Texas company’s trucks give efficiency and profits a lift – and keep technicians happy, too.

No offense to plumbing supply houses, but master plumber Walter Pickett prefers to avoid them as much as possible. And the owner of Pickett Plumbing in Houston does just that, thanks to the service trucks he purchased from Jenkins Diesel Power.

“It’s not that I don’t like them,” Pickett says of parts depots. “I just can’t make as much money when we’re visiting them all the time. I wanted better inventory control so we can stay out of the supply houses.”

To maximize productivity and its close cousin, profitability, Pickett wanted a truck that could not only carry more parts, but also keep them well organized. So he opted to invest roughly $75,000 apiece on two vehicles that Jenkins markets as plumbing “super trucks.” They’re built on Isuzu NPR cab-over-style chassis — one with a 12-foot-long box body, the other 14 feet long, made by Hackney. The trucks (2012 and 2013 model years) feature an interior Hackney parts storage system that can be customized by adjusting shelf heights to accommodate various sizes of drawers.

“My thought was that I could set up both trucks identically, with every inventory item in the same place,” he says. “We’re getting there — both trucks are set up pretty much the same — but the guys like to move some things around, for one reason or another.

“Before, we didn’t always have all the necessary items on the trucks,” he adds, noting that each Isuzu carries about $8,000 worth of parts inventory, including one water heater, one toilet tank and two toilet bowls. “Our six other trucks (Fords with 14-foot box bodies made by Supreme Corporation) are not as well organized. While I can’t quantify it, I know we were losing money because of that, if nothing else from lost productive time wasted by making trips to supply houses.”

Pickett estimates that the Jenkins trucks have drastically reduced the number of supply-house trips, which can easily take an hour and a half round-trip. “I can’t tell you how many trips we’ve reduced per week, but now we probably average just two or three trips a day,” he says. “We also do a better job now of restocking the six Fords.”

The trucks are all business inside, organized for easy part location and equipment loading and unloading. For easier retrieval and stocking, different sections of shelves are devoted to certain kinds of parts — such as PVC pressure fittings, toilet parts, sink parts and so forth — subdivided into various sizes. The Hackney storage system features 18- by 22-inch trays with dividers; the trays are either 3 1/2 or 6 inches deep. “The trays also keep inventory from being damaged,” Pickett notes. “Without them, things can rattle around in back and get damaged.”

The trucks’ interior configuration allows room for a water heater in the rear by the rear barn-style doors, along with a medium-size drain cleaning machine. A larger drain cleaning machine gets stored in the front.

The emphasis on organization and neatness also impresses customers, which can lead to repeat business as well as word-of-mouth referrals. Pickett says that customers occasionally take a peek inside the trucks and are impressed by what they see. “I’m not sure if customers realize the value of trucks that are so well organized, but they comment on how nice and clean they look inside,” he says.

There’s another more intangible but equally valuable factor in play: technicians’ attitudes. In short, a happy plumber is a more effective plumber. “When you have a messy truck and can’t find what you need, you get frustrated,” Pickett says.

In the long run, Pickett says his profit margins have improved since he bought the two Isuzus. “Sure, they were a considerable investment, but they’re well worth it,” he says. “It’s hard to quantify, but I’d say our profit margins have increased.

“The bottom line is that if I told my guys we were going back to regular service vans, none of them would want to stay — they’d all leave. I wish I would’ve bought the ‘super trucks’ much earlier.”

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