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Vehicare Case Study

Vehicare’s Rapid Response to Covid-19 -- ingenuity, agility and a ‘can-do’ attitude to keep America moving


Amid the uncertainty of the COVID-19 Pandemic, business across the United States and the rest of the world faced unprecedented concerns. New challenges presented themselves, adding an element of instability to companies around the globe, who were met with the unique position to ensure the safety of both their employees and their customers. 

As the world has flattened and grown ever more reliant on fast-paced performance and adaptability, so too did Clarke Power Services, Inc. in the face of a global crisis. In the face of the panic, Clarke Power Services, Inc. were able to regroup and redeploy their services to ensure the satisfaction of their clients, but also to maintain the economic stability of the company, which in turn created job security for their employees.  

Rapid and Frugal Innovations in the COVID-19 Pandemic: Vehicare


Clarke Power Services Inc. has been an industry leader for more than half a century, having celebrated 55 years in the commercial vehicle service industry in 2019. Founded in 1964 in Cincinnati by Clarke F. Andreae as Clarke GM Diesel, today the company takes pride in its global presence as a multidivisional family of companies, led by CEO Kirk Andreae and his father, chairman Mark Andreae ’68. Clarke PSI’s Vehicare Fleet Solutions Division took on the challenge of helping its customers succeed when the Covid-19 pandemic threatened to bring critical transport by fleet carriers to a halt. They had to respond with real-time flexibility by coming up with rapid, cost-effective innovation.

Background

Vehicare provides full-service dedicated fleet maintenance on equipment ranging from forklifts and cars to 18-wheel tractor trailer units, and is the leading provider of on-site maintenance and repair for Class 4-8 commercial vehicles. Offering much more than a standard fleet repair shop, Vehicare is designed to integrate with its client’s operations so that fleets are kept as efficient as possible, while reducing disruptions in client daily schedules. To do this, Vehicare brings its maintenance expertise to clients, embedding on-site technicians at client sites. Vehicare also provides a network of 50-plus dedicated full-service locations and 30 retail locations to cover customers from coast to coast throughout the U.S. from Boston to Hawaii.
Vehicare’s data-driven strategies and services are another point of differentiation, with data analytics allowing for fleet planning and development years in advance, ensuring maximum equipment life cycles based on specific client usage.    
 

Boom! The novel coronavirus hits

In early March 2020, even before a state of emergency was declared in the United States due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, Clarke Power/Vehicare company leaders established a COVID-19 mitigation planning team. Lon Samford, vice president of Vehicare operations, realized that the stakes were high, and quickly developed a multi-phase plan focused on keeping employees and clients safe, minimizing supply chain disruptions and unemployment. 

Because the average Vehicare client fleet driver makes 15-20 delivery stops per day, the threat was real that the vehicles and human interactions involved in deliveries could spread the virus exponentially while also putting Vehicare employees and clients at added risk for illness and possible death. 


If multiple employees should become infected at any one client site or Vehicare branch, wide scale shutdowns could result, putting all workers at these locations into unemployment.


With the majority of the fleets serviced by Vehicare embedded in the food and beverage industry, the company knew that mitigating risk to its clients and employees would have the added benefit of reducing impact on food and beverage product availability to end-consumers in regions served.  

Springing to action

By March 11, Phase 1 of the plan was enacted, requiring all Vehicare employees to report their health daily and check their temperature before coming to work. On March 13, Phase 2 began with new procedures implemented to ensure that the vehicles that employees came in contact with were disinfected. While sanitizer was very hard to source at the time, the company had access to heavy duty cleaners designed for the automotive and trucking industry that were not widely known to the public. The protocol started with a simple wipe down of all vehicle touch points, including soaking ignition keys in alcohol. The seats, dash, door handles and steering wheel were sanitized before and after each repair. 

A few locations began using a large mosquito fogger to sanitize warehouse and shop repair areas daily. However, vehicles were only being fully disinfected if they came into the shop for other repairs, leaving 95% of the fleets they serviced unsanitized each week. It was critical that Vehicare find a way to efficiently sanitize a large number of units in a short amount of time. The goal? Sanitize 100 units in under four hours, using just two technicians at a time. 

Challenges and hesitations

The uniqueness of the circumstances made the challenges and questions substantial. Could Vehicare ensure that the sanitizing process and the chemicals used would keep employees and clients safe during and after the cleaning? Could measures be adopted to minimize risk to and apprehension of employees being asked to enter multiple pieces of equipment daily that had a high probability of being contaminated? Could the cleaning solution be sourced in a quantity that would allow servicing of clients nationwide? Could the company be certain the product would not damage fleet equipment? 

A breakthrough came when Clarke Power Services’ national safety director Kevin McClune was able to locate and help source a product not commonly known to the public. Searching the internet looking for alternative cleaning solutions that could protect employees, McClune found a product—sold as a mold inhibitor—that includes in bold print on the product label coronavirus among the list of viruses that it kills. The product was available at local hardware stores and easy to use, requiring no dilution into a mixed solution. 

Rapid new product/service development

Testing the application process was not an easy task. It meant creative use of personnel: regional managers and upper management teams, grounded by shelter-in-place orders, were enlisted to help. It also meant devising testing methods to be as scientific as possible, keeping variables to a minimum. Using the Oklahoma City location—the same location that had been using the mosquito fogger to sanitize the building and warehouse—Vehicare set up some basic parameters for tests in which results could be measured accurately. 

The first tests, which used the fogger to apply the product to clean the inside of a truck cab, did not go as well as hoped. The mixture was too thick and left a residue inside the cab that then needed to be cleaned by hand. Even after multiple tests and letting the unit sit for 30 minutes the truck had to be cleaned by hand before it could be put back into service. Lon Samford, vice president of Vehicare operations, began working with teams to find other solutions for turning the cleaning liquid into an aerosol that could be sprayed. 

Multiple types of equipment were tested over the span of a few days with similar results. After consulting with team members in the corporate materials department, the idea to use an automotive paint sprayer emerged. Samford immediately purchased two sprayers and began testing the process in his home garage, where he could see the results for himself in a controlled environment. 

Testing the application first on a large glass surface, he adjusted the flow rate and air pressure until he found the settings that allowed the chemicals to sit on the surface but not drip or run. This new process took a few days to validate. He tested it on multiple surfaces and sanitized his own truck, his son’s truck, and his wife’s car. He also tested it on some client vehicles that were located near his home in Arizona.

Confident the process was working well, Samford asked the Oklahoma City location to purchase similar equipment and do some testing to confirm his findings. After multiple successful tests, they stopped using the mosquito fogger to do the daily building disinfecting. The automotive sprayer worked much better, leaving less cleanup on the shop tools and equipment as well. 

On March 28, the Oklahoma team sent their data and case notes to corporate headquarters for final approval. It was cross checked by the legal team and approved by leadership in under a week. McClune and Samford began purchasing the cleaning product at local stores and shipping it to company locations that were unable to find any themselves. Soon after, the corporate procurement team was able to source the product for all shops as Vehicare expanded the project to multiple states. With incredible teamwork from employees empowered to innovate solutions—and some very long days and nights—the total testing process was completed in just a few weeks.

Impact  

The impact for customers was immediate. Vehicare implemented a large-scale sanitizing test at its New York City location, shifting focus foremost on the locations that were hardest hit by COVID-19. The test went so well that clients allowed their employees to bring in personal vehicles for sanitizing, in addition to the hundreds of fleet vehicles already scheduled. This process then expanded quickly, moving all the way to Hawaii locations within just a few weeks. 

By April 6, thorough cab cleanings and disinfections were initiated at all Vehicare locations. Detailed instructions were outlined about the sanitizing procedures to be followed and the personal protective equipment requirements for employees doing the cleaning. On May 4, Clarke/Vehicare implemented a 100% mask policy for employees while at work at Vehicare client sites or in any branch. In fact, McClune started producing masks from his home in early April and has shipped over 200 masks to team members. 

The impact for Vehicare and Clarke Power was positive. The disinfecting procedures gave employees a sense of relief and showed how committed the company leadership teams were to protecting employees and customers, and keeping America’s critical food and beverage supplies moving. Some Clarke retail branches were even able to expand business by providing COVID-19 cleaning services on city busses and to other new accounts. All locations now use this base process to expand services provided to clients and to protect employees repairing units in Vehicare facilities. 

Even more positively, Clarke/Vehicare was proud to announce that, as of May 11, 2020, zero Clarke/Vehicare employees had tested positive for COVID-19. 

The forward-thinking leadership teams at Clarke/Vehicare found themselves at the foundation of creating innovative solutions to unprecedented problems. Not only were they met, but they were exceeded. New challenges demanded top-to-bottom attention and required all hands to be on deck during the COVID-19 Pandemic of early 2020. As the uncertain future begins to take shape, Clarke/Vehicare customers and employees should take immense satisfaction that there remains a fearless, innovative leadership group willing to take these challenges head-on. This commitment proved to promote the perfect bottom line result: people, profit, and planet.