THE MAGAZINE FOR PROFESSIONALS

Your ride, your way:

by Brian Sodoma

AdrianSteelladder rack in operationOver time, every paint pro develops his or her own unique habits. Maybe it’s an affinity for a particular brush or roller, or perhaps a demand to put tools and materials in certain easy-to- reach spots on a work vehicle. That said, it helps when a vehicle is built out to anticipate a pro’s natural tendencies.

That well-placed, functional ladder rack could help employees avoid injuries and save time, and the right shelves, bins and partitions may keep crews organized and working rather than wasting valuable time looking for tools and supplies. Many options are available for upfitting a work vehicle; here are a few factors to keep in mind when customizing your own vehicle.

TOP DOWN

Keeping track of compressor hoses and staying balanced on a ladder while 20′ up or more—all while delivering an even spray—is an art form in and of itself. But few things are more annoying to a painting professional than getting that ladder off a clumsy old rack and having to bungee or tie it back into place at the end of the day. Don’t skimp on the ladder rack, says Todd Goldmeyer, marketing manager for Adrian Steel, a manufacturer of van and truck cargo-management solutions.

Adrian Steel’s drop-down racks, built for van roofs, allow a painter to pull the ladder down to a more comfortable height for carrying. And their GripLock rack is designed to safely secure and lock a ladder in place, minimizing concerns of a ladder sliding off while driving. The company also sells convenient interior racks to secure and keep small 4′ and 6′ stepladders out of the weather, which could help with customer service efforts. “There’s nothing worse than going into a business or home with a dirty ladder,” Goldmeyer added.

SHELVING AND DURABILITY

There can be a lot of questions to answer when looking for the right shelving system that fits your needs. Do you need doors on the shelves? And what about sizing? Custom shelves, large or small—to fit gallon jugs, caulk tubes, and other small or unique tools—are all available. However, pay attention to shelf weight ratings, adds Brad Anderson, a regional sales manager for Ranger Design, Inc., another manufacturer of van- and truck-customization equipment.

Standard shelving can only hold between 30 and 40 pounds per linear foot, Anderson cautioned, which may not be enough for a painter carrying heavy loads and numerous five-gallon buckets on bumpy roads. Ranger carries shelving units rated at 60 pounds per linear foot, which could help a pro avoid big problems.

“One of the major issues is having the shelves rip out of the wall of the vehicle. Not only have you wrecked the shelving, but you’ve wrecked the side of the vehicle,” Anderson explained.

With the trend toward lighter, aluminum shelves, durability is a prime topic heard by Element Fleet Management’s manager of truck excellence, Spero Skarlatos. Skarlatos also pays attention to the coatings found on interior shelves. In some cases, solvents, moisture, and certain tools a tradesman uses can pose problems for shelf coatings, and corrosion can occur, he added.

“This is not only a huge issue for life cycle (of the shelves) but for fleet visibility and your place in the market. You don’t want your trucks on the road to have rust streaks. Obviously, these are expensive assets, and their protective coatings have to be able to meet these demands,” he said.

CONFIGURATIONS

There are many shelving configurations available to contractors. Whether it’s durable fold-away shelves, bins, custom drawers or other options, you can get exactly what you need, adds Mike McTamney, marketing coordinator for American Van Equipment, Inc., another manufacturer of custom upfitting equipment that sells direct to consumers.

Introduced in 2014, the company’s ‘Shop By Vehicle’ web site tool has become a go-to starting point for many contractors. Just click on a specific truck or van to view many different categories of equipment for that vehicle. Another section on its web site has pre-configured van packages for each model. Each design can be purchased through the web site or used to help give a contractor upfit ideas.

“They can either buy the packages as we have built them, call our customer service team to configure a van package to their wants and needs, or they can stop in and meet with one of our customer service agents to view everything in our showroom and to schedule an upfit,” McTamney said.

Anderson recommends starting with online research, but visiting a showroom can help, too.

“Take the time to understand the options on the market and what makes the difference between a cheap knock-off and a well-engineered product,” he said. “You will be working with them for a number of years so spending that extra time is really worth it. We do see people mixing and matching the best products from two or three manufacturers to get the ideal package for their needs.”

MORE RESEARCH, PLANNING

Before customizing your vehicle, experts also suggest you solicit input from crews. Beyond crews, seek outside opinions, too, Anderson adds. A crew member may be able to speak to a frustration of how a vehicle is currently configured but may not know how to articulate the best option to solve it.

“You can get a lot of benefit from talking to an experienced outfitter, but they too are often fairly influenced by their own experiences,” Anderson noted. “Manufacturers bring the best cross section of knowledge. The sales reps generally have a lot of experience. They’ve seen a wide range of options and know their products. It’s especially helpful if you can get them to do a ride-along with techs [pros] for a day to see how the vehicle is used and also which tools are used most often.”

As an outside consultant, Skarlatos and his team enjoy their share of ride-alongs with Element Fleet Management employees.

“We find that individuals involved with the fleet will speak more freely to someone outside the company who is not a direct supervisor,” he added.

Skarlatos has also found that many contractors and employees often look for ergonomic solutions to minimize employee injuries and maximize safety. Some look to reduce the number of trips crew members make in and out of the vehicle, both for safety and efficiency. They’ll look at elements like step height, too, for getting in and out of the vehicle, and some will even look for solutions to help workers access interior shelves from the exterior of the vehicle to reduce the number of times a tradesman needs to step into the vehicle.

RIGHT SIZING, EUROPEAN-STYLE VANS

Skarlatos also sees contractors and their fleet managers looking to ‘right-size’ vehicles. Generally speaking, most business owners are looking for ways to make vehicles lighter and more fuel efficient, he explained, and there’s even a willingness to sacrifice some interior space to do it. This trend drives the popularity of smaller European-style van models like the Ram ProMaster, Ford Transit, and Nissan NV200, he added.

These smaller vans also satisfy some ergonomic needs with plenty of driver cabin space and comfort, and the cabins are high enough to see the road well but low enough for a lower step into the vehicle. Skarlatos expects a continued phasing out of larger, less-fuel-efficient and bulky van styles.

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