Your road map to success: writing a business plan

John McCorkhill, Jr., CFM, CAFM, CEM
Director of Fleet Services
City of Lynchburg, Virginia
Member, APWA Fleet Services Committee

As I write this article I am in the midst of my 25th year in fleet management with all of the time spent in the municipal setting. I've seen considerable change over the quarter of a century basically all for the good of municipal fleet management:

  • We were formerly known as the city garage. Today we describe our operations as a fleet or equipment management concern and in many cases we carry the word "department" at the end of our agency's name.

  • The personnel who repair the equipment are more often than not called technicians instead of mechanics or grease monkeys although the vast majority of them are still of the male gender.

  • If you kept data at all, it generally was batched together at the end of the day and sent to a central keypunching operation for entering into the computer after which only a very limited number of reports could be generated for management review.

Our repair facilities were often abandoned warehouses, horse barns, or in my case in Indianapolis, a former McCormick tractor operation center!

  The Fleet Services Facility in Lynchburg, Virginia

Our operations generally fixed what we were told to repair with no questions asked. We fought fires rather than do our part to prevent them, and planning and operational reports were scarce or nonexistent.

Fleet operations today have come a long way and the most significant change I've seen is the level of professionalism possessed by today's fleet manager. Planning has become a mainstay of the fleet operation and the successful organizations have used business and strategic plans as tools for this success. To quote Pam Nelson of CCG Systems: "A plan forces strategic, proactive thinking, appropriate allocation of resources, and a way to communicate to all stakeholders that Fleet knows what it is doing."

This article discusses fleet business plans in general, the genesis of how a plan is developed, and what bullet points are to be included. Formats may differ somewhat but the overall content is basically the same. For illustration I will use the City of Lynchburg Fleet Services business plan as a model.

Introduction. The introduction is an opening statement that introduces your operation, briefly discusses the purpose of the document and its structure. Included in this section should be the name of the writer and pertinent contact information such as address, phone number and e-mail address.

Overall Description of Business. Describe what your operation does and where it falls within the structure of your government unit. For example, most fleet agencies are responsible for the procurement of new equipment; repair and maintenance procedures; parts management; refueling functions; recordkeeping; and disposal of used assets.

Executive Summary. The Lynchburg business plan includes the following subsections under the Executive Summary:

  • History and background of our organization: In our case the fleet department was formed after an external audit was completed that brought about total fleet consolidation in the city.

  • Description of current organization: Under this section should be listed information about your facilities such as location and address; fleet size; age of fleet; staff information; and current fiscal year budget in a consolidated manner. Additional statistical information can be added as desired as well as information about recent achievements.

  • Physical properties: This section will detail information about the age and condition of your repair facilities, fuel sites, fleet and fuel management systems, and other facts and figures that help describe your operation's assets.

  • Current labor situation: Spend time here talking about your staff, their capabilities, certifications, and any dilemmas you currently may be facing in finding qualified technicians or being able to pay them a competitive wage.

Background of Industry. This section delves into details about the automotive industry in general, trends and changes in the industry, technological advancements in vehicles and the equipment used to service vehicles, etc. The Lynchburg business plan also makes reference to who our competitors are and the possibility of partial or total outsourcing.

Mission, Vision, Values and Goals. Under this section state your mission statement, vision, key values and ongoing goals.

Strengths and Weaknesses. This is also better known as the SWOT section:

  • S - STRENGTHS (e.g., strong vehicle replacement program)
  • W - WEAKNESSES (e.g., shortage of qualified technicians)
  • O - OPPORTUNITIES (e.g., ability to offer your services to other government agencies in the area)
  • T - THREATS (e.g., uncontrollable fuel prices and possibility of fuel shortages)

List 3-5 of each and include all your employees in the brainstorming exercise to derive at the list.

  A City of Lynchburg Fleet Services dump truck

Financial and Informational Reports. Attach to the document sample reports such as spending reports, vehicle inventory reports, fuel consumption information, expenditures for new fleet assets, copies of customer surveys, budget information and an organization chart to name a few. This section should also list key goals for the current fiscal year and any new strategic initiatives.

Preparing a business plan will demonstrate the professionalism of your operation. Sharing it with upper management and your customers helps to educate them that you have a plan in place to help your agency demonstrate efficiency, cost effectiveness and high accountability. Furthermore, it will demonstrate to the government agencies you work for how your operation will contribute to their overall priorities.

John McCorkhill, Jr., will be co-conducting the APWA Public Fleet Management Workshop in St. Louis on August 22-24, 2007. He will also present an educational session entitled "Going Once, Going Twice - Selling Fleet Assets Online" (Sept. 10 at 3:00 p.m.) at the APWA Congress in San Antonio. He can be reached at (434) 455-4429 or john.mccorkhill@lynchburgva.gov.