Managing the Financial Side of Commercial Fleets

Safelite's Fleet Reduces TCO, Doubles Sales

September 2014, by Cheryl Knight - Also by this author

Armstrong (left) and Traphagen regularly meet and work together to ensure year-over-year reductions in fleet cost per mile, per mobile customer served.
Armstrong (left) and Traphagen regularly meet and work together to ensure year-over-year reductions in fleet cost per mile, per mobile customer served.

Providing mobile service to more than 96 percent of the U.S. population in all 50 states, Safelite AutoGlass relies on its fleet of 6,400 vehicles to get its technicians to customers in a timely and efficient manner.

This task falls to the company’s Columbus, Ohio-based fleet team, which manages fleet operations and works closely with internal, external, and field partners to fulfill its corporate mission: striving daily to manage and operate its fleet in a safe, lean, functional, cost-effective, sustainable, environmentally responsible, and productive manner.

“Our company operates in nearly all of our nation’s ZIP codes performing mobile glass repair and replacement, therefore our fleet of vehicles and their highly skilled drivers and technicians are instrumental in our company’s success,” said Erin Gilchrist, Safelite’s fleet manager.

Its fleet is mostly comprised of Ford and GM 1/2-ton commercial cargo vans used by the company’s mobile glass shops, warehouse associates, and field and sales managers. The company leases approximately 95 percent of its vehicles through multiple companies, including PHH1, GE Capital Fleet Services, and ARI. The fleet team has consolidated nearly all of its major fleet programs, strategic consulting, asset tracking and management, and reporting with PHH.

Partnering with Trusted Advisors
The fleet team’s most valuable partners are its customers, according to Gilchrist, as they provide critical feedback that allows management to better meet and exceed their expectations and to provide them with improved tools, training, and data and reporting that ultimately continuously improves on their profitability.

“Our customers tell us that our customer service model is exceptional due to the timeliness and quality of our responses to their needs, and the proactive and collaborative approach to our strategic initiatives,” she said.

And, the team’s external partnerships with lessors, vehicle manufacturers, upfitters, fuel payment/management partners, and vehicle branding partners are complex and robust. In fact, all aspects of Safelite’s fleet program management include daily, weekly, and monthly interactions with its supplier partners.

Safelite has contracts with these suppliers that include service-level agreements, as well as shared goals and objectives. Gilchrist, who serves on the PHH Client Advisory Board, and her team conduct frequent calls with the company’s entire partner base to include topics such as project management, service-level agreement (SLA) results, financial results, key initiatives, and vehicle order cycle from order to delivery. Fleet management also conducts Safelite site visits with suppliers to get direct feedback and information from its field operations customers.

“At Safelite, we deeply value our supplier relationships so far as to share with them our company philosophy on ‘vendors.’ We start by not using the term vendor,” she explained. “Rather, we categorize suppliers as ‘supplier,’ ‘strategic partners,’ or ‘trusted advisors.’ We’re clear about what each term means to us and how they can achieve each status.”

The fleet team’s goal over time is to help its suppliers gain trusted advisor status, where each party involved benefits significantly from collective achievements. And, according to Gilchrist, this approach is proving to be successful and industry leading.

Obtaining Executive  Management Buy-in
Gilchrist’s supervisor, Kurt Goodman, AVP, financial operations, is responsible for financial planning and analysis, treasury, fleet, risk, and travel, and helps obtain executive and field management buy-in for the fleet department’s annual objectives. Because there are operational and financial pieces in each program, goal, or initiative, Goodman’s financial strengths and insights are critical components to tying together impacts of initiatives to the organization.

“Kurt has visibility to and brings together all of the variables, including staffing, capital expense, and marketing, when considering what initiatives we’ll pursue, as well as how to drive buy-in when needed,” according to Gilchrist.

Goodman assists Gilchrist in presenting ideas, goals, and ROI analysis to senior leadership, encompassing all of these variables and impacts to expedite decisions.

Gilchrist added that the fleet department’s commitment to hearing the voice of its customers has been instrumental in building trust, driving compliance, and exceeding customer expectations. The development of the company’s fleet council seven years ago — comprised of field leadership at all levels including sales, supplier representatives, the company’s manager of risk, and company technicians — has accelerated the fleet department’s progress on key programs. Council meeting topics range from fleet reporting to vehicle custom upfitting to new programs and initiatives on the horizon and more.

“We have been successful in gaining the support needed from senior leaders through our monthly executive reporting suite prepared by our dedicated resource from Jay Knecht in financial planning and analysis,” Gilchrist added. “Over the past several years, our focus on data, reporting, and analytics has accelerated our position in the company as the trusted advisors for fleet operations.”

Over the past six years, the company has doubled its sales and profits, but, through various efforts, fleet has managed to reduce its total cost of vehicle ownership.

Proven Formula for Assessing Fleet Financials
Because executives consider financial results, new programs and initiatives, and ROI analyses in small windows, fleet’s ability as a team to present quick, clear, and concise financial summaries of the operational decisions, impacts, and results has proven to be a successful interactive skill, according to Gilchrist.

“We balance keeping the organization informed and up to speed on our tangible results while avoiding providing unnecessary detail,” she stated. “Our senior management has come to view Kurt and our team as their trusted advisor as mentioned.”

The finance and fleet teams work together throughout the year to evaluate where fleet stands with the goals and budgets, as well as compared to previous year’s results, via monthly and quarterly reporting. At the end of the first quarter, fleet management begins the process of budgeting and forecasting for the balance of the year by considering all aspects of the business.

When assessing fleet financials, fleet management examines capital spend and its impact on global operation, KPIs, fleet metrics, telematics data and reporting (driver behavior and risk scores), total operating cost, and much more.

“Our key performance indicator is our fleet cost per mobile customer served,” Gilchrist said. “This is an all-encompassing metric that measures fleet’s financial impact on every mobile glass repair and windshield or curved tempered glass job. This is an impactful metric to demonstrate to our core customer how, when we work together on all fundamental fleet operating practices and strategic initiatives aimed at driver safety and cost reduction, their profit per mobile unit increases.”

Fleet management breaks out monthly executive reporting into lease, fuel, and maintenance expense per sales unit, per mile driven, and per vehicle unit. Then, Gilchrist provides commentary on each major spend area monthly and compares data to budget, goal, and previous year’s figures.

“Naturally, we also report on vehicle cost per mile, miles per gallon, total cost of ownership, and cost per gallon,” she added.

Utilizing Technology to Reduce Miles Driven
Management uses fleet asset and tracking, finance and budgeting, benchmarking and analysis systems, and tools and technology in a variety of ways to include fleet reporting and management, asset control and management, trend identification, and program and project management.

“It’s critical to find a strategic partner who can provide a robust, nimble, and flexible data and analytics tool by way of their Web-based systems,” according to Gilchrist. “In addition to the technology, it’s equally critical to have a solid team to analyze, evaluate, and interpret the information and data. In-vehicle technology is the core of our success at Safelite.”

The company’s telematics program is its most recent and notable initiative. Gilchrist spent years researching GPS tracking and telematics programs to identify suppliers that could fit Safelite’s needs. The team conducted a consolidated fleet services RFP to include telematics and awarded PHH Onboard the opportunity to conduct a pilot in several markets over a 90-day period.

“I first developed a project team led by me, including representatives from PHH, Safelite field leadership, HR, and legal, to cover all aspects of this potential program,” she said.

Prior to the pilot period, fleet management developed and distributed communication to all areas of the business, from senior leadership to Safelite’s technician workforce. Once management felt comfortable with the level of understanding, they began working closely with the pilot markets on device installation and report development at all levels, including driver scorecards, driver communication, and FAQs.

“During the pilot, we kept leaders in every area of our business informed of our progress. Upon conclusion of the pilot, we met with Safelite’s senior leadership team to review the ROI analysis and discuss next steps,” Gilchrist said. “Based on the pilot results, we moved forward with full implementation of the program under contract with PHH Onboard.”

Fleet department customers and suppliers have responded well to the program based on the results in the areas of driver safety, accident severity reduction, and fuel consumption and emissions reductions.

“We established individual driver scorecards by the end of the pilot period and fully deployed telematics for 5,800 vehicles by end of March 2013,” Gilchrist stated. “These scorecards provide a performance rating for each driver for three behaviors: speeding, seat-belt usage, and harsh driving
(accelerating, braking, and cornering).”

Managers were taught how to coach their drivers to improve driving practices. 

In addition to PHH Onboard, Safelite also employs mobile resource management technology, which the company’s IT team developed and manages. Technology employed includes smartphones, payment and customer signature solutions, and routing and mapping programs to ensure technicians are at the right place at the expected time.

Intelligent routing enabled more of an efficient workforce by reducing miles driven by 5-7 percent, which, in turn, results in significant fuel savings and vehicle costs (estimated at $750,000 in annual savings).
Other significant results, thanks to the use of innovative technology, include:

  • A reduction in fuel consumption by 800,000 gallons, which saved approximately $3 million.
  • A decrease in idling (expressed as a percentage of total engine hours) from 31 percent in March 2013 to 24 percent by the end of December. 
  • In the first month of telematics measurement, fleet had approximately 33 percent of driver scores in a high-risk category in terms of their driving behaviors. With coaching and a greater focus and discipline, management reduced this to approximately 3 percent by the end of the year. 

Staying Ahead of the Curve with ROI Analysis
Safelite fleet leadership is now conducting a pilot in four markets across 80 vehicles with SCT Fleet Solutions, a global business that focuses on driver safety and fuel economy. The goal of the pilot includes gathering data and driver feedback and developing an ROI analysis. If results are favorable, management plans to roll out to additional markets.

“A proactive approach is the only way to win,” Gilchrist stated. “While hindsight is 20/20, being ahead of the curve is just as critical. We strive to learn from our mistakes and collaborate with and learn from our customers, suppliers, and other successful fleets to develop programs and initiatives that are industry leading. Proactivity breeds success and keeps us out ahead of the competition and best-in-class fleet operation.”

Gilchrist reveals that fleet management will continue to search for better technology, reporting, tools, personnel, collaboration, and supplier management and selection to result in continuous year-over-year reductions in the areas of fleet cost per mobile customer served, fuel consumption and emissions, materials waste, as well as increases in efficiency, service, and flexibility.

“Our fleet will be smaller and more productive,” she concluded.

Maximizing Partnerships & Supplier Base
In her role, Gilchrist handles associate management and development, process review and reform, contract negotiation, supplier relations, and budgeting and P&L management. She also manages vehicle specifications, selection, upfitting, procurement, national maintenance management, national fuel program, sustainability and environmental initiatives, and acquisition and integration activities.

Gilchrist also interacts with internal partners and customers on a daily basis regarding fleet programs, policies, transactions, strategic initiatives, and much more.

“I interact almost equally with our large supplier base on every aspect of our fleet operations, strategic projects and initiatives, order status, and shared goals,” she explained.

Safelite’s fleet team includes Gilchrist, Lead Fleet Administrator Chris Armstrong, and Fleet Administrators Robby Traphagan and Trevor Horton. The team is also supported by Financial Analyst Jay Knecht.

“One of our primary goals includes delivering year-over-year reductions in our fleet cost per mobile customer served,” Gilchrist stated. “To do so, policies are consistently evaluated, modified, and communicated to drive compliance and to support our company initiatives, goals and mission. Our policies are managed by fleet and field leaders.”

The fleet department has operating practices and policies in place for vehicle use by:

  • Job title.
  • Vehicle operation and occupancy.
  • Fuel card use.
  • Vehicle maintenance.
  • Personal use and personal mileage reporting.
  • Telematics/driver behavior.
  • Idling.
  • Accident management, including an internal point system coupled with MVR results, pre- and post-hire background checks and drug testing, driver training, distracted driving, etc.


Founded in 1947, the Columbus, Ohio-based Safelite employs 11,000 individuals in the U.S. and serves more than 4.3 million customers each year with revenues of $1.2 billion in 2013.

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