch initiatives that help the often resource-constrained business get more use out of their vehicles, equipment, and non-powered assets. After all, these assets are designed to improve productivity rather than drain resources.

Telematics systems provide alerts about the location and use of vehicles and equipment, as well as vehicle health reporting and information around accidents that help clarify what happened.

Businesses, like yours, also need to manage their workforce – drivers need to be where they’re supposed to be at the job site. Verifying when a technician arrives and leaves a job site improves billing and payroll. It also cuts down on time theft and unauthorized personal use of company equipment.

Reducing Idling & Other Fuel Waste

Fuel remains the leading fleet management cost. So, managing its usage more judiciously can result in significant cost savings to the business, according to trade publication Landscape Management.

Small businesses are often using vehicles that are three years or older, meaning they’re not as efficient at this year’s model.

Controlling Costs with Fuel Cards

Signing up for a fuel card program is one way to manage your fuel purchases because each driver will have a card that identifies whether they’re buying premium or regular fuel and how much they’re paying for the fuel. You can use this data to direct drivers to use regular fuel or ask them to fill up at other stations that have cheaper prices.

However, telematics offers a more wide-ranging approach.

Setting up geofences that alert fleet managers when vehicles leave pre-determined zones will keep your drivers from straying too far from job sites. Optimizing routes between locations will reduce “windshield time,” so less fuel is wasted.

Reduce Waste and Engine Wear Caused by Idling

Another way to reduce fuel waste is to eliminate needless engine idling at job sites. Landscape technicians have been known to leave the company truck running while unloading equipment or completing invoices and other paperwork.

$12,000 Year in wasted fuel

Truck engine idling can cost you up to $12,000 per year in wasted fuel, increased maintenance costs, and shortened vehicle lifespan, according to Engines Off, a Colorado-based government initiative.

The average commercial vehicle burns about 1 GALLON of diesel fuel for every hour it idles.

With the average price of diesel being $2.89 per gallon, that vehicle’s idling would cost  $1,502.80 per year. These are conservative estimates because idling is likely even more widespread.

If a truck idles for just two hours a day, five days a week, that would waste 520 GALLONS a year.

Then there’s the impact on maintenance costs. Added wear and tear caused by idling can add $2,000 a year and reduce the lifespan of the engine, according to the American Trucking Association.

Complying with Idling Regulations

Your business may also be susceptible to governmental actions. Commercial vehicle idling has been outlawed in many local jurisdictions and 18 states have imposed fines of up to $25,000 for the practice.

Those include California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia.

More than 80 local jurisdictions have passed idling regulations with the average amount of idling time allowed being three to five minutes. Telematics service providers offer tools to reduce idling in the form of alerts for vehicle performance, maintenance, driver behavior, and risk management.

Engine idling carries heavy fines in 18 states, including California.

Setting Up & Following a Maintenance Schedule

Landscaping businesses need to deal with vehicle maintenance, but you also have to plan for maintenance issues around their mowers and other machines. Telematics systems help track usage so company managers can stick to the plan.

Maintenance intervals can be set up as reminders from your telematics service provider based on miles driven or time. Alerts can also help businesses implement a predictive maintenance plan in which parts are replaced before they fail to reduce the downtime of the vehicle.

Whether it’s a vehicle or a mower (zero-turn, riding, or walk-behind), setting up a maintenance schedule will reduce costs in the long run. There comes a point for every engine-powered machine that the costs to repair outweigh the benefits of keeping it. This is what’s usually referred to in fleet management as a lifecycle.

Usually, after three to five years of use, a vehicle or other machine needs to be taken out of service to prevent high-cost repairs when major systems fail and to recoup enough of the residual value to fund a replacement, according to trade publication Lawn and Landscape. Some of the savvier landscape professionals will sell a mower back to the dealer for trade-in credit toward a new machine around the three-year mark.

Engines are the costliest component to replace, but sometimes it can be worth it.

For mowers, landscape businesses should have a regular preventive maintenance schedule to sharpen blades, add grease, check fluids, inspect spark plugs (a dark top means it’s spent), and clean air filters.

After 100 hours of use, full-service maintenance should be done. Consider using synthetic oil to extend the lifespan. To minimize downtime, be sure to stock enough replacement parts so you can replace filters, fluids, or plugs quickly. Many landscape businesses don’t have an in-house mechanic, so it may be worthwhile to deputize one of your team members to become an expert on what mowers need to run smoothly. In some cases, dealers offer courses or online resources to customers. Preventative maintenance will be much more advantageous than having to perform expensive repairs.

Perform a full-service maintenance on your mowers and other machines after 100 hours

Implementing a Safety Culture

Creating a safety culture in your business allows you to translate written safety policies and make them real for your employees. The National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) offers a “Safe Company Program” with a manual on how to do this. Safety covers many aspects of a landscaping business, and it includes maintaining safe driving practices for technicians.

Establishing a preventive maintenance program will ensure drivers are operating safe vehicles. Telematics systems can also help you monitor the driving habits of your employees to ensure they’re not engaging in a pattern of risky driving with excessive speeding, aggression, or distraction.

The NALP provides a safe-driving checklist for company supervisors:

  • Adhere to highway safety regulations
  • Check driving records as part of your
  • recruiting process
  • Use the safest vehicles
  • Be vigilant about vehicle maintenance
  • Provide driver safety training to employees
  • Train employees about how to drive safety
  • while towing a trailer
  • Institute a rewards program for safe driving
  • Create a corrective-action program
  • Put your safety policy in writing
  • Develop a policy for mobile devices

Putting your safety policy in writing reduces headaches and confusion

A full-fledged fleet safety program should touch on at least 10 areas, as recommended by the NALP:

  • Senior management commitment
  • Written policies and procedures
  • Driver agreements
  • Motor vehicle record checks
  • Crash reporting and investigation
  • Vehicle selection, maintenance, and inspection
  • Disciplinary action system
  • Reward or incentive program
  • Driver training and communication
  • Regulatory compliance

The investment of time involved in drafting a written safety policy will pay you back exponentially and will reduce confusion among drivers as well as managers about expectations about the use of company equipment.

Managing Your Powered Equipment

Landscaping companies, especially medium- to larger businesses, manage more than just a fleet of trucks. They may also manage a range of other machines, including heavy equipment such as backhoes or other “yellow iron.”

Check with your equipment provider to see if they offer a proprietary telematics solution. Be sure to ask whether this equipment can be managed by your third-party telematics system, including whether the data can be integrated.

As a landscaper, you have a fleet of mowers. You also have smaller machines with two- or four-stroke engines such as trimmers, chainsaws, and edging machines. Then there are the power tools. These machines and tools need to be tracked and secured because they are also company property.

Telematics service providers often can help landscapers track these assets with RFID or Bluetooth Low Energy tags that can send data to an IoT (Internet of Things) platform. Of course, these assets can be secured the more traditional way in the locked cabinets of various truck bodies or tool racks.

For field service businesses, workforce management also brings a responsibility to manage tablets and other connected devices that help employees with invoices or bills of lading, as well as associated cellular service plans.

How employees use these devices and company data plans can present challenges around whether the assets are being used for work or personal tasks.

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