Saving Money, Seeing Big Gains after Starting from Scratch

By Frank Raczon, Senior Editor | August 24, 2016
NPL Construction

Neil Holladay, regional fleet manager for NPL Construction since January 2013, brings a customer service philosophy to his work, developed during his time in product support for an OEM dealer, and even as a “custom track service” specialist who spent day after day measuring undercarriages.

“I was putting together wear reports, and eventually they let me quote some undercarriage work, and after that, I got into product support,” Holladay says.

This is another in a series of profiles highlighting some of our Under 40 in Construction Equipment Award winners. These young people, all under the age of 40 at the end of the year in which they were nominated, represent exciting potential for the industry. Nominations for the 2018 Under 40 in Construction Equipment have closed.

“It wasn’t as mundane, but it’s how I started to learn. I recommend that to anybody; if you can get on the product support side, you can start to learn every facet of the technical business,” he says. “You learn the day-to-day challenges, getting to the mechanics’ level—what they get upset about, what they don’t. I wasn’t much of a technical guy before I got into product support, and it was a good way to learn about equipment.”

The from-the-ground-up approach naturally led to equipment sales, and more lessons. “When I started selling, that’s when I started learning about all the different leasing programs, purchasing habits, and depreciation schedules,” Holladay says.

NPL is a pipeline and HDD contractor based in Phoenix, Ariz., that works in over 25 different states. Holladay, based in Rockdale, Ill., supports operations in Illinois, Minnesota, Texas, and Pennsylvania. His fleet contains around 500 pieces of heavy equipment and close to 1,000 on-highway vehicles.

NPL’s centrally led Fleet Operations Department was created in 2013.

Previously, other than vehicle and equipment standards and procurement, local Area leadership (NPL’s parlance for Operations personnel at job sites in the field) made decisions regarding maintenance, utilization, and disposal of the assets, as well as having to deal with licensing, permits, and various other tasks related to Fleet Administration.

Now that Regional Fleet Support is in place, it’s a whole new ballgame for Operations personnel in the field. Being in on the ground floor of this structure was something that excited Holladay and has played into his skill set. He anticipated the field’s needs and thoughts, and has made customer service a priority.

“When I came aboard as a regional fleet manager, I was looked at as a Corporate employee from a new department,” Holladay says. “We look at ourselves as a customer service department for our Operations teams and their day-to-day ground work. We work with the purchasing, the disposals, and all the repairs now. We took that responsibility off of them and it became ours.

“One of the hurdles would have been getting Operations behind [the new structure]. You’re coming out of the corporate office and working with the areas that have been used to making their own decisions. You have to work with them—they had to trust you because you’re a new entity.”

Harkening back to his dealer days, Holladay built bridges with his area personnel, in part, so the region could use telematics to measure and report on items like fuel tracking, idling, and driver behavior. Changes, or programs, as Holladay calls them, could then be put into effect.

“Heavy equipment-wise, we try to stick with the manufacturers’ telematics,” Holladay says. “We’re very heavy populated with John Deere, probably 80 percent of our fleet, so we’re on JDLink. There’s maybe 20 percent Caterpillar. On our on-highway side, we’ve teamed up with Telogis.”

One of the first targets was fuel. “How are we utilizing it? How are we capturing the tax breaks, and what’s our idling look like? We didn’t have those overall numbers before we came in[with this structure], every area did it themselves,” Holladay says.

There was some suspicion in the field about telematics.

“They thought we were going to babysit them,” Holladay says. “Not so. We just want to ensure our operators and drivers treat the piece of machinery or on-highway piece the way it’s supposed to be treated, because it affects our fuel, our maintenance costs, and our uptime.”

Holladay established a driver efficiency report that contains 5 KPIs (such as excessive speeding, excessive hard braking) that are considered together for a score. “We’ve implemented a program that has seen driver behavior and efficiency climb from about 58 percent to almost 95 percent,” he says.

As co-chair of NPL’s Fleet Sustainability Committee, Holladay created an idle-reduction program that has also led to big improvements.

“We created an educational program instead of policy, instead of dictating what they do, because you’re using heavy equipment and who knows if that piece is hoisting a pipe and has to sit still?” Holladay says.

“So let’s ask people to shut their trucks off. Instead of investing in automatic shutoffs for our trucks, we just created signs,” he says. “We educated and saturated. Every time they turn around, they see something on idling.” Educational pieces, developed in conjunction with the Clean Cities organization, were also used.

The saturation approach has worked. The numbers were over 40 percent nonproductive idle time just two years ago. “Our goal is to keep it down to 20 percent,” Holladay says. “Overall, through the company, since we’ve started our idle-reduction program, we’ve got nonproductive idle down to the low 20s. We’ve seen a couple hundred thousand dollars in reduction in fuel costs per year just because of that program.

“It’s fun to report [telematics data] to the field,” Holladay says. “They say ‘I’m going to do what I have to do to get the job done.’ But what they haven’t recognized is that subconsciously, they must have been making the changes, because the numbers month-over-month have shown more efficiency.

“The KPIs have all improved dramatically, and that’s really been the best part of these programs,” he says. “I was an advertising major and one of the last steps of effective advertising is, and I may not have the term right, but it’s almost irritation, annoyance—they’ve seen something so much—that it sits with them and they remember it.”

Holladay relishes the fact that he had an opportunity to start programs from virtually nothing three-and-a-half years ago.

“It’s been a fun experience,” he says. ”I’ve never truly been able to start something from ground zero to get the kinds of results we get today. I’ve always come into jobs with practices that had already been established. We’re developing our own measurements and programs, and the telematics program is implemented to the point that we’re fine-tuning things to make sure the information is as accurate as possible.”

But none of it would be possible without buy-in from the field, which takes the loquacious Holladay back to his beginnings—relationships.

“Create the relationships. You have to have those relationships with people in the field. You may well be able to call someone by name, but do you really know them? It’s as simple as walking out to the field and shaking somebody’s hand and asking them, ‘How’s everything working?’ If you haven’t been out there, you truly don’t have an understanding of what the field needs.

“To put your face out there, I think, is the key to success and the understanding of our business,” he says.

“One of my favorite sayings is, ‘I’ve got a guy.’ I want every operator and driver in my region to be able to say the same when it comes to their Fleet or equipment needs.”