Asplundh Evolves its Procurement to Boost Savings and Efficiency
Asplundh works with suppliers to develop new products that keep workers safe and clients up and running.
When utilities and electric cooperatives need vegetation management services, they look for a provider that not only provides reliable, professional service, but plays it safe as well. Asplundh Tree Expert LLC brings that exact approach to each of its projects.
“What we do can be dangerous and physically demanding work,” Chief Procurement Officer Kurt A. Meiers states. “We’re putting the health and safety of our employees first so they’re able to deliver the best service to our clients.”
Brothers Griffith, Lester and Carl Asplundh started the Willow Grove, Pa.-based company in 1928. Today, Asplundh is in its third generation of family leadership and has grown to serve clients throughout the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
According to Meiers, the company thrives by doing the right thing for its clients and by using the very latest technologies. Not many, he says, would think of incorporating innovation into vegetation management services.
But that has set Asplundh apart as it works with suppliers to develop new products that keep workers safe and keep clients up and running. “That has created a better work environment for the employees,” Meiers says.
A longtime veteran of procurement, Meiers joined Asplundh in April 2019. During the last few months, he has focused on multiple initiatives at the company, including developing a field operating mindset among its procurement team members.
This has been accomplished by establishing a single point of contact within the team who is responsible for its three lines of business. In addition to vegetation management, “We also do construction, primarily in the area of utility line construction and related services,” he describes.
Asplundh also has a commercial landscaping business that it started five years ago. By establishing a single point of contact for all three businesses, Asplundh gives its procurement organization a deep understanding of each unit.
Another initiative has been changing the mindset of its procurement team from being supplier focused to commodity oriented. As part of this strategy, Asplundh has re-examined what it buys and what is the best mechanism for purchasing commodities.
Meiers has also worked to increase the adoption of tablet- and mobile-based tools. “[Those will] allow our field-operating teams to execute their jobs in the most efficient and simple manner possible,” he says.
Meiers sees positive results from his initiatives, which include an increased level of engagement between the procurement team and Asplundh’s subsidiaries. Today, “We’re being invited to participate in their operating meetings and being consulted when they need agreements [with suppliers],” he says.
Previously, those agreements were managed independently. But recently, the team has held meetings to help the company renegotiate or extricate itself from contracts “that weren’t functioning well,” he reports.
Asplundh has also built a commodities structure that includes all its third-party spend. This has given the company “a focus on what are the big commodity areas,” he describes. “We are digging into those to find the strategic opportunities that exist.”
The company also has doubled its savings compared with 2018. “Some of that has been through better tactics and activities by working with suppliers,” Meiers reports.
His employees have been pleased with the initiatives as well. They have taken “a new approach to how procurement should function in an organization of this size,” he says. “Outside of this department, we’ve seen a similar positive view.
“They see a definite change in the perspective and organization of the supply chain team,” Meiers continues. “Our focus is on generating value for them as the operating teams maintain the profit and loss for the corporation.”
More to Do
Although Meiers has made substantial steps forward at Asplundh, “We’ve still got a long way to go,” he admits. He is looking for the right platform tools for the company, he adds.
One particular trait his employees need is ease of use. “Our crews are constantly in a different location,” he says. “They’re not sitting in an office structure.”
He also wants to improve the skills of his employees, with educational and mentoring programs. These will be critical since “the roles we have today are definitely going to be very different from the roles that we need 12 months from now,” he predicts.
Like the trees the company prunes, Meiers sees continued growth ahead for Asplundh. “One of the tools we have used to grow the business has been through acquisition,” he says. “We’re looking at organizations that can expand our market share within certain segments or areas of business that are similarly modeled.”