NatureWorks Landscape Services prides itself on diversity. While offering various services like mowing, fine gardening, seasonal decor, lawn care, irrigation, and plant health care, the company also offers landscape construction, renovations, and tree work.
For seasonal services, NatureWorks provides snow services to its clients as well as a small book of commercial clients in the winter.
How NatureWorks Works
NatureWorks’ services go hand-in-hand with any fleet and equipment.
“We have an equally diverse fleet of vehicles and equipment to deliver top-notch quality efficiently,” said Justin Flannery, fleet manager at NatureWorks. “We have everything from bucket trucks and tracked lifts to small sedans for the account management team.”
Flannery has been with NatureWorks for five years and said the company is trying to standardize the crew trucks as much as possible. Isuzu N-Series trucks make up the majority of NatureWorks’ fleet.
NatureWorks’ fleet features 64 vehicles, including nine sedans, 20 pickup trucks, 28 medium-duty trucks, four vans, and three heavy-duty trucks registered just under CDL at 26,000 lbs.
“We have focused on spec’ing trucks that can be used across different service lines during peak demand,” Flannery said. “Mulch, leaf clean-ups, and top-dress require us to transport a lot of yardage of not-so-heavy material.”
Three years ago, NatureWorks started to transition to moving away from the traditional dump truck/trailer combination to a Morgan Proscaper box truck with a ramp on the back.
“Mowers with mulching kits allowed us to keep safety and efficiency a priority by ditching the trailer and maneuvering nimbly through the tight streets of Metro-West Boston,” Flannery said.
On the construction side, NatureWorks has been utilizing an almost identical twin to the Isuzu dumps, the NPR-HD vehicles.
Flannery cited the only difference is the heavier duty NRR with the 19,500-lb. GVWR and the body is built with a stronger floor and a chute on the tailgate for metering gravel into wheelbarrows.
Every company has its challenges, and NatureWorks has been no stranger to issues over the last few years. And it’s a problem others may be quite familiar with.
One example is catalytic converter thefts. Flannery received a call from one of the managers last November on his way to work.
“All of the catalytic converters are gone!“ the manager said. While it may not truly have been all the catalytic converters, Flannery noted 12 of the 28 vehicle fleet had units stolen.
After a scramble of sending drivers all over Massachusetts and Rhode Island trying to buy as much 3 1/2” flex pipe and band clamps as they could get their hands on, NatureWorks got the trucks back on the road by the end of the day.
After having all of their backpack blowers stolen only a few short weeks before, NatureWorks realized they needed security upgrades.
“We invested in smart cameras that would be able to alert us if there was a person or vehicle on the property after hours, and we have been experimenting with some catalytic converter theft prevention devices,” Flannery said.
Vehicle planning has been another challenge for NatureWorks.
“With bodybuilders and upfitters being so busy in a booming economy, the lead times have been getting longer every year,” Flannery said. “Trying to plan for growth and replacements before even receiving the trucks we ordered this year is hard.”
As a result, NatureWorks ends up keeping trucks longer than planned. Then, Flannery said the company wastes time and money working on those trucks.
NatureWorks started having recurring fleet planning sessions, which may have been another challenge on its own, but it’s been well worth the effort.
“Getting the directors of operations, finance, and our president in the room is a challenge on its own, but has been worthwhile,” Flannery said. “We look at the plan for the current year. Then we discuss how we deviated from the plan, Then we ask what we need to do to correct it. It hasn’t been perfect as lead times are only getting longer. It’s almost like we need to be ordering 2024 trucks in 2022.”
The final challenge NatureWorks is experiencing is working with crew members to pay attention to their GVWR and how much the bulk material weighs. To the untrained eye, all of the dump trucks look the same even though they have different weight capacities, according to Flannery.
“Our crew members have a passion for the work they do on-site. Learning about GVWR, payload, weight per yard is not something they particularly enjoy,” Flannery said. “Over the winter, we put labels in the trucks with the unladen weight, the payload, and total GVWR. We will also make a cheat sheet with the common materials, how much they weigh, and how much can go in each truck.
Also, we will be adding this to our safety training that is being rolled out as part of their two-day onboarding orientation.”
NatureWorks has found some solutions, though, such as switching from a time-based PM schedule to a mileage-based schedule.
“When I started, PMs were being completed every three months,” Flannery said. “By tracking vehicle mileage, I noticed that most of our trucks are not even driving 8,000 miles a year. I immediately switched to high-quality synthetic oils, a top-of-the-line additive, and to an annual oil change schedule for most trucks. Some people may disagree with my approach, but I pulled random oil samples for a couple of years to sanity check the program.”
NatureWorks does not plan to stop evolving and adding to its fleet.
Flannery said he is currently working on bringing the first electric vehicle to NatureWorks fleet: a Ford E-Transit 250.
“Getting the connected smart charger installed, learning about all the features, and putting together a cheat sheet to keep handy are all things we are excited about and hope it works as good as we think it will,” Flannery said. “Massachusetts currently produces about 16% of its electricity from renewable sources, which will only get better.”
NatureWorks has also started focusing on more parts of the business they feel need more attention and have created a competition called mini games.
With fuel prices skyrocketing, NatureWorks thought it seemed very timely to focus on fuel-related improvements. Flannery came up with the idea to focus on reducing idle time.
NatureWorks’ drivers tend to start the truck when they arrive and let the engine warm up until they leave, according to Flannery.
Using telematics devices , it was easy to pull idle time reports. Across the fleet, the company was averaging 20% idle time. Over six weeks, NatureWorks wanted to get that number down to 10%.
“Our president, Matt, and I created a silly video to announce the game and listed the benefits (clean air, smaller carbon footprint, less noise in the yard, less engine wear, and fuel savings),” Flannery said.
The game was very well received and during the six weeks, the company got the percentage down to 8.5%.
“It turned out that most people just didn’t even realize how much their vehicle was idling in a week. With a bit of lighthearted competition by sharing the detailed report every week, the habit was quickly broken,” Flannery said.
In the end, NatureWorks calculated a little over $2,000 in savings by simply not idling.
“We celebrated with coffee, donuts, and the $2,000 savings was given back to the team in the form of Mobil gift cards,” Flannery said. “We continue encouraging people to turn off their engines when they are not driving and will benefit greatly in the long run.”
Flannery’s job as a fleet manager has become easier through Fleetio, telematics, and fuel cards. Fleetio helps fleets manage their vehicles, equipment, parts, drivers, and more.
“Now I just have to babysit the system,” Flannery said. “The data I can collect with just a few clicks of the mouse would have either taken me hours or been impossible before.”
Flannery has always been interested in fleet. Graduating from UTI in 2009 and working as a technician, he learned about his passion for trucks. As the years have gone on, the love has not faded.
“What I really love about working in fleet is getting to know the people and the trucks,” Flannery said. “They all have unique personalities and you get to know them and their quirks. I truly enjoy helping people and problem-solving. Everyone reading this knows that in fleet, especially a construction fleet, there are a lot of problems to solve!”
He’s also sharing what he has learned over the years with other fleet managers to make their jobs easier.
“Try to stay calm and keep perspective,” Flannery said. “It is easy to slip into a negative headspace and get mad at your internal customers and colleagues. Everyone has a job to do, and ours as fleet managers is to help others do theirs. We may not always get a pat on the back for good work, but we certainly will hear about it if things go wrong. Silence is the best compliment there is.”