The first year of fleet: A career-changer

By Drew Bergenthal, fleet specialist, Forest Preserve District of DuPage County

This article was published in the October 2016 edition of NTEA News.

This month’s column offers perspective from an individual who changed his career to enter the fleet community. Drew Bergenthal spent 23 years in private and government sectors of environmental consulting, waste management and site remediation. He joined the fleet profession in August 2015 and is sharing observations from his first year in the industry.

Coming from outside the fleet sector, learning and absorbing as much information as possible is crucial. It’s beneficial when upfitters and manufacturer representatives take time to explain configuration issues that may cause future complications. Also, vendors who detail specific preventative maintenance requirements help reduce the downtime and overall costs associated with specific equipment.

Preferred vendors
Preferred vendors and contractors have a good understanding of new technologies and how they relate to current (and older) systems to ensure compatibility. Ideally, they can make sound recommendations regarding equipment life cycles (whether or not to keep older systems functioning with improvements or to upgrade).

When upfitting vehicles, there are several ways vendors make the job more efficient: 

  • Being familiar with exact make and model
  • Knowing their specific products and compatibility
  • Performing work correctly and with attention to detail

Hidden challenges
It’s easy to underestimate the challenges of putting together vehicle specifications. Without an automotive and technical background, it can be difficult to navigate necessary items and available options. Additionally, several layers of internal staff involvement may be required to get the job done. Sources of information can come from other agencies, as well as trade organizations.     

Specifying equipment is not as easy as picking something out of a catalog — as, many times, one size does not fit all. Vendors who try to sell unnecessary extras create additional complications. On the other hand, those who know the type of work the equipment is intended to perform and associated operating conditions, can reduce end users’ costs as well as create future business relationships.

Along with first-year growing pains, certain situations and behavior can become counterproductive. It’s always wise to treat others fairly, even if they are new to the job. Also, avoid false follow-up or soliciting sales but failing to submit bids and proposals when requested.

Lessons learned
Being new to the fleet industry, I find it’s important to keep growing my knowledge base. With any job, there is always change — whether it’s new technology, different body styles or recent regulations. Another path to success is to consult others, ask questions and apply their input to specific situations. New fleet professionals can help vendors by explaining their capabilities, enabling them to gauge when a more thorough explanation is needed.

Sounding off
It’s important to understand audience, avoid making assumptions and be proactive about learning fleet customers’ internal workings and needs. Taking a little extra time to fully understand who you are working with can go a long way toward building relationships that can turn into long-term business ventures.

Drew Bergenthal, fleet specialist, supports the fleet for Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, which has 177 vehicles and more than 1,200 pieces of equipment. They are an alternative fueled Illinois Green Fleet that utilizes propane autogas, compressed natural gas, ethanol and biodiesel. The district supports more than 25,000 acres of green space, including 145 miles of trails, 105 parking lots and 266 acres of mowed areas.