There are many unanswered questions floating around the universe. Fast zombies or shambling ones? Dogs or cats? In-house or outsourced maintenance?
Wait. One of those things is not like the others.
While we’d love to pick apart the zombie question, we are in fact a diesel blog, and so we must leave the undead cannibals to themselves and instead address the maintenance issue. Today, we’re going to look at the benefits and drawbacks associated with a big fleet doing their own maintenance work themselves vs. handing it off to other repair shops.
Actually, we’re going one step further. We’re breaking the subject into two articles. Today, we’re going to look at some of the benefits and issues associated with outsourcing your fleet repairs. The follow-up post will focus on keeping things in-house.
If you’re a fleet manager at a company contemplating this very decision, or a repair shop owner who realllllly wants to get your hands on a fantastic fleet, well, we think you’ll find plenty to like in the next few days.
For now, let’s sort out exactly what we mean by in-house vs. outsourcing, and what to look for when you’re contemplating the latter.
WHY WOULDN’T YOU KEEP YOUR REPAIRS IN-HOUSE?
But Fullbay, you may be saying, if I’m a big operation, why shouldn’t I bring my repairs in-house? That way I can make sure everything is getting done right!
Oh, my sweet summer child.
You’re not wrong. And we are not, despite what we’re about to say, against in-house maintenance and repair work at all. But like any solution, it presents some troubles of its own.
To get a better idea of what the in-house world looks like, we turned to Fullbay’s COO, Chris O’Brien. In a previous life, he was a fleet manager at Shamrock Foods, which had approximately a gazillion trucks (okay, maybe it just felt like a gazillion) and kept its repairs in-house. Through his work in the industry and with Fullbay, he’s also seen what outsourcing can look like.
There are hundreds of things a fleet operator needs to consider before bringing their repairs and maintenance in-house, but here are two of the biggest:
- Do you have the ability to absorb the liability?
- Can you lure techs away from other jobs?
Let’s talk liability first, because everyone loves a good legal risk, right?
“The reality is, when you start taking on maintenance in-house, you take on huge risk for your company,” Chris says.
If your business is, say, shipping boxes, and you want to bring your repairs in-house, you are suddenly in the business of repairing vehicles. You’ve taken on the liability associated with transportation. The repairs you make to your vehicles better be good and inspections done properly. If something goes wrong while a truck is on the road, you’re on the hook.
So, extra liability is a huge and immediate problem for most companies considering taking their repairs in-house.
Next problem: hiring.
The tech shortage continues. What makes you think you’ll be able to attract and keep top-notch technicians? If you’re just starting your in-house operation up, then everything about it is new. You’ve got no background as a good employer of technicians.
If you’re running a large corporation with a ton of infrastructure, Chris allows, you may be able to provide better wages and benefits than the mom-and-pop repair shop down the road. Techs may also be drawn to a standardized fleet, which can lead to more streamlined work. “If you’ve got a bunch of Freightliners, for example…when you start seeing the same exact stuff, the repairs get easier. The repairs get predictable.”
(You want predictable repairs!)
Are you uneasy about bringing all your liability in-house with your fleet? Is the idea of hiring excellent technicians from a shrinking pool making your knees knock?
What if you already have your repair work in-house, but you kind of want to look at outsourcing it to a repair shop?
We cover that, too. Read on.
SHOULD YOU LOOK AT OUTSOURCING YOUR REPAIRS?
There are some additional advantages to outsourcing your repairs.
We already talked about the liability issues associated with bringing or keeping your repairs in-house. The inverse, of course, is allowing someone else to assume that liability. Partnering with a repair shop and getting the right contracts in order leaves them on the hook if something goes wrong—not you.
Another substantial benefit to outsourcing is the often steep reduction in costs and infrastructure. If we follow the equation presented by Chase Bowman of AM PM Diesel (as seen in this webinar), you need one technician for every 23 pieces of equipment. Let’s say you’ve got a fleet of 500 trucks. That works out to 21.7 techs…and since we’re not about chopping people in half, we’ll round up to 22.
Those techs need bays to work in (which probably equates to more cheddar spent on land and buildings for you). They need wages, benefits, PTO, training, all that important stuff. If you’re part of a huge company, you may well have the dough, but what about building out the infrastructure? That’ll take time and expertise you don’t necessarily have.
That’s not to say that every single independent repair shop out there has 20 techs waiting to take on your fleet. But they do know the industry, and they’ll be able to scale up to meet your demands—basically taking that load off your shoulders.
But of course, nothing is perfect. Outsourcing does have its issues.
THE DRAWBACKS OF OUTSOURCING REPAIR WORK
It probably sounds like we’re on the outsourcing bandwagon, doesn’t it? There is a lot to like about that model—but there are some disadvantages that come along with it, too.
Primary among them is communication. If you’ve got an in-house repair shop, figuring out what’s going on is pretty easy: You walk downstairs, tap someone on the shoulder, and go, “Hey bro, slow or fast zombies?”
(Editor’s Note: Suz, I swear…)
Okay, sorry. You tap someone on the shoulder and go, “Hey, what’s the status on that turbo rebuild?”
They either tell you, or it’s fairly easy to find out, because it’s all going on under your roof.
Compare that to work going on in a repair shop far, far away (or even down the street). You are a customer to them. Ideally, they’ll be eager to stay in touch and keep you in the loop, but…well…look, Fullbay’s Customer Portal isn’t insanely popular because so many shops were absolute communication wizards before we arrived on the scene.
If you team up with a shop (or shops) that have questionable communication skills, all that time and energy and money saved by outsourcing might end up being canceled out as you chase down updates day and night.
Outsourcing also requires you to surrender quality control, and that’s a scary thought for a lot of fleets. Yes, you’re hiring experts to handle your maintenance and repairs. You’ve got to be able to trust them. Once you hand those vehicles over, well, it’s in someone else’s hands. If you’re outsourcing your work, that’s something you need to get comfortable with.
ON SECOND THOUGHT, MAYBE I SHOULD KEEP THINGS IN-HOUSE…
We aren’t in the business of telling operators what to do with their fleets. We’re just here to provide information (and maybe a chuckle or two) and help you reach a conclusion on your own. Outsourcing your maintenance and repair work is a big decision—and it’s not one you should make without considering the inverse.
In our next article, we’re going to focus on the benefits of keeping your repair work in-house. And yes, there are plenty of benefits!
We’ll see you on the other side. In the meantime, keep calm and keep truckin’ on.