Although scaffolding is often referred to as a service industry, it is also an asset based industry. In fact, a company’s rental fleet is usually its largest asset, often valued into the millions or tens of millions. Protecting this asset should be one of the highest priorities of any company in the scaffold business.
The equipment in a rental fleet is typically called inventory, although technically it is a fixed asset, one that is depreciated just like a truck or a forklift. Strictly speaking, the term inventory refers to new equipment that is held for re-sale and has not been put into rental service.
Here are a few important practices that can help protect your rental equipment:
Use a tested and proven software package for inventory tracking control, rentals, and returns. There are several systems on the market that can give you daily reports on what’s in your yard, and what's in the field being used on a job. Without such a system, it’s almost impossible to keep tabs on your rental fleet.
Take an annual equipment count. It really isn’t necessary to count every last pin, clamp, or bracket. A ‘coverage count’ that focuses on your major items – frames, braces, plank, verticals, horizontals, screw-jacks, ladders, trusses, etc. – is probably enough to ensure you aren’t losing equipment, but try to count enough of your fleet so as to cover at least 75% of its total value. Use two person counting teams, consisting of one yard/crew member and one office/admin member, and assign each team to an area of your yard or warehouse. Your software system will give you equipment counts by job site, but select a few to count by hand to verify the accuracy of your system.
Do a weekly cycle count. Once a week, pick an item from your rental fleet – a 5’ masonry frame, a 7’ horizontal, a 7x4 cross brace – and count what you have in your yard. Then compare it to what your system says you should have. This procedure usually takes less than an hour of your yard or operations manager’s time, and often helps you discover shortages long before discovering a loss in your annual inventory count. Tracking down the source of any imbalance will help you identify gaps in your rentals and returns procedures.
Have a strict policy of accurately counting equipment going out and coming back, especially on your E&D (erection and dismantle) jobs. This usually isn’t a problem with bare rentals, but E&D jobs, where your own crews are moving equipment from your yard to the job site and back, are more difficult to control. One of the major sources of equipment loss is allowing crews to load their own trucks for the day’s work, without receiving an accurate load list from them. Counting the equipment they bring back from the job site every day is equally important.
Designate an area for equipment returns. When equipment comes back to your yard, it is almost never counted or bundled. Don’t simply off load a truck in the middle of the yard; chances are it will be put back into your inventory before it’s counted and you won’t be able to identify any shortages. Direct all returns to an area of your yard where you can off load, count, re-bundle, and band it before returning it to inventory.
Bundle your equipment in standard quantities. I’ve often heard from branch managers that counting equipment is too difficult and time consuming. That’s true only when yards are disorganized and equipment is randomly bundled or stacked. But when equipment is racked, bundled, and banded in standard quantities (25 frames, 50 cross-braces, 100 horizontals, etc.) it is easy to count equipment leaving the yard.
Don't let it walk away. It is also important to remember to store certain types of equipment inside, or at least under cover. Aluminum decks, wood plank, swing motors, wire rope, and anything that tends to deteriorate or attract thieves, should be protected.
Disciplined inventory management is absolutely critical in the scaffolding industry, and a necessary step towards improving your business.