Upfitting Your Fleet

It’s a Saturday afternoon and the neighborhood gang is standing in the alleyway talking about their sweet rides. They discuss beefed-up exhaust systems, killer new rims and any number of other light truck add-ons. Everyone turns to the contractor of the group as he explains the new interior shelving and curbside cargo door he just had installed on his Sprinter van. After a moment of blank stares and a few chuckles, he tells them that he’s not talking about a bunch of flashy chrome parts on a weekend pickup. He’s talking about upfitting his truck.

Vehicle upfitting can entail many things. With vans, it can include anything from people getting van interiors as far as shelving units in the back of their van, or a bulkhead that separates the cab of the van from the load-bed area. In the world of pickup trucks, upfitting usually constitutes putting in toolboxes, storage drawers and warning lights.

Upfitting is something to be considered. It creates better organization, increase safety and can save companies money in the long run by addressing the first two issues, making it a good investment.

“When you look at ladder racks, there’s definitely a safety issue,” explains Paul Barber, shop foreman for Diversified Fleet Services of Naperville, Ill. “You don’t want a guy hurting his back messing around with a ladder. Sure an ergonomic ladder rack can be a bit pricey, but to have a guy off with a bad back can be extremely expensive. So that tends to be why people are willing to spend money on these types of things. People are not afraid to spend the money now to save them money down the road.”

If a contractor has tools, products and parts that he needs to have with him, he should look at upfitting his vehicle. That way, instead of just throwing these items in the back of the vehicle, then getting to a jobsite and not being able to find anything, an upfitted vehicle gives him the opportunity to organize all of his equipment and tools and actually saves him a lot of time when he gets to a jobsite. That is, of course, if he keeps his truck organized.

One point about upfitting products is that its purpose is not only for organization, but also for security and durability. Because tools are getting more expensive, a remodeler wants to make sure that tools are well protected and a lot of contractors want a quality product that will protect them.

“With Weather Guard we basically sell security,” says Mike Sover, senior product manager for Weather Guard. “I think that’s what a contractor wants nowadays from that standpoint and a lot of these products are secure. Contractors are buying more expensive tools and $1,000 laser levels that they have to hall around. They want to make sure that when these tools are in those boxes they are protected.”

Where to begin

“There are a lot of organizations and construction-type companies that approach our fleet sales people, letting them know that they have multiple vehicles that they need upfitting,” explains Sover. “They want to know what would be the best package for them and what will work with their particular fleet. Again it depends on what their application is and what their overall job responsibilities are.

When we’re talking to the end users, we need to ask them certain questions first,” says Sover. “We want to find out what exactly they’re going to be hauling around to really set them up with the right type of equipment that will work for them.”

There are several questions people considering vehicle upfitting should ask themselves before rushing in and getting their truck upfitted.

  • What is your application?
  • What is your primary business?
  • What types of products are you expecting to haul around and take to the jobsite?

If a contractor has an extension ladder he needs to take to the jobsite everyday, then he needs to make sure he has a ladder rack on there. If he is going to haul around a lot of power tools and parts then he’ll probably need a saddle box and pack rat to be successful at the job.

“What I do, because upfitting a vehicle is kind of an individual thing, is I sit down with customers and find out what kind of business they’re in,” says Barber. “Whether they’re plumbers, masons or contractors, I find out what their normal jobsite is like. Are they residential? Are they new construction? Then I put it back on them. What do you need and want if you could have everything? There’s so much that they can have done, so we start with that, and after that we’ll go to a monetary level. What do you have to do when you get to your customer? We go from there and work off of that.”

Sometimes companies will go to a truck upfitter with just a cab and a chassis. The upfitters will put on a service body so that a crew can go out and have a load bed area, drawers and shelves to keep it all together and know where it’s all at.

“The type of outfit that a person requires depends on his type of job,” explains Sover. “You need to figure out what he’s doing for a living. Is it primarily carpentry, electrical, siding or is he a general contractor? Each one of these people would have different types of requirements for boxes. Let’s say you’re a plumber. You would have a saddle box in the truck and another unit we call a pack rat which sits on the bed of the truck that has pullout drawers. That way if he has a lot of pipefitting and small little pieces, it would be set up for his particular needs.”

Storage possibilities

Knaack Manufacturing makes the Weather Guard line of truck boxes that includes multiple sizes. Saddle boxes fit across the bed of the truck and rest on the bed rail itself. It also carries side boxes that accompany the saddle box to give additional storage for the end user depending on the contractor and what he’s doing.

Another fit for the remodeler would be one of Weather Guard’s ladder racks that are compatible with its truck boxes. This compatibility allows a ladder rack and truck boxes to be used in conjunction on any particular vehicle at the same time for the general contractor going to the job everyday.

Knaack’s most popular upfitting products would be its line of Weather Guard saddle boxes, one of its core products. Because of this, it takes a lot of time and effort to make sure they are compatible with all the different models and years of trucks out there.

There are also other storage box solutions. A high-side box is designed to carry more tools by freeing up the storage space in a cargo bed and rides on top of the bedrails. There are underbed boxes that, like their name suggest, mounts under the cargo bed. These are found primarily under flatbed, platform or dump truck bodies. The pork chop box rests over the wheel well on one side and has a larger end that rests toward the back of the truck.

Lo-side truck boxes provide easy access to hand-held saws, power drills, tool belts, hammers and other tools, while keeping the bed of your truck clear for larger items. Lo-side boxes can be used separately or in combination with cross boxes or saddle boxes and come in different sizes and styles.

There are a lot of storage products out there for upfitting a vehicle. Some suggestions of companies to begin looking at would be Better Built, which is a division of Daw’s Manufacturing, Adrian Steel, Delta Consolidated Industries and Snap-On. For instance Adrian Steel aluminum boxes have new and improved push- button locks, security and an improved toolbox tray that is removable and stays on track.

Diversified Fleet Services uses Weather Guard equipment for its van interiors, which is the shelving units and bulkheads, drawers and hooks. It also uses Weather Guard for the majority of the toolboxes that it sells for pickup trucks, whether they’re cross mount or side mount. As far as service bodies, dump bodies or flat beds, Diversified Fleet Services turns to Knapheide Manufacturing for steel and installs BFX in 90 percent of the fiberglass bodies it puts together.

Light it up

Another big trend in the truck and van upfitting market is safety lighting. Again it really depends on what the individual prefers for his setup, but things are looking a little brighter around the jobsite.

“What is really big in our part of the market is that people are all willing and looking to get nonemergency hazard lighting,” says Barber. “They want some sort of amber lighting on their vehicle for a safety standpoint. Whether it is just a little strobe on top, a safety director with flashing arrows, or a corner strobe system that fits right into their existing lights, lighting tends to be one of the first things right off the bat. They’ll ask us if we do that.”

For lighting systems, Diversified Fleet Services suggests using Federal Signal or Echo products. If it’s nonemergency lighting, then it should be amber lighting, which is the law in many places.

Continued improvement

As long as the housing and remodeling market remains strong, there will always be a need for an upfitted truck. People have to get to work everyday, they have to bring their tools, and they need a place to store them.

Knaack continues to strive to be the innovative leader in the industry for truck upfitting needs. It spends a lot of time doing research, talking and visiting to end users in order to meet their requirements and needs.

“Everybody has unique ideas,” says Sover. “One thing we do here is have a section on our Web site, so that if someone has a new product idea, they can send it to us and we’ll take a look at it. If one person in a particular industry has a need for something, it’s our job to go out there and see if there is a general need across the industry for something like that. We would actually do a little bit of research to determine what new products and ideas have merit to explore different opportunities. We spend a lot of time on research because we are trying to give the end user as many features and benefits on these products as we can.”

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