Equip the optimal mobile service truck
It’s 7:02 a.m. when the first customer calls. He is on the ground. Parked on a 10 mile off ramp and told you he can’t approach. He doesn’t know what’s going on, but he knows he needs your help. You hang up the phone and a minute later another customer is on the line. He can’t even start his truck. He says he worked fine yesterday but today, well, today is a very different day.
What are you doing?
For a growing number of service shops in the trucking industry, that answer is changing. Tow trucks are always vital resources for anyone operating a service bay, but in an era where uptime is paramount, more and more service providers are choosing to expand their service capabilities with mobile service trucks. While the benefits of mobile service may become obvious, the path to enter the business is not.
Building a Viable Mobile Service Operation requires service providers to perform careful market analysis to determine exactly how much potential business exists in a market and how it can be captured. This requires an innate understanding of the types of repairs that can be performed outside of a service bay, as well as the conditions under which technicians can reasonably attempt them.
It also requires a very rigged truck.
According to several experts providing mobile services today, properly outfitting a service truck is an essential step in building a viable mobile business. Sending a truck directly to a down unit customer for service can potentially reduce hours or days of downtime, but only if the truck and technology are prepared 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 outfit 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 MPs to carriers during off-peak hours. Whether it’s picking first, last, or both, experts say the tasks a mobile technician will perform should determine how they fit out their truck.
At Idealease, VP of Maintenance and Safety, Dave Helge, says he’s created a comprehensive yet customizable set of specs that are leveraged by members nationwide. Helge says the package is diverse enough that dealers offering different services or operating in different regions can order unique trucks, but still includes consistent branding and hundreds of features that all mobile service trucks need.
“Our spec is locked down pretty hard,” he says. “We evaluate it every year and will make changes if necessary, but we designed these carts to look the same and come out of the installer’s facility ready to go into service.”
Understanding customer demand for mobile services also helps ensure that a service provider does not over- or under-engineer their first vehicle. A truck equipped for complex roadside emergencies can still do PM work, but a pickup designed for the latter won’t be good for the former.
Brian Conkle says he had exactly this scenario in mind when equipping Fyda Freightliner’s first mobile service truck Last year.
“We wanted to make the truck as capable as possible,” says Conkle, service manager at the Fyda store in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “Be new to the [mobile service] stage, we wanted to show our customers everything we could do because we knew they would be interested.
The strategy paid off. A year into 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 transport the components needed to get the job done every day.
What systems and tools do you need?
Conkle’s strategy of specifying every reality makes sense for a service provider who wants their mobile unit to have full range at launch. But as a mobile service division grows, many experts say 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 equipped with a full suite of diagnostic tools, as well as equipment heavy lifting such as cranes, generators and other tools that would be available in a service. the Bay. Technicians tasked with simpler tasks such as PMs and replacing wear components usually have smaller trucks. These units still feature essential hand tools and equipment such as oil drain systems and fluid displacement tanks, but are not as robust 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. To TLG Peterbiltservice manager Jason Stierwalt says only a dozen of his 36 vehicles qualify as lube trucks — one-ton pickups designed for PM work — most are custom-built Peterbilt 337s that serve as service bays on wheels.
“These trucks require a lot more tooling because the work done by these technicians is much more advanced,” he says.
Jacks, impact wrenches and other essential shop tools must be loaded directly into a truck, the experts add, although technicians may have some autonomy in choosing their preferred hand tools. Helge says Idealease trucks can be equipped with an integrated tool box or technicians can choose to bring their own. He says the latter is common for dealers who use their service trucks for more than one shift.
“At the end of the shift, the first technician takes out his box and the second loads his and leaves,” he says.
Who will drive the truck?
An excellent workshop technician is not always an excellent mobile technician. The technical skills, critical thinking, and interpersonal skills needed to be successful on the road are all different from what works in a store. When outfitting a mobile service truck, experts say failing to consider who is driving the vehicle can potentially ruin the entire business.
“It’s a different lifestyle on a truck,” says Stierwalt. “Some technicians really like it. Others will do it but don’t really like it. What you want is the person who likes it and understands it.
Stierwalt says he’s found that the best mobile technicians tend to be driven, well-rounded professionals who can adapt to different working conditions. They must also be comfortable communicating directly with a customer rather than going through an intermediary such as a service manager or shop foreman.
Coltrain says DFS runs a 16-week technician training academy that it uses to onboard new technicians and acclimate them to company processes and procedures. Building technical skills is a key outcome of the program, but it’s not the only goal, he says. Technicians must also prove they can work on an island, work with customers and dispatchers, and stay focused while working in isolation.
Adds Larry Fowler, manager of the company’s fleet service: “We prefer well-rounded technology because there is no symmetry in what their job is going to be.”
Going from wheel end repair on Monday to aftermarket service on Tuesday and back to wheel end on Wednesday is not out of the ordinary. Fowler says good mobile technology can transition seamlessly between jobs and customers, easily managing every repair, parts order and customer invoice.
“They pretty much need to be able to operate like their own small business,” he says.