A Beginner’s Guide to Managing Small Fleets

January 31, 2020
fleet management

Your business is growing. As you’ve expanded, you’ve gone from one or two vehicles to more than five. While adding a few vehicles may not seem like much, whether you realize it or not, your business now operates a fleet.

Entering the world of fleets means you have to look at things a little differently than before.  

Unscheduled breakdowns equal vehicle downtime, which means work is not getting done and the company is not earning money. A few extra gallons of fuel used – multiplied by five or more vehicles – really adds up. 

“Approaching your vehicles from a fleet standpoint will not only reduce related expenses, but increase the efficiency of the assets,” explains Michael Buck, president of MCB Fleet Management Consulting.

Not looking at your company vehicles as a fleet means you are leaving money on the table, so to speak. Taking the time to organize your operation and following some best practices is easier than you think.

“A fleet is often a hidden expense in many small organizations and doesn’t rise to the level of importance until a major incident occurs (e.g., fatality, litigation, lawsuit, failed compliance) that threatens the organization’s reputation or bottom line,” says Steve Saltzgiver, business development director for fleet management consulting firm, Mercury & Associates

Fleet Management 101

So, what is fleet management? At its core, fleet management is simply the act of managing a company’s vehicle fleet.

A fleet is considered typically as five vehicles or more. While business fleets vary significantly in size, those with 50 or fewer vehicles or that purchase five or more vehicles per year are typically considered a small business fleet.

The vehicles can be cars, pickup trucks, vans, or a combination. Companies that commonly operate fleets include (but are certainly not limited to!) food and beverage delivery, furniture or appliance delivery, laundry delivery services, flower delivery, and maintenance or service providers.

Fleets aren’t only major corporations such as UPS. Many companies operate a fleet, whether they realize it or not. A small brewery that just added its sixth truck is a fleet. So is an organics  business that operates five pickups and three vans.

“In most cases, a fleet grows proportionally with the business and is a critical expense as well as a key factor in the success of the organization,” Buck explains. “If handled properly it can be accomplished at a very substantial cost savings, in comparison with outsourcing, which our data shows comes at a 17% to 22% additional cost.”

Managing a fleet involves several areas of responsibility, including (but not always limited to):

  • Vehicle purchase, title, and licensing.
  • Insurance.
  • Maintenance.
  • Safety and accident management.
  • Asset management.
  • Fuel management.
  • Upfitting.
  • Vehicle disposal or remarketing.
  • Route planning and optimization.

“In most cases, a fleet grows proportionally with the business and is a critical expense as well as a key factor in the success of the organization. If handled properly it can be accomplished at a very substantial cost savings, in comparison with outsourcing, which our data shows comes at a 17% to 22% additional cost.”

- Michael Buck, president of MCB Fleet Management Consulting

Why Is Fleet Management Important?

delivery man handing a parcel

Understanding a business’s key goals and how their vehicles can support these goals is vital to any operation’s success. 

“Simply put, you can’t measure what you can’t see,” says Saltzgiver. “Fleet management is essential to control costs, preserve driver safety, maintain user accountability, protect an organization’s reputation and brand, and so much more.”

A fleet manager can use tools to help monitor vehicle health, maintenance, fuel costs, and other variables, all of which can significantly impact the company’s bottom line.

1. Vehicle Management

First, let’s consider vehicle purchases. Those buying a single vehicle have to go to their local dealer, hope they can negotiate a reasonable price, and repeat the process each time they need another. 

Many automakers have a fleet program or discount offered to companies that can heavily discount the purchase price. Some automakers, such as Ford, FCA, and General Motors, also provide a variety of flexible finance options. Dealerships will also often offer a fleet program to local businesses.

Purchasing the right vehicles for your business needs is key to effective fleet management. Why spend an extra $5,000 on a truck when your drivers don’t need to haul anything? Or perhaps you find yourself renting trailers or bigger trucks frequently because your current vehicles don’t have enough cargo space.

In addition to purchasing a vehicle, don’t forget about the title, licensing, and insurance. A fleet manager is responsible for making sure these items are handled and kept up-to-date. An uninsured vehicle can’t hit the road and, therefore, can’t make you money.

2. Vehicle Maintenance & Safety

Maintenance is another critical area. As noted, a vehicle in the shop is not doing its job, so proper scheduled and preventive maintenance is essential.

Ensuring your vehicles are in top condition also ensures the safety of your driver and the motoring public. But accidents do happen, and handling accident reports and repairs is also a part of fleet management. Accident management can include driver training and disciplinary action after an at-fault incident.

Tire management also falls under maintenance and safety. Properly inflated tires can save a fleet money, up to 11 cents per gallon, as well as extend tire life by 4,700 miles, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

3. Asset Management

Asset management is essential, too. Understanding the lifecycle of your vehicles, including when is the best time to replace them, saves a fleet money in unscheduled repairs and vehicle breakdowns. Newer vehicles are more efficient, but understanding the cost savings on fuel and maintenance compared to the investment in a new vehicle is essential.

4. Fuel Management

Next, let’s look at fuel. While fuel prices currently are not the highest we’ve seen in the past decade, they are still a top fleet-related expense. Knowing when, where, and how much your vehicles are fueling up each time can help a company spot trends and discrepancies.

Small businesses that let their employees bring vehicles home or allow any form of personal-vehicle use can fall victim to additional fuel expenses. These expenses can be due to employees filling up their vehicles on the company dime, filling up their friend’s truck, or even using a vehicle for after-hours side-business. All of which costs the company. 

By tracking fuel spend and use, a fleet manager can not only be aware of precisely what is going on but put a stop to it as needed.

5. Upfitting Needs

Some businesses, such as maintenance or service providers, require specially designed vehicles. After a vehicle is purchased, but before it is put into service, it must have the necessary equipment added. This upfitting takes time and, if not properly managed, can add weeks to vehicle delivery.

6. Disposal and Remarketing

We’re getting to the end of our list here, so we have to mention vehicle disposal. When your vehicle has reached the end of its useful life, it must be sold. Whether that’s via private party, dealership, auction, or employee sales, someone must manage and handle the process.

Fleet management ensures you get the most of your vehicle-related investments, from purchase to disposal.

7. Route Planning and Optimization

Last but not least, let’s talk briefly about route planning and route optimization. Some fleets operate on a fixed route, while other operations have routes that vary day-by-day. Making sure you have the fastest, most optimized route for your drivers helps guarantee the jobs are completed on-time and efficiently, reduces fuel use, enables you to add more stops in your route, and keeps your drivers and your customers happy.

Read more: 8 Best Route Planner Apps: 2019 Review

truck delivery key on keyboard

How Do You Manage Your Fleet Effectively?

The first step to effectively manage your fleet is to realize you have one. Once you have accepted the fact that you are a member of the fleet world, you can start taking steps to effectively manage it.

Now that understand what fleet management is and why it’s important for your business, we want to share a few additional tips to help you manage your fleet effectively.

1. Hire a fleet manager. While it may be tempting to add fleet management to the job duties of your purchasing or finance department, a dedicated fleet manager will ensure your fleet receives the attention it deserves. If your company cannot hire a dedicated fleet manager, consider hiring a part-time employee to handle the duties. Dividing the responsibilities between several people and departments can cause a headache down the road should your fleet grow.

“Have someone on staff who is knowledgeable and savvy on fleet maintenance and management,” Buck recommends. Having such a team member in your fleet’s corner can help you manage costs and stay up-to-date on constantly changing regulations. 

Saltzgiver of Mercury & Associates agrees. “Designate and assign an individual who is primarily responsible to oversee all fleet vehicles,” he recommends. “This person can ensure that all fleet-related issues are properly addressed and serve as a ‘go-to’ person as needed.”

2. Consider a fleet management provider. There are many companies that specialize in helping fleets, big or small, properly manage their vehicles. Outsourcing some or all of your fleet management needs can save your staff time. A provider can be an excellent option for small businesses that are unable to dedicate an employee to fleet management.

“Find vendors and dealerships that want to develop a win-win relationship for both parties, and who will treat you like you are a key element to their business. Hint: These are often ‘mom and pop’ establishments,” Buck says.

3. Establish clear lines of communication. Once you have a fleet manager in place, hold regular meetings and send out regular communications to drivers and other key stakeholders.

4. Train your drivers. Proper driver training ensures that your drivers are doing their jobs correctly, driving safely and efficiently. Have clear rules set in place regarding cell phones, distracted driving, and crash incidents.

5. Use technology where possible. Even a small fleet generates large amounts of data, and effectively gathering and analyzing this data can help a fleet generate significant savings. Technology today can help with route planning, vehicle tracking, vehicle maintenance, and so much more.

“It’s helpful to have a user-friendly software system,” says Buck. “If the correct software is found, the return-on-investment will be returned in very short order.”

6. Monitor, analyze, and act. Data is only worth what you can get out of it. Monitor all data points, take the time to examine them, and come up with action plans. Is fuel spent on one of your vehicles 30% higher than the others? Perhaps it’s time to replace that unit for a newer model. Or does your tracking show the vehicle often going off-route?

“Consolidating all fuel purchases under a fuel credit card is one way to help prevent fraud, misuse, and abuse,” Saltzgiver advises.

7. Get involved. There are several fleet associations, industry publications, and trade shows that aim to help educate fleet managers and provide them with resources for continual improvement. 

delivery truck

Benefits of Fleet Management

Fleet management is a part of many businesses, and small fleets face bigger challenges due to smaller staff and available funding. But taking steps to implement a fleet management program for your business fleet, regardless of your specific business vocation, has many benefits, including:

  1. Cost reduction. Fleet management can help trim costs related to fuel spend, accidentmanagement, maintenance, and vehicle purchases.
  2. Accident reduction. A proper fleet management program can lowerthe number of crash incidents and better monitor their driver behavior.
  3. Route planning. The use of efficient route planning can save a company fuel, moderate maintenance costs, and get more business done in less time.

 

Conclusion

Fleet management may seem intimidating or overwhelming for those who are just starting. It may be tempting to not think of your operation as a fleet at all. After all, you don’t operate hundreds of vehicles! 

But even managing five vehicles creates cost-saving opportunities through efficient fleet management. Properly managing your company vehicle fleet, whether it’s five vehicles or 50, can help your organization thrive.

Recent posts

Small Business Operations

Shopify order fulfillment for your online business

Small Business Operations

The Best Mobile Apps for Delivery Drivers

Small Business Operations

6 ways to reduce last mile delivery costs