As winter digs in, it’s a great time to look at your equipment fleet and get it ready to deliver maximum performance and productivity when you begin servicing customers’ properties again.

Winter is also a good time to improve and streamline your parts inventory processes. Many companies these days track their fleet maintenance and repair data on their computers. I cringe when I hear a company owner, fleet manager or head technician say, “We keep our records in hard copy.” Doing everything on paper creates confusion, is difficult to track or analyze, and increases shop expenses.

Regardless of how you keep your shop records, start by listing all of your equipment. This is your equipment fleet inventory, and it should contain detailed information about the condition of each production unit. Include the following data: description of the unit, model number, purchase date, hours of use and, of course, any major issues unique to that unit.

Your list should also include a planned retirement date for each unit. This is important because you need to include this information in your budget so you can be prepared well in advance of replacement. It’s not uncommon for experienced owners to replace 25 to 30 percent of their fleets each year. That takes money, but it is well-spent. These owners realize having the most reliable and best-performing equipment pays for itself by reducing downtime and generating billable work.

Upgrade to stay competitive

Who can afford to be using older, less reliable equipment in the competitive environment that now defines our industry? The most profitable landscape and lawn services companies manage their equipment to get the maximum revenue from its use.

Maintain your equipment like your business future depends upon it — because it does. Properly maintained equipment lasts longer, is less likely to fail on the job and is worth more when you sell or trade it in for new equipment.

Not everything you do to keep your fleet in tip-top shade is expensive. For example, cold winter days are ideal for working inside and tuning up engines, performing preventive maintenance and replacing worn parts.

Winter is also a good time to improve and streamline your parts inventory processes. If, during the examination of your fleet, you see that some of your units are showing wear and may need replacement parts, order them now so you will have them on hand and ready to go should a failure occur when the active spring season arrives.

Based upon the records you have been keeping, you also should know you will need certain maintenance items once production gets underway again. That list will almost certainly include items such as filters and belts. If you are ordering lots of these types of parts, don’t be shy about asking for best pricing or for a discount from your dealer.

Smart landscape business owners also tell me they always use high-quality fuel, two-cycle mix and fuel stabilizers. They typically replace gasoline-powered, hand-held equipment every two years, stripping some of the more expensive, usable components from retired units as backup parts.

Operator training saves time

Now is also a good time to develop and schedule equipment operator training sessions. One $12-per-hour untrained and inefficiently performing employee can cost the company more than $100 per week. Training and increasing employee competence is a low-cost, high-benefit proposition that rewards the company with better employees and more profitable business.

This is also the time to design job time studies. Knowing how long it takes crews to complete jobs and working to reduce those times is important. Evaluate ever thing your crews do from what equipment is used on jobs to which operator uses each piece of equipment. Plan travel routing and rest breaks so every minute is efficiently used It will pay off this spring.

There’s more than gas- and diesel-powered equipment available today. Propane has become the fuel of choice for some contractors and battery-powered equipment is fast emerging in the market. Evaluate your fuel options this winter, and you may find better and less costly ways of powering equipment.