A report from Fullbay and the Technology & Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Associations looked at the state of heavy-duty repair from the service providers’ perspective. But there are some nuggets in the data that fleets might find useful.
Survey respondents mentioned communication with fleets as one of the challenges they face. In fact, it was fourth on the list of shop challenges. (It was no surprise that hiring technicians was the number one challenge.)
“It can be amazingly complicated to communicate about a repair,” says Jacob Findlay, founder and chief executive officer of Fullbay, which offers web-based heavy-duty truck repair and shop management software. “It can turn into the game of telephone, where things that are being verbally communicated get lost in the translation.”
Fleets, too, have mentioned communication issues with their service providers, complaining that they don’t necessarily know the status of a repair or when they can expect to put their trucks back in service.
That is why fleets need to establish relationships with service providers that emphasize trust. Findlay refers to Stephen Covey’s “The Speed of Trust,” which he says makes the argument that “the higher the trust level between two business entities, the faster things get done.” He adds that “miscommunication issues create trust issues, which slow down the whole [repair] process.”
The takeaway is that fleets and service providers need to develop trusting relationships that include open, honest communication.
“I would encourage fleets to seriously consider outsourcing a majority of their repair to an outside shop and to begin to build a symbiotic relationship with that shop,” Findlay says.
When fleets do this, he says, they are delegating the care of their vehicles to a shop, “and if they do it right, they get better uptime at a lower cost than trying to do it in-house.”
The key, of course, is to find the right service provider. At the very least, fleets need to work with shops that are financially solvent. One of the things that concerned Findlay about the survey data was that fewer than half of the shops were performing inventory counts on a monthly basis.
“Shops are busy, and they are not necessarily following sound business practices. Failure to do inventory counts is an indication of this,” he says.
Findlay encourages fleets to check the viability of the shop when considering outsourcing service. While it may not be possible to ask a shop owner if the shop performs a physical inventory count, ask to see data about how the company has helped other fleets reduce their costs. The shop owner should be able to share anonymized data that shows what maintenance and repair cost fleets prior to outsourcing and what maintenance and repair costs are now that the shop is doing the work for the fleet, he says.
Another thing to look at is how long the shop has been in business. According to the survey, the average shop in the U.S. has been operating between six and 12 years, with nearly 23% of the shops in business for 20 years or more.
During your due diligence, ask the owner about the shop’s customer base. Find out if it’s wholly dependent on just one customer or if it has a diversified portfolio of customers. A shop that has only one big customer could end up having to close if that customer decides to take its business elsewhere.
Take a tour of the facility to get a feel for how well the shop is run. Look for things such as shop cleanliness, whether it has the latest diagnostic equipment, the certification level of its technicians. Finally, ask for a list of references and speak to them about their experience with the shop.
Given the technician shortage, outsourcing maintenance and repair may make sense.
“Fleets need to be cognizant of the fact that it is hard to find technicians. They should ask themselves if they want to try to staff technicians and drivers at the same time. That is a burden they don’t necessarily have to bear, if they can find the right partner,” Findlay says.
This commentary first appeared in the May 2021 print issue of Heavy Duty Trucking.