Inventory Improves Plumbers’ Efficiency

Inventory Improves Plumbers’ Efficiency
Hassell Free Plumbing’s Isuzu NPR HD cab-over trucks, equipped with 14-foot-long box bodies and interior storage systems made by Hackney, have played a big role in improving efficiency and reducing trips to supply houses.

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The last thing technicians at Hassell Free Plumbing want to do is arrive at a job and discover they don’t have the right repair parts. The reason? The area served by the company, based in Mabank, Texas (about 45 miles southeast of downtown Dallas), is centered around the sprawling, 18-mile-long Cedar Creek Lake.

The lake — the state’s fourth-largest, featuring 320 miles of shoreline — makes back-and-forth trips to supply houses a time-consuming, profit-killing proposition. “If you’re on one side of the lake and the supply house is on the other side, you’re looking at an hour to 1 1/2-hour round-trip to go get parts and then come back to the job,” explains Sandi Hassell, who owns the business along with her husband, David.

The solution to the company’s lake-effect challenge is its service vehicles: 2009 and 2011 Isuzu NPR HD cab-over-style trucks, equipped with 14-foot-long box bodies and interior storage systems made by Hackney. The company also relies on 2008 and 2009 Chevrolet Silverado pickup trucks that each tow a cargo trailer: one a 16-footer made by Contract Manufacturer, and the other an 18-footer made by H&H Trailers. The trailers carry equipment for residential plumbing installations, Hassell says.

The Hackney interior storage systems feature customizable rack shelving and divided-parts trays, ensuring that Hassell Free plumbers always know where parts are — and can easily tell when inventory is running low, Hassell says.

“The plastic drawers can be divided up however you want,” she points out. “So you can keep smaller and larger fittings separate, for example, or leave a drawer completely open for storing larger parts. We label each drawer so everyone knows what parts go where. Both of our trucks are set up pretty much the same way, so anyone can hop in the truck and still efficiently find what they need.

“Having everything right there on the trucks saves us a lot of gas and a lot of drive time — and just time in general,” she adds. “We might get in one or two more service calls per day in the time we otherwise would have spent running for parts.”

When the Hassells opened their business in 1985, the lake effect was very much in play. At the time, the company used a pickup truck with a utility bed and a pipe rack in the middle. “It was very unorganized because everything got tossed in the middle and tools were scattered about wherever they’d fit,” she recalls.

Then the company switched to service vans, which were a little better — but not much. “At the time, we knew it was a mess,” she notes. “You couldn’t find what you needed easily and things got broken. And we made a lot more trips to supply houses because we couldn’t carry as much as on the truck.

“But we did what we could afford at the time,” she continues. “We weren’t as busy then, either. Now that the business has grown significantly, we need to be more efficient to service the customer base we’ve built up over time. Keeping the trucks well stocked is mandatory, otherwise it costs us money to run parts down. Plus it’s more expensive to go to smaller shops and buy plumbing fittings at retail prices. We have to watch our overhead, so we always try to buy parts in bulk.”

The storage racks line both sides of the trucks’ interior walls but don’t run all the way to the front of the body. That leaves room up front for two 50-gallon water heaters in boxes (one natural gas and one electric), two toilets, and two RIDGID drain cleaning machines. The bed of the truck body features a concealed, slide-out ramp that technicians use to unload heavier items like the water heaters with a dolly. “It’s a great injury-preventer,” Hassell says.

The interior system also includes specific storage locations for items such as propane tanks to prevent them from rolling around; a RIDGID hand-held drain cleaner; and a RIDGID SeeSnake pipeline inspection system. Even the rear doors get in on the act with holders for stowing shovels and other tools; that saves floor space and keeps everything ultra-organized.

“Being able to find things quickly really matters,” Hassell notes. “You can’t do anything efficiently if you have to dig through everything to get what you need. If you’re paying people to work for you, they need to be making money for you.

“Organizing the trucks was a big fix for us, both in terms of efficiency and profitability,” she continues. “When you can find things quickly, you can do more jobs. And when you can see that you’re running low on parts, you can plan ahead and order in bulk at wholesale prices instead of paying retail prices for every little part.”


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