Mobile solutions that are put in place to solve a specific problem oftentimes end up evolving into indispensible business tools.
Such was the case for Friend Tire, a 42-year-old tire wholesaler that has eight office locations and serves 22 states. The company initially sought a mobile resource management system that would help it deal with a spate of truck thefts.
"We were having real problems in the early 2000s with our delivery trucks being stolen," says Jim Schmidt, Friend Tire's driver supervisor. "We'd eventually recover the trucks, but by then they'd have been relieved of their merchandise."
In mid-2005, Friend Tire chose the Vericom VeriVision mobile resource management solution, which uses GPS-enabled devices communicating via the AT&T cellular network. The system, now installed in more than 80 vehicles, provides real-time data including location, travel speeds, and emissions times. The data are collated into reports that Vericom provides to its customers via the Web, which can be downloaded into a variety of applications, including payroll or spreadsheets.
"We implemented it to resolve theft, but it evolved into an important tool," says Schmidt.
The system has enabled Friend Tire to:
- track and recover stolen vehicles;
- improve customer service by letting them know a driver's whereabouts;
- track the time drivers spend at each delivery stop;
- exonerate drivers in accident disputes; and
- make it easier for drivers to check-in after hours.
Two thefts happened shortly after the VeriVision boxes were installed. Schmidt was able to go to the Vericom Web site and find the location of the stolen vehicles. Local police were notified and used the information provided by Friend Tire to track the vehicles. The first truck was recovered before the merchandise was even removed. The second involved a police chase complete with a helicopter before the thieves were apprehended.
These two cases alone saved nearly $70,000 in merchandise, not to mention the cost of replacing the vehicles.
But Friend Tire is using the solution for a variety of other purposes. "It helps with routing," says Schmidt. "We can tell where the driver is and let him know if we receive road alerts or traffic reports. If the driver's running behind, we can let the customer know where he's at in as little as three to four minutes."
Drivers see anywhere from 12-30 customers per day. "We really tightened up our stop times," says Schmidt. "My drivers average seven to 10 minutes per delivery stop."
The solution has even helped resolve accident cases. In two cases in 2007, the company used the system to review the speed of its drivers at the time of the accident and determined that they weren't at fault.
The bottom line? "It saves us a lot of money," says Schmidt.
Schmidt and his fleet manager travelled to each Friend Tire branch office and installed the devices themselves into a fleet that includes both long-haul and day-run trucks. The biggest installation challenge was dealing with a lack of access ports in the various vehicles the company owns or leases. "The new trucks have fewer and fewer access ports," says Schmidt. "We needed an access port that wasn't visible."
Vehicle tracking systems "seem to be the direction everybody's going," says Schmidt. "If you don't have a tracking system in your vehicles, you're behind the times. They're cheaper and more affordable [than ever] and it saves you a lot of money in the long run."