The Tale of a Plumber’s Van

A plumber’s van might seem like an unusual topic for an organizing and design blog post, but it’s not. 

Scott Drummond of Drummond’s Plumbing works with a lot of my clients and he and I have done many renovations together.  A year or so ago he bought a brand-new van.  It’s a Ford Transit 250 Cargo Van Mid Roof. Normally that wouldn’t be all that exciting for me. Even when I buy a new van it’s not all that exciting. 

However, I happened to pass by one day when he was getting something out of it, and I noticed how well organized it was.  Naturally, I needed to know more.  I’ve seen inside the vehicles of so many trades over the years and they can get pretty messy!

The Plan

Scott planned to install shelving and bins so he could sort and organize everything. He wanted to be able to walk to the van, pick something off a shelf or from a bin quickly, and get back to work.  Don’t we all want to be able to find what we need quickly?

Being a pretty handy guy, Scott figured he could avoid the cost of specialty commercial shelving which would have set him back another $4000 to $5000.  During a trip to Ikea, a wood shelving system caught his eye and he thought it would be easier to customize than anything metal, so he figured he would try it.  

The Organizing Solution

He combined that with a collection of Ikea lift-top bins to organize all the bits and pieces he needs every day.  Apparently, industry standard for containing all the parts would be milk crates stacked one on top of the other. You then have to lift one off to get at the one underneath and that is always something I try to avoid with any storage system. It’s not very efficient at all! Scott tells me he gets asked all the time where the magic bins came from.

The Execution

Initially he just threw things in bins somewhat haphazardly. He wanted to avoid taking time off work, so he took a weekend to take everything out of the van, sorted it all in one day, installed the shelves and was back to work.   After a couple of weeks he noticed a few flaws with how things were organized, so he tweaked a bit and then tweaked again in a couple of months.  He tells me that just last week he spent about 3 hours organizing and doing a bit of a reconfiguration. 

He is still adjusting as he goes along.  He would like to itemize even further by putting separate small containers in the big bins.  That’s something I do all the time, so I believe he is totally on the right track.  And a few labels on the bins might help too.

The Evaluation

I was curious to know if he had taken more time to do a really good sorting job and planned a place for everything (as I do with most projects), if he thought that would have been a better approach. He says that even if everything had been perfectly planned, he would still have had to tweak as he used it. 

The Maintenance

Like anyone using a storage system should do, at the end of every day he tries to ensure that everything goes back in its place.  If that doesn’t happen every day and things get a bit out of control then he has to spend time doing a re-sort.  That’s exactly the same thing that happens at home, isn’t it?

If he has to buy a new tool then he has to re-think the layout. Or if a replacement tool is a different shape then it might not fit where the old one was, so he needs to consider that as well.  It’s so interesting to me that all of this is exactly the same as designing storage solutions in your house and then trying to maintain the organization over time.

The Results

Scott figures that since he got the new van he has increased his efficiency by 10% because he knows where everything is when he goes to get something.  With the time he has saved and the extra space available, he had the chance to add drain cleaning and camera inspection to his services.  And all that for the cost of only $600 to $800 in materials and a little hard work. 

Imagine what you could do with extra time if you had a well-designed space.

You might notice if Scott comes to your house that he really loves his job.  I think it’s the singing that gives it away. Maybe he’s just so happy with his organized van that he can’t help himself!

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