Efficient Use of Space Can Increase Profits

A place for everything, and everything in its place sums up this ultra-customized service vehicle full of interior innovations.
Efficient Use of Space Can Increase Profits
The wide center aisle provides room for moving tools, equipment and storing temporary items, like water heaters. Illumination comes from four LED lighting strips, wired into the existing electrical system that powered the dome lights.

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By all outward appearances, the 2015 Freightliner 3500 Sprinter van used by Ranshaw Plumbing & Heating is a standard service vehicle: new, clean and nicely lettered. But there’s much more than meets the eye.

A look inside reveals a service van that sets the gold standard for organization — a jaw-dropping, productivity-enhancing, space-saving, profitability-boosting, customer-pleasing, time-saving and employee-pride-building warehouse on wheels that wows clients and other plumbers wherever it goes.

“To be honest, I’ve never seen anything else like my trucks,” says Hing Lai, a master plumber for Ranshaw Plumbing & Heating in Whitestone, New York. Established in 1960, the company has 50 employees and serves the New York City boroughs of Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx, plus parts of Long Island. Blessed with carpentry skills, Lai has handcrafted wooden storage systems for five Ranshaw service vehicles — units as pretty as they are practical. Each one is fashioned from 3/4-inch, cabinet-grade plywood covered with two coats of high-gloss polyurethane varnish.

Each storage unit reflects Lai’s firm belief that well-organized service vehicles, able to carry as many tools and repair parts as possible, are the key to improving productivity and profitability. And there’s no doubt his units accomplish that goal. Built by a plumber for plumbers, the vans he creates can carry almost every tool and spare part imaginable. In fact, Lai believes anyone who examines the storage units — which take him between 185 and 220 hours to build and cost about $2,500 for materials — would be hard-pressed to find any wasted space, thanks to their cleverly configured and clearly labeled bins, slots, cubbies and cabinets.

“I try to standardize them as much as possible, but each one is a little different, customized to the particular truck and the person using it,” he says.

Since becoming a plumber in 1992 after two years in construction, Lai’s been amazed at how often he sees messy service trucks that are trashed by their drivers, and is grateful Ranshaw owner Rick Bonelli allows him to design his custom-made beauties.

“If you’re in the field of plumbing, you want to excel and give it all you’ve got,” Lai says. “And that all starts with a clean truck, so you know exactly where everything is. That way, productivity goes up – maybe you can do five jobs a day instead of four. And you achieve better inventory control because you know what’s on the truck.”

Moreover, Lai says the custom storage systems are a great source of pride for the company’s plumbers. Because the vans look nice, employees are motivated to keep them clean and neat.

Lai begins his creations using rivets to attach sheets of 1/2-inch plywood to the walls of a van.

“They conform to the slight curve in the wall,” he says.

Then he starts building the sections from the ground up; the rear of each is scribed and cut to fit the curve of the already attached plywood panels, which form the back of the cabinets.

To hold spare parts, Lai uses 45 .50-caliber military ammo cans instead of more conventional bins. The ammo cans are 11 1/2 inches long, 7 inches wide and 9 inches tall. A wood lip on the shelves keeps them in place.

“They’re the perfect size,” he says of the 45 canisters. “Because they’re not as deep (as typical bins), they allow me to provide a 42-inch-wide center aisle, which provides plenty of room for our guys, moving tools and equipment, and storing temporary items like water heaters.”

Illumination comes from four LED lighting strips, wired into the existing electrical system that powered the dome lights, which Lai removes. As for storage, long sections of pipe rest inside a compartment atop one bank of cabinets; 8- and 4-foot ladders are secured against the interior’s front wall behind the cab; two types of hydronic expansion tanks are securely mounted on the bulkhead wall inside the cab; and cabinets hold RIDGID 300 (with oiler) and RIDGID 690 pipe-threading machines, plus a RIDGID 425 portable tri-stand. A bench with below-seat storage holds hoses, extensions cords and pumps. Spring latches secure the cabinets that hold crowbars, torches and hand-held drain cleaning machines, as well as hoses, faucets, shower bodies and slip elbows. A rug helps make the aisle easier to clean and saves wear-and-tear on technicians’ knees.

“There’s not 1 inch of wasted space,” Lai says, noting that the Sprinter’s tall ceiling really helps. “There’s plenty of floor space in case we need to carry a water heater or one of our larger drain cleaning machines (made by RIDGID and General Pipe Cleaners) or one of our Gen-Eye (General Pipe Cleaners) pipeline inspection cameras.”

The well-stocked vehicles also instill confidence in customers.

“It’s hard to convince customers that you are a highly skilled professional when you open your van’s back door and everything falls on the floor,” Lai says. “Our customers feel confident that they’re paying good money for an experienced tradesperson.

“No one questions what we charge because when we pull up, they figure we’ve got to be good because we have high standards,” he says. “When I open up my truck, their eyes light up and they say, ‘Wow, do all your trucks look like that?’ And I proudly tell them, ‘Yes, they do.’”

For a closer look, check out the video at www.plumbermag.com/x/ranshaw


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