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Late one night in Sarasota, Florida, burglars drove a truck and trailer filled with over $80,000 worth of landscaping equipment right off of ArtisTree Landscaping Maintenance & Design’s lot and into Miami.

In a village just outside Chicago, $120,000 worth of landscaping equipment was stolen from Straightline Landscaping and Lawn Maintenance and driven about 25 miles south to Richton Park.

What each incident also had in common was a happy ending, thanks to the GPS systems installed in each companies’ fleets. In both cases, the tracking devices were able to quickly and accurately locate the stolen trucks and assist police in arresting those responsible.

“We were targeted, hit, and we recovered everything a couple hours after it was stolen,” says Stewart Parazaider, manager at Straightline. “I can only imagine coming into work and losing $120,000 of equipment and not being able to service our clients. It’s a horrible feeling to have to get that call. These trailers and this equipment is our livelihood.”

Fleetmatics, the GPS system installed in Straightline Landscaping’s fleet, pinpointed the location of the truck right away. But the trailer filled with equipment wasn’t there. Parazaider credits Fleetmatics’ in-depth reports that tracked the truck’s route as a critical component in finding the rest of the stolen property.

“You could see that the truck stopped in another town for 45 minutes prior,” he says. “They sent a second team of police to that location, and there was the trailer with everything in it.”

Measureables.

The level of detail measured by GPS systems continues to improve, measuring everything from driver behavior to vehicle diagnostics. It has become an invaluable tool for contractors to more efficiently manage their companies, says Paul Hurlock, fleet manager at ArtisTree.

“The theft was a weird kind of case, but we see savings all the time,” Hurlock says.

iQ4Mobility, the GPS system installed in every vehicle at ArtisTree, monitors for costly habits such as excessive idling. The system is programmed to make an entry on a report whenever a certain threshold of idling time is met, Hurlock says.

“That was one of the reports I created very early on,” he says. “The guys weren't turning the vehicles off all day, which cost me a ton of money.”

Another way the GPS system has reduced costs for ArtisTree is by identifying places where crews are spending too much time or going off route on the clock. A feature called geofencing allows contractors to draw boundaries on a map and be alerted when vehicles travel outside of that area.

This tool allowed Hurlock to notice his crews were spending significantly more time at gas stations in the morning than in the afternoon. He adjusted the company policy so all crews gassed up in the afternoons instead.

“If they gas up when they are tired and they want to get home, it takes them about 10 or 15 minutes,” Hurlock says. “But if they gas up in the morning, they all stop and go in and get their coffees, which they should have done before they punched in. If you have a crew of six guys, there goes half an hour. At $12 an hour, the savings soon add up.”

GPS systems are also able to track which trucks are due for maintenance as well as identify driver behaviors that might be costing more in gas or leading to more repairs, Parazaider says.

“Beyond tracking where a vehicle goes and when it turns on, I can track anything from hard acceleration to hard braking to hard cornering; any possible liability when a truck is on,” he says.

For your records.

With all of this data collected and stored by their GPS systems, landscaping companies have a complete record they can refer to when dealing with complaints or even warranties. Whether a customer claims crews never showed up to plow their driveway or a company truck sped past a neighborhood, contractors have proof one way or the other, Hurlock says.

“This system allows me to look at the history and say ‘on such and such date, crews were there for an hour and a half,’” he says. “It’s been very helpful that way. People believe when you say ‘let me send you a copy of the report that says when we were at your place,’ or ‘how fast a truck was driving.’”

At ArtisTree Landscaping Maintenance & Design, iQ4Mobility is installed in every vehicle to monitor for costly habits.
Photo courtesy off ArtisTree Maintenance Landscaping & Design

The data can provide both concrete evidence against fraudulent claims as well as confirmation if an incident does happen. And if it does, the contractor can tell the caller they know exactly which truck and driver it was so they can address the problem.

“You can never cover all the bases, but it definitely minimizes our liability,” Parazaider says.

Help wanted.

As GPS systems evolve, contractors should look for companies with great customer service and support to help them take advantage of the latest features, Hurlock says.

“I am still learning about the system and what I can do with it,” he says. “Learning the basics was very simple, but I couldn’t learn it all in one or two hour-long training sessions. As I keep expanding the usage of my system, I just call our representative and ask for her to come out and help me set it up.”

After trying out two different GPS systems and finding shortcomings with both of them, Hurlock has come to find the value in having local support like what is available with iQ4Mobility.

“IQ4 is in Sarasota and the representative here is available at a moment’s notice if I need anything,” Hurlock says. “Most of the GPS technologies are similar, but it's the local support that I find is key. Maybe some people are really savvy and can do it online, but I like to have somebody showing me how to draw this geofence around a community.”

Fleetmatics holds conference calls and web-based tutorials to train Straightline’s staff on new features, and has been readily available for troubleshooting.

“We need to be more efficient in saving time and money, which is the reason we looked at Fleetmatics technology,” Parazaider says.

“Our company is now better managed and we can create more efficient driving routes for our employees.

The author is a freelance writer based in Kentucky.