Make More Money With Your Trucks

Utah plumber’s service vans are configured to boost profits and efficiency.
Make More Money With Your Trucks
A 50-gallon gas water heater and three General drain cleaning machines are kept near the rear doors for easy access. A 1,000-pound electric winch, made by Superwinch, helps technicians load and unload the heavy drain cleaning machines.

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For plumbers who frequently have that nagging feeling that they should be more profitable and productive, Lawrence Snow has two words of sound advice: Get organized.

“Running well-organized trucks is one of the best things you can do to make more money,” says Snow, the owner of Valley Plumbing and Drain Cleaning in Sandy, Utah, and a former business coach for Quality Service Contractors, part of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors National Association (www.qsc-phcc.org).

Here’s his rationale: Organized truck interiors minimize time-sucking searches for parts and tools. They can also hold more parts, which reduces profit-killing trips to supply houses. Moreover, carrying more parts on board — kitchen and bathroom faucets, for example — gives plumbers more opportunities to upsell customers on replacing items rather than repairing them.

“Plumbers will sell what they know they have in their trucks,” Snow observes. “If they don’t have a water faucet, they’ll fix the old one instead of installing a new one. But installing a new one provides higher profit margins and makes customers happier, too. So don’t stock up your truck with crap you won’t use. Instead, find stuff you’ll use and stock it.

“Plumbers with messy trucks who start to manage their inventory can increase sales by 20 to 25 percent a year — and that doesn’t even include the profits gained by making fewer supply house trips,” he adds.

Valley Plumbing runs nine Sprinter vans made by Mercedes-Benz. Each truck is outfitted by J & M Truck Bodies with an aluminum rack storage system with plastic bins that enable technicians to carry about $5,000 worth of parts inventory. “We opted for aluminum because it’s lighter, which improves gas mileage, but it’s still very sturdy,” Snow explains.

The bins in most of the trucks are numbered, and each number corresponds to a particular part; the same numbering system is used in every truck. (Some of his newer trucks don’t have numbered bins because veteran employees know the numbering system by heart, Snow says.) “That way, no matter who’s driving the truck, everyone knows where everything is,” Snow says, pointing out the efficiency effect. “It’s great for our apprentices who rotate helping out on different trucks.”

Snow says that as a business coach, he often encountered contractors who were unwilling to spend extra money on a larger service van with a good parts storage system. But in the end, they spent just as much money as they saved — if not more — by making unnecessary supply house runs.

“In terms of a monthly payment, there might be a $250- or $300-a-month difference between a Sprinter and, say, a $30,000 service van,” he says. “But if you go to a supply house even just one more time a month than is necessary, you’re effectively losing that same amount of money in terms of nonproductive time spent driving instead of charging billable hours, not to mention vehicle wear and tear and fuel costs. We figure one extra trip to a supply house a day costs us about $3,600 a month.  

“You’re also losing out on doing more jobs per year,” he adds. “Our average invoice is about $700, so if you can do an extra four jobs a week as a result of well-managed inventory, that’s about $2,800 a week per truck — and that’s significant revenue over the course of a year.”

Valley Plumbing technicians average about two trips to supply houses a week, if that, Snow says. The net gain: an average of one more job completed per day. From his business coaching experience, he says it’s not unusual for many plumbers to make six to eight trips a week, which is definitely a productivity killer. “And then guys wonder why they’re not making money,” he notes.

Snow lauds the Sprinters for their spacious cargo area (the interior is 14 feet long) and higher-than-normal headroom. The former allows technicians to carry more equipment and parts and find things more easily, while the latter offers a creature comfort that makes walking in the trucks easy as opposed to a head-banging experience.

The Sprinters have a side door and rear-opening doors, but technicians only use the side door for entry because a 50-gallon gas water heater and drain cleaning machines block the rear, where they’re stored for easy access. A 1,000-pound electric winch, made by Superwinch, helps technicians load and unload the heavy drain cleaning machines and minimize the risk of injury.

Each truck carries three drain cleaning machines made by General Pipe Cleaners: a Super-Vee hand-held model, a Mini-Rooter XP for pipelines ranging from 1 1/4 to 4 inches in diameter, and a Speedrooter 92 for lines ranging from 2 to 10 inches in diameter. Other standard onboard equipment includes a RIDGID SeeSnake pipeline inspection camera and locator, a RIDGID wet/dry vac, and a Central Pneumatic air compressor (Harbor Freight Tools).

So stop that nagging feeling in its tracks and take Snow’s advice: Do the math — and get organized.



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