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. Let me explain.

adjustable wrenches turning a piece of pipe representing the tale of a plumber’s van

A local plumber who works with many of my clients bought a brand-new van. It’s a Ford Transit Cargo Van. Usually, I don’t find that very exciting. Even when I buy a new vehicle for myself, it’s not all that exciting. However, I passed by the plumber’s van when he got 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 many tradespeople over the years; some are pretty messy!

The Plan

The plumber planned to install shelving and bins so he could sort and organize everything. He wanted to be able to walk to the van, get the item he needed quickly, and get back to work. Don’t we all want to be able to find what we need quickly?

Because he is a skilled tradesperson, he figured he could avoid the cost of specialty commercial shelving (approximate cost of $4000 to $5000). Then, during a trip to IKEA, a wood shelving system caught his eye, and he thought it would be easier to customize than metal, so he thought he would try it.

The Organizing Solution

He combined the shelving with a collection of IKEA lift-top bins to organize all the bits and pieces he needs every day. Typically, those in the plumbing industry stack milk crates on top of each other to organize their equipment. However, you must lift one off to get to the one underneath. You’re always stacking and unstacking crates! It’s very inefficient! In fact, this plumber told me his colleagues often ask him where he got the “magic bins.”

The Execution

Because he wanted to avoid taking time off work, he took everything out of the van and sorted it during a weekend. Then, he installed the shelves and the bins and returned to work. After a few weeks, he noticed some inefficiencies and made a few adjustments. A few months later, he tweaked it again. He told me he spent about three hours organizing and reconfiguring his bins for optimal productivity.

He adjusts his system as he uses it. He would also like to further compartmentalize some equipment by putting smaller containers in the big bins. In fact, I do that all the time, so I believe he is on the right track. Additionally, putting labels on the bins would help.

The Evaluation

I was curious to know if he thought a better approach would be to take more time to thoroughly sort and plan a place for everything (as I do with most projects). He said that even if he planned everything, he would need to rearrange items as he used them.

The Maintenance

At the end of every day, the plumber tries to ensure that everything goes back in its place. Indeed, everyone using a storage system should do it. However, it depends on your workload. You might not need to reset your system daily; a weekly maintenance schedule could work better for you. When you regularly spend a few minutes to maintain your system, you don’t have to spend hours rebuilding it.

For example, if the plumber buys a new tool, he must rethink the layout of his van’s storage area. Alternatively, if a replacement tool is a different shape, then it might not fit where the old one was, so he needs to consider that also. It’s so interesting that this system is the same as designing home storage solutions and maintaining them over time.

The Results

Since organizing his van, he figures his efficiency has increased by 10% because he knows where everything is. With the time he has saved and the extra space available, he was able to add drain cleaning and camera inspection to his list of services. In this case, the $600 to $800 cost of materials and a little hard work was a fantastic return on investment!

If this plumber comes to your house, you might notice he loves his job. Maybe he’s so happy with his organized plumber’s van that he can’t help himself!

Imagine what you could do with the extra time a well-designed space would give you. Call me, and let’s discuss how to make it a reality.

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