Locate your Landscape Products with the Push of a Button
Your landscape maintenance crew just completed a long day of jobs and arrived back at the shop only to realize that they're missing a chain saw.
Your phone rings one morning. It's a customer calling to tell you that your crew left a backpack blower and string trimmer in the flower bed. They said they'll leave them on the porch for pick-up. Problem is, the customer lives 45 minutes away.
Does either scenario sound familiar? It's happened in every landscape company across the country. Fact is, missing equipment is an all too common occurrence for landscape contractors.
That was the past. The present is an entirely different story.
D.A. Alexander & Company Inc., based in Livonia, Mich., has been in business since 1978. With 40-50 full-time employees offering lawn maintenance, landscape design/build, irrigation, lighting, water features and snow removal services, the shop is full of equipment. Walk-behind mowers, trimmers, blowers, saw cutters, tampers, shovels, rakes, irrigation equipment and more are part of daily inventory needed to serve their residential and commercial customers.
"Our crews use quite a bit of equipment, and job needs change daily," said Elizabeth Alexander. "We don't keep tools and parts stocked in the trailers overnight because of the potential for theft."
Each morning, foremen arrive at 7 a.m. to load vehicles and trailers for that day's jobs. Laborers join them at 7:30 a.m. to assist with the goal of being on the road by 8 a.m. It's a labor intensive process with three lawn maintenance crews of two to four people each; four to five landscape crews of two to four people each; and two brick paver crews.
The tone is set for the day if the crews don't leave the shop at 8 a.m. With traffic, a late start of just four minutes can quickly turn into a 30-minute or more delay.
Efficiency and productivity are at the heart and soul of any landscape company. When Alexander saw Invisi-Tag at a local trade show, she was immediately intrigued. Invisi-Tag, a Michigan-based company, is a system that operates on radio waves and keeps an "eye" on equipment. Whether in the shop or on a job site, a quick push of a button indicates whether or not all equipment is where it should be.
Invisi-Tag uses RFID tags to quickly and efficiently inventory equipment. The technology uses radio waves to seek tagged equipment. Once located, a signal is sent back from the tagged equipment to the master inventory list. While similar in concept to bar coding, Invisi-Tag is less time-consuming to set up and eliminates the potential for bar code labels to become smeared.
With Invisi-Tag, a tag is inserted inside a handle or piece of the equipment that doesn't interfere with the laborer. The lifespan of the tag is virtually infinite. It is 100 percent accurate because it is completely electronic and automatic.
D.A. Alexander has been using the Invisi-Tag system for about a month. It's already paying dividends.
"We can tell that our crews are out of here much quicker in the morning," Alexander said. "Each foreman has a tablet with a list of tools that are expected to be on the truck. The system tells you what's on the truck and sends a signal if something is missing. We see less employee time spent wandering around looking for missing tools, and less time spent on double-checking inventory."
Product durability is key in the landscape industry and equipment tags are no different. The tags are hidden within the handle of equipment or somewhere that's inconspicuous. They are weather resistant and won't wear over time.
After learning of the new technology at a trade show and doing some competitive research, Alexander quickly discovered that there wasn't anything else on the market like it. So, the company made the decision to incorporate the smart technology into their business.
The implementation didn't interfere with day-to-day business. Invisi-Tag reps came in, worked with in-house mechanics and set up the system in various vehicles and trailers. Large-screen tablets stored in each truck are included with the overall purchase. The system is simple to install with just three components: smart phone or tablet, RFID system controls and individual tags.
The Invisi-Tag system (see how it works) is flexible and works nicely with the inventory needs of all sized companies and service offerings. Check out this quick review of how the system is capable of setting up different jobs for different services:
Irrigation crew – on projects like this that change daily, all tools, parts and plumbing kits are equipped with trackers and assigned to specific jobs. The foreman consults the specified job, and quickly see what tools are needed to get the job done. As a result, the time spent rounding up parts is dramatically decreased.
Lawn crews – these jobs are more consistent at D.A. Alexander using the same mowers, trimmers and blowers. All products are tagged and assigned to specific crews.
Installation -- Brick pavers, saws and hand tampers are standard tools that are tagged and assigned to crews.
Once equipment has been tagged and assigned to specific jobs, a foreman turns on the tablet to review his inventory. He sees red until the tagged equipment responds. Then he sees green. If a piece of equipment is missing, it remains red.
"It's quick and easy and tells you exactly which pieces are missing," Alexander said. "Each one has it's own identification so it can tell you exactly that three trimmers and two backpack blowers are missing. Then it's up to the crews to search the property or look on the ground outside the trailer and find the missing pieces."
While D.A. Alexander employees were originally skeptical, they recognized that the company wouldn't be looking for a solution if a problem didn't exist. "It eases their mind, knowing it's there," she said. "They have so many things to worry about such as job safety and job quality, equipment inventory is one less thing they need to dwell on. We already began to recover the cost of the system in the first week."
Company employees understand that when the company runs efficiently, everyone enjoys the benefits.
"They see the direct effect of being efficient and enjoy company-wide incentives, Alexander said. "I would certainly recommend it to other contractors."