Fleet Management Solutions Case Study

Lawn Ranger Accelerates Productivity with its Faithful Mobility Application (Cont'd)

About Lawn Ranger

Lawn Ranger Facts

Business Needs

Better track and manage mobile work crews and their assignments

Networking Solution

Smartphones with Xora GPS TimeTrack from AT&T running on the AT&T mobile broadband network

Business Value

Improved productivity in the home office and on the road; accelerated cash flow and greater customer confidence

Industry Focus

Lawn maintenance and snow removal services for commercial and residential customers

Size

200 employees and subcontractors serving customers throughout eight counties surrounding Minneapolis

For 27 years, Lawn Ranger has provided commercial and residential lawn maintenance and snow removal services. Headquartered in Eden Prairie, a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota, the company has approximately 200 employees and subcontractors that cover a seven county area surrounding the “City of Lakes.”

Situation

Lawn Ranger needed to find a better way to track and manage its mobile work crews performing hundreds of tasks, particularly during winter months when workloads can be unpredictable. A single snowstorm could result in workers generating over 2,000 pieces of paper to document their time and materials spent at customer locations. This paper-based approach meant employees had to manually sort and verify all this information, impacting productivity and cash flow.

Solution

Lawn Ranger employees and subcontractors are now equipped with Xora GPS TimeTrack™ from AT&T − mobile workforce management software that is loaded on smartphones and running over the AT&T wireless network. When a snowstorm is pending, Lawn Ranger can schedule and deploy work crews in a matter of minutes. Workers need only to check their smartphones for their job assignments with routes mapped out. They wirelessly confirm when tasks have been completed, capturing the time and materials used. This information is then downloaded to the company’s Sage Peachtree accounting system for rapid and accurate invoicing.

Whiteout Conditions

In an industry that ranges from single operators with a pick-up truck, snowplow and lawn mower, to large commercial operations, Lawn Ranger falls in the middle of an extremely competitive industry. With about 200 employees and subcontractors serving residential and commercial customers spread over hundreds of square miles in south central Minnesota, Lawn Ranger attributes its high customer retention rates – 85 percent and more – to its high quality of customer service. “In our business, quality is defined by getting the job done on time and getting it done right,” said Todd Dilley, vice president at Lawn Ranger, and a 37-year veteran of the industry. “Whatever it takes, we take care of our customers. And by word-of-mouth, we have continued to grow.”

In our business, quality is defined by getting the job done on time and getting it done right. Whatever it takes, we take care of our customers. And by word-of-mouth, we have continued to grow.”

- Todd Dilley, Vice President, Lawn Ranger

Lawn Ranger’s business can swing from the anticipated to the unpredictable with the change in seasons. While lawn services follow a fairly routine weekly schedule, snow removal services cannot be scheduled in advance. Mother Nature follows her own timetable, and in Minneapolis, the winter season can last half the year, making Lawn Ranger the 13th largest snow removal company in the U.S.

The company’s previous paper-based system used a single piece of paper to document each snow removal task within three functions: plowing, salting and shoveling. Workers were responsible for filling out the paperwork for each task completed, many times after an all night shift working under harsh conditions. And although each truck was furnished with a GPS unit, there was no link to headquarters for tracking the status of jobs.

“We had one piece of paper for each of our 844 tasks,” reported Dilley. “During an average winter, we handled thousands of pieces of paper to capture and report our workers’ time and materials.”

Human errors required that Lawn Ranger’s home office staff call workers to clarify tasks and events. And when subcontractors issued their invoices to Lawn Ranger, the same sort of tedious cross-checking was required by the staff.

“To re-create these events was a monumental task. After just one snowstorm, it would take four or five people as much as seven days to sort through all the paperwork and verify everything was correct before invoicing our customers,” said Dilley.

In the winter of 2010, Dilley knew he needed a better system. “We had about 90 inches of snow and our annual average is 44, so we had two years worth of snow in one year,” said Dilley. “We were covered in snow…and in paper.”

Shoveling Out

Dilley researched different companies and applications. “I wanted to be able to schedule our work crews and give them an automated way to record each job’s information, such as how much salt was put down. I wanted to capture the actual time spent at each customer’s location: when they arrived and when they left.”

“With most solutions, it seemed there were always one or two features missing. For me, if our company was going to go paperless, we needed to go all the way,” recalled Dilley. “The AT&T representative really listened. When he recommended the Xora software application, it perfectly fit what we needed.”

Dilley explained the complexity of the snow removal business. Each commercial customer has a trigger – the amount of snowfall accumulation ranging from a half inch to two inches – at which removal must begin. Most commercial customers require all three services – plowing, salting and shoveling, which along with the specified snowfall triggers account for the variables that exponentially increase with the number of customers, their locations and the crews that serve them.

Lawn Ranger can now efficiently manage these complexities with help from Xora GPS TimeTrack from AT&T along with the company’s smartphones and AT&T wireless network.

When snow is in the forecast, Lawn Ranger texts each of its crews to alert them and indicate the probable start time for removal. “If we’re expecting two inches, we upload the spreadsheet with all of our customers into the Xora system, and all the smartphones start beeping. Each worker or crew’s phone shows the number of jobs with each job listed in the order it has to be done,” explained Dilley. “We spend just minutes getting the jobs scheduled and out to our workers. When they get in their trucks, they waste no time; they have everything they need on their phones.”

The Xora GPS TimeTrack solution has a mapping feature that takes workers from job site to job site, using the quickest route. When arriving on the site of the first job, the crew reports in via the smartphone and the Xora application prompts for plowing, salting or shoveling. When the task is completed, the worker hits “done” and captures the task information. If the crew has just plowed, and salt is to be applied, the Xora application will again display the same job following the prescribed protocol. When the salting is done, the application will ask for the tonnage spread.

Back at Lawn Ranger’s headquarters, the staff uses the Xora application with its GPS functionality to monitor work crews’ real-time progress. “On our computer screen, each job site status appears green, yellow or red and helps us monitor the percentage of jobs completed,” said Dilley. “We can sort our jobs – by route, by worker, by customer site – allowing our staff to easily detect if a route has run into unforeseen delays. Since our job assignments can be delivered immediately to the smartphones, a crew running ahead-of-schedule can take on another assignment to help meet or exceed customer expectations.”

Flurries Eliminated

With the Xora solution in place, Lawn Ranger can now complete invoicing much quicker then before. “We have dramatically accelerated cash flow by improving our invoicing interval from weeks to literally hours,” said Dilley. “Once a snow event is done, all information is in the Xora system. We download the data into our Peachtree accounting system, press a button, and invoices are produced. All invoices are then reviewed, which takes about four hours.”

Since snowfall can happen in the middle of a workday as easily as the middle of the night, Lawn Ranger helps its commercial customers keep their doors open for business even if it requires repeat services over the course of an extended storm. Using the Xora solution, the company can now keep track of all services with confidence, when one snowstorm can look very much like another.

“If it has snowed three or four times in a two-week period, it’s natural for our customers to forget the dates when certain services were performed,” said Dilley. “We have basically eliminated customer confusion regarding what storm the invoice is for. So if it snows Tuesday and I have invoices out by Thursday, customers will remember the event, sign-off and mail out payment. This helps our cash flow and increases customers’ overall confidence in our company.”

And the home office staff no longer needs extra people for the verification and invoicing process. “Our sales people would get involved. Now they spend that time doing what they need to do: serve our customers and develop new business.”

Now when a subcontractor sends Lawn Ranger his invoice, the office staff filters out the piece of equipment that was used to confirm the information captured by the Xora application matches the subcontractor’s invoice. “We can pay our subs quicker, which helps us attract and retain good people,” said Dilley. “And this high retention rate reflects on our quality of customer service. If a sub has been handling the same customer location for years, he doesn’t miss things like a new person might.”

Following a severe winter, the other seasons may seem like a cinch for Lawn Ranger, yet Dilley is quick to point out the year-long benefits of using the Xora application. “In our business, there was always a lot of paperwork regardless of the season. With Xora, we will save significant time in the spring and summer when it comes to scheduling and meeting our customers’ weekly demands. And it will come in very handy during rainy weeks, when our schedules could go awry.”

Dilley concluded with Lawn Ranger’s steadfast focus on quality service. “Xora GPS TimeTrack from AT&T helps us perform better in an industry that is highly competitive. We save time and more confidently serve our customers. Everything about it is good.”

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