Equipping the Optimal Mobile Service Truck
It is 7:02 am when the first customer calls. He’s downstairs. Parked on an exit ramp 10 miles away and tells you he can’t approach. He’s not sure what’s going on, but he knows he needs your help. You hang up and a minute later another customer is online. He can’t even start his truck. He says it went well yesterday but today, well, today is a very different day.
What do you do?
For a growing number of service shops in the trucking industry, that answer is changing. Tow trucks are still vital resources for anyone operating a service area, but in an age when availability is paramount, more and more service providers are choosing to expand their service capabilities with mobile service trucks. While the advantages of mobile service may become obvious, the path to enter the company is not.
Building a viable mobile service operation requires service providers to perform careful market analysis to determine exactly how much potential business volume exists in a market and how it can be captured. This requires an innate understanding of the types of repairs that can be done outside of a service bay, as well as the conditions under which technicians can reasonably attempt them.
It also requires a very cunning truck.
According to several experts providing mobile services today, properly equipping a service truck is an essential step in building a viable mobile business. Sending a truck directly to a broken down customer for repair can potentially reduce hours or days of downtime, but only if the truck and the technology are ready for the job. No one wants to hire a mobile service provider if they don’t save a customer money or time.
For service shops intrigued by mobile service but unsure of how to equip a truck, here are three essential questions to answer.
What type of service are you going to offer?
Not all mobile service providers or their capabilities are created equal. Some vendors focus exclusively on the high margin unit in the roadside repair space; others prioritize fleet maintenance, providing simple repairs and PM for carriers during off-peak hours. Whether it’s picking the first, the last, or both, experts say the tasks a mobile technician will perform should determine how he outfits his truck.
At Idealease, VP of Maintenance and Safety Dave Helge says he’s created a comprehensive yet customizable set of specifications that is operated by members nationwide. Helge says the package is diverse enough that dealerships with different services or operating in different regions can order unique trucks, but still includes a consistent branding and hundreds of features that all mobile service trucks need.
“Our specification is pretty hard locked,” he says. “We evaluate it every year and will make modifications if necessary, but we have designed these trucks to look the same and come out of the layout plant ready to go into service. “
Understanding customer demand for a mobile service also helps ensure that a service provider doesn’t over- or under-design their first vehicle. A truck equipped for complex road emergencies can still do PM work, but a pickup designed for the latter will not be good for the former.
Brian Conkle says he had exactly this scenario in mind when outfitting Fyda Freightliner’s first mobile service truck Last year.
“We wanted to make the truck as efficient as possible,” says Conkle, service manager at Fyda’s store in Pittsburgh, Pa. “To be new in the [mobile service] scene, we wanted to show our clients everything we could do because we knew they would be interested.
The strategy paid off. A year after starting the business, Conkle says around 70% of Fyda’s mobile work is roadside breakdowns.
There is also the issue of storage space. Mobile trucks aren’t designed to run parts, but they still need to be able to haul the components needed to do their jobs every day.
What systems and tools do you need?
Conkle’s strategy of specifying for each reality makes sense for a service provider who wants their mobile unit to have global reach at launch. But as a mobile service division grows, many experts say that designing additional trucks for specific service lanes is a good way to minimize vehicle costs and maximize fleet efficiency.
Dickinson Fleet Services vice president Kyle Coltrain said his company’s technicians who perform emergency repairs are equipped with a truck with a full line of diagnostic tools, as well as equipment heavy lifting such as cranes, generators and other tools that would be available in a bay service. Technicians tasked with simpler tasks such as PMs and replacement of wear components typically have smaller trucks. These units still have hand tools and essential equipment such as oil drainage systems and fluid displacement reservoirs, but are not as rugged in other areas of service.
Coltrain says to Dickinson Fleet Services, PM-centric trucks represent the largest segment of the company’s 750-truck fleet, as they serve the highest volume segment of the company’s business. But every business is different. AT TLG Peterbilt, Service Manager Jason Stierwalt says only a dozen of its 36 vehicles are considered grease trucks – one-ton pickups designed for PM work – most are custom-built Peterbilt 337s that serve as grease bays. service on wheels.
“These trucks require a lot more tooling because the work of these technicians is much more advanced,” he says.
Jacks, impact wrenches and other vital shop tools should be loaded directly into a truck, experts add, although technicians may have some autonomy in choosing their favorite hand tools. Helge says Idealease trucks can be equipped with a built-in toolbox or technicians can choose to bring their own. He says the latter case is common for dealerships who run their service trucks for more than a shift.
“At the end of the shift, the first technician takes out his box and the second technician loads it and leaves,” he says.
Who will drive the truck?
Great store technology isn’t always great mobile technology. The technical, critical, and interpersonal skills required to be successful on the road are all different from what works in a store. When equipping a mobile service truck, experts say ignoring the person behind the wheel can potentially doom the entire business.
“It’s a different lifestyle on a truck,” says Stierwalt. “Some techs really like it. Others will but don’t really like it. What you want is the person who loves it and understands it.
Stierwalt says he’s discovered that the best mobile technologies are usually motivated, well-rounded professionals who can adapt to different working conditions. They should also be comfortable communicating directly with a customer instead of working through an intermediary such as a department manager or shop foreman.
Coltrain says DFS operates a 16-week technician training academy that it uses to onboard new technicians and acclimate them to company processes and procedures. Achieving technical competence is a key outcome of the program, but it’s not the only goal, he says. Techs also need to prove they can work on an island, work with customers and dispatchers, and stay focused while working in isolation.
Larry Fowler, Company Fleet Services Manager, adds Larry Fowler: “We prefer full technology because there is no symmetry about what their job will be. ”
Going from wheel end repair on Monday to after-treatment service on Tuesday and back to wheel end repair on Wednesday is not unusual. Fowler says good mobile technology can seamlessly transition between jobs and customers, easily handling every repair, parts order, and customer invoice.
“They should pretty much be able to operate like their own small business,” he says.