About eight years ago, Foertmeyer & Sons began expanding by adding a chrysanthemum program in the fall. During the first year, the company added about 15,000 to 20,000 plants sold with that number now in the 300,000 plants per year range.
“That kept us busier for a longer period of time throughout the year, which then increased the amount of use our equipment and facilities were seeing,” said Larry Riegel, maintenance supervisor at Foertmeyer & Sons. “We just didn’t have a system in place. All the information was stuck in the heads of one or two people. We couldn’t remember when or how to do certain things. No one wanted to follow-up because our tracking was all paper-based and everybody hates paper.”
At the beginning of 2020, Foertmeyer & Sons implemented UpKeep’s mobile-first solution for its four maintenance technicians supporting a current staff of 30 people. Since then, the company has already seen improvements in greater organization, better asset tracking, and improved transparency in labor and material costs. In addition, Foertmeyer & Sons has boosted the amount of preventive maintenance from only 10 percent of its workload to roughly half, which has led to greater reliability and better overall production.
Prior to implementing UpKeep, Foertmeyer & Sons had hired a consultant to find a solution to organizing the maintenance tasks. As a result, a great deal of data had been collected. The consultant started with a simple Excel spreadsheet but quickly realized the company needed more. He went on to help Foertmeyer & Sons explore options and is still working with them to continue UpKeep implementation.
“It took us about six weeks to onboard,” Larry said. “A lot of that was just getting things ready and making sure everybody learned the different things they could do. We wanted them to be efficient. We did have a jump start because we had already collected a lot of our asset data the previous summer. We just had to make it all correlate with UpKeep. It was relatively seamless.”
Tracking Maintenance Work
Prior to Upkeep, Larry handled most of the maintenance work and kept most of the information about repairs in his head. When Foertmeyer & Sons actually required establishing a maintenance department in recent years, that informal system had to change.
“Everything was just going through my head,” Larry said. “I was the only one doing maintenance plus other jobs on top of them. Things would just slip through the cracks. I really couldn’t do preventative maintenance, which then led to some equipment not being ready in time, causing delays in production.”
UpKeep could also help the organization begin to track cost of repairs, see technician performance and workload, and facility communication.
Managing a Cyclical Schedule
Foertmeyer & Sons created its maintenance staff from existing employees and relied on UpKeep to help create a schedule for the work to be completed and tracked. Since greenhouse management is at the core of the business, the team is constantly managing a cyclical, seasonal schedule.
For example, in January, the team at Foertmeyer & Sons moves little cuttings into larger pots. As the plants grow, employees begin making hanging baskets or flats of plants and filling up greenhouse space.
“We are getting the greenhouse turned on at this point, checking the heat and the plastic to make sure it’s all sealed properly,” Larry said. Shipping season is in April, and after that comes clean-up. The team then power and pressure washes everything and shuts down the heaters to get ready for summer season.
“Different plants grow in different seasons so we have to fit a lot of our maintenance into very short three to four-week crop turnover windows,” Larry said. “If we have to fix the roof or tear up the floor to repair a pipe in the ground, it’s a tight deadline. We have to be done before the next planting comes in or the next crop comes into the specific area.
“In addition, we have certain equipment that’s only used in particular times of the year,” he added. “We don’t have a big warehouse that we can just move things around. We were just constantly getting behind or not having equipment ready when it was needed.”
Since not all equipment and space is used all the time, scheduling maintenance on equipment and in areas can be quite complex. “Once we get into our delivery season, our team actually helps out with all the shipping and receiving. We actually stop maintenance for six weeks, barring any emergencies, and our slowest time of the year is probably at the end of November through December. That gives us an opportunity to really assess our space and equipment.” UpKeep can help them maximize that critical time.
Tracking Assets and Labor
As a greenhouse, Foertmeyer & Sons tracks things like plastic coverings and plastic walls, heaters, and small and large equipment. They also track growing areas that involve irrigation systems both indoors and outdoors. “I have all those set up as different assets,” Larry said. “So I can literally look at everything and hopefully be able to either create a PM if needed.”
In addition, the company can also track maintenance technicians’ time. “We can monitor how our staff is spending time, when they are working, where they are losing their time between work orders or even during a work order,” Larry said.
For preventive maintenance orders, the company has created checklists on UpKeep to improve efficiency. “Hopefully, they can open their work order, see they need this tool and these parts, and gather everything before they go to the site. We are hopefully eliminating walking back to get something else. UpKeep allows us to have accountability without me visibly micromanaging everyone.”
Work orders have also helped facilitate conversations about errors or things that are accidentally overlooked. “I can quickly see what was done on a work order, and if something doesn’t look right, I can ask questions,” Larry said. “This is especially helpful with newer technicians.”
In addition, UpKeep allows the company to work closely with top management to see how costs are incurred. “We wanted to make sure all of our assets were properly being maintained while working with our CFO to find out how much money we were spending and where we could reduce our spending so we could reinvest that money in other places,” Larry said. “Our CFO was excited about having some visibility and accountability on the money side. Just having purchase orders was a real big boom for him.”
Picking Up Where We Left Off
One big benefit that Foertmeyer & Sons has already realized in using UpKeep is the ability to quickly pick up with things left off in terms of maintenance, especially during the busy shipping periods.
“When things stop due to a busy delivery season, it’s easy to lose track of ongoing projects,” Larry explained. “I used to take two or three days after being away to just walk around and figure out where we left off. Or I’d have to shuffle through my filing cabinet to see what tasks still needed to be done. Now, everything is accessible on UpKeep. I can see what we were working on and which preventive maintenance tasks are scheduled. That has been a big benefit.”