One of the side effects of continuing inflation has been an increase in theft, from vehicles to vehicle parts and even trade equipment. As the landscaping industry moves into the busy season, fleets can implement a few tactics to ensure their assets are less enticing targets for theft, including using vehicle wraps or prominent business decals, asset tracking devices, and using fleet software geofencing features.
Rising Theft Trends
Landscaping businesses nationwide are experiencing an uptick in vehicle, vehicle parts and equipment theft. A company in Williamsburg, Virginia, had about $40,000 worth of equipment stolen, including two lawn mowers, two gas string trimmers, an electric string trimmer, a battery-powered blower, an impact driver and an angle grinder.
On the other side of the country, in North Highlands, California, American Landscape Maintenance had an entire trailer filled with equipment stolen. Perimeter security solutions provider AMAROK noted vehicle and auto parts theft in its top five 2023 theft trends to watch for, with catalytic converter thefts rising a whopping 353% in 2021 from the previous year.
According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), “More than 1 million vehicles were stolen last year, marking a 7% increase over 2021, [12% over 2020 and 20% over 2019],” with Chevrolet, Ford and GMC pickups being listed among the top 10 targets. This increase in thefts can be largely attributed to ongoing inflation, which began to skyrocket in late 2020 and significantly increased the value of these stolen goods.
Pew Research Center explains that the “U.S. inflation rate has almost quadrupled” from 2020 to 2022, and the trend is continuing well into 2023. It may not be surprising that the last time vehicle thefts reached this magnitude was back in 2008.
Deterring Asset Theft
Fleet asset theft doesn’t just cost businesses the monetary value attached to those assets; it also causes an increase in service spend for recovered assets, replacement costs for unrecoverable assets and costs associated with both productivity loss and downtime. Landscaping businesses looking to secure their fleet assets can take several actions to help deter theft, improve recovery rates and increase the safety of their employees in the field.
- Provide theft avoidance training: Training employees on theft avoidance, both in the office and in the field, can help landscaping businesses reduce theft instances related to negligence, including leaving windows down, leaving doors unlocked, not securing access to equipment at the jobsite and not securing access to assets at the end of day. Additionally, coaching drivers on signs of vehicle tampering and encouraging mindfulness of surroundings, including signs of a potential carjacking, can improve employee safety in the field. It’s imperative during this training that employees learn how to properly secure assets, recognize suspicious behavior and avoid/disengage from dangerous situations.
- Increase asset visibility: Vehicle wraps and decals aren’t just a good way of increasing brand visibility; they’re also a beneficial theft deterrent. The more identifiable your assets, the less attractive they are to thieves as they can easily be clocked as stolen once law enforcement has been notified. Of course, while a highly visible vehicle is less likely to be stolen, its parts could still be targeted, as evidenced by the highly publicized theft of the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile’s catalytic converter.
- Monitor vehicle location: Having access to real-time vehicle locations makes it easier to catch vehicle theft in the moment, thereby improving the chances of law enforcement catching the culprit and/or recovering the vehicle. Using solutions like GPS and telematics devices, landscaping businesses can set geofencing thresholds based on the area of operation or routing/jobsite locations and receive alerts in real time if a vehicle exits these parameters. It’s important to remember that these types of plug-in devices aren’t 100% tamper-proof, so thieves who know what to look for can easily remove them — although some providers may offer tamper alerts.
- Adopt fleet solutions: Fleet solutions, such as the aforementioned GPS and telematics devices, as well as integrated fleet management software (FMS), helps landscaping businesses gain better control of fleet assets through improved asset and fleet data visibility and asset monitoring, including vehicle and equipment assignments. Assignments improve asset accountability, meaning employees in the field are more likely to ensure vehicle and equipment security and be more vigilant of opportunities for theft. Assignments also help source missing equipment inventory, allowing fleet managers to narrow down the location of a theft event and easily inventory what’s missing for police reports and insurance claims.
While eliminating all possibilities of theft is not realistic, reducing the likelihood of theft while improving the chances of asset recovery is more than possible. Landscaping businesses can take advantage of fleet technologies and employ on-site security measures, such as security cameras and fencing in the parking area where vehicles are kept while not in use, to reduce the chances of asset, equipment and parts theft and improve recovery rates of stolen assets.