Transforming Your Mobile Workforce with MRM

By  William Atkinson — May 05, 2011

AFR Furniture Rental is the third largest independently-owned furniture rental company in the U.S. The company has been renting and delivering furniture, electronics, and housewares to events, individuals, corporate housing, relocation companies, and Fortune 500 companies since 1975. The company has 14 operations managers who coordinate pick-up, delivery, and return schedules among 12 showrooms, 14 distribution centers, four clearance centers, and numerous customer sites. The company guarantees delivery within two working days from the date a customer’s order is placed.

A large portion of AFR’s business is its event furnishings division which provides timely deliveries of furnishings to hotels and venues for weddings and other events. Often these deliveries and pick-ups happen during off hours. For example, if providing furnishings for a wedding at a venue, they must deliver and pick up during the venue’s allotted times. Many of these facilities have back-to-back events and must transform their event spaces from a meeting space to a wedding space in just two hours. AFR may deliver furnishings for an event in the morning and pick it up at midnight when the event is over.

The key to ensuring the entire delivery/pick-up process goes smoothly and in a timely manner? GeoManager, a GPS fleet productivity and management solution from Trimble Mobile Resource Management.

Before implementing GeoManager, the company’s dispatchers spent a lot of time either on the phone, paging delivery crews, or calling around to customer sites to find out if employees were there, so the dispatchers could contact them with schedule updates.

Since implementing GeoManager, when a customer service rep calls to check on the status of a delivery, a manager can pull up a map on the computer to find where a driver is and, within a matter of seconds, provide the customer service rep with an accurate time when their furnishings will arrive. “An extra benefit is that we don’t need to be in the office to do this,” explains Ed Tischler, an operations manager for AFR Furniture Rental. “We can be anyplace and access our GeoManager service.”

AFR Furniture Rental has been using the technology for between 15 and 20 years. “We happened to see it online, and then decided to try out a couple of demo units,” recalls Tischler. “We liked it immediately, because it provided us with updated information about where our trucks were. The system pinged the trucks every 15 minutes to provide us with their locations.” GeoManager has the capability to ping trucks as frequently as every three minutes.

Since implementing the technology, AFR Furniture Rental has been very happy with the service. “If we ever had a problem, we would send an e-mail, and they would respond to us within six to eight hours and help us troubleshoot the problem,” he states. “If there was an actual problem with a unit, someone would come out and service it within 24 hours.” These days, every AFR Furniture Rental truck is outfitted with a GeoManager unit. “And, every time we purchase a new truck, we order a unit to install,” adds Tischler.

Tischler sets up the GeoManager system each morning, then refreshes it every hour or so throughout the day, so he can keep track of where the trucks are.

One benefit has been an increase in productivity. “The equipment keeps guys honest,” he explains. “We know where they are all the time.” For example, if the system comes up “red,” it means that a driver has been at a stop for over an hour. “If this happens, we can call the driver and find out what’s going on,” he says.

There were also a couple of instances where drivers got finished early and decided to take regular roads back instead of taking the highway. “They were just trying to kill some time,” notes Tischler. Overall, the technology has helped the company cut overtime by about 40% just by monitoring truck location, and the fact that the drivers know they are being monitored.

Along the same lines, the technology has improved the routing and dispatching process. “In one instance, I punched up an address of where a truck was supposed to be,” he recalls. “When I looked at the map, I realized that the driver was actually a mile on the other side of the highway from the location, so he actually had to come back. I was able to track it and help him get to the point where he needed to be.”

Because the company can keep track of where its trucks are at all times, customer service has improved. “We can respond to customers more quickly to let them know when they can expect arrival,” he notes.

The technology has also led to some unexpected benefits. Every once in a while, a motorist claims that one of the company’s trucks has run into his car or kicked up a stone. “We would be able to look at the map and determine whether one of our trucks was actually in that area at the time of the incident,” Tischler states. “Typically, they usually were not. These would end up being instances where people would have their car damaged, and when they happened to see one of our trucks later on, they would claim that we caused it.” The system could provide proof that this was not the case.

Tischler’s recommendation? “I would definitely encourage other people to use [GeoManager],” he concludes. “Trimble also offers webinar classes to help people become familiar with it.”

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