Operations

10 Tips for a Successful Open House

June 2015, Government Fleet - Feature

by Thi Dao - Also by this author

As part of the City of Dublin’s (Ohio) Citizens University, 20 residents were given a peek at city operations, including fleet services. Photo courtesy of City of Dublin.
As part of the City of Dublin’s (Ohio) Citizens University, 20 residents were given a peek at city operations, including fleet services. Photo courtesy of City of Dublin.

Opening up your doors to other agencies and the public is a great way to introduce attendees to the world of fleet. Whether it’s showing a local club or Boy Scout troop the shop, or holding a fair for the public or employees who work in the agency, an event that allows others to explore the facility and see fleet’s day-to-day responsibilities will help build fleet knowledge.

At a Glance

A successful fleet open house can provide the following benefits:

Educate attendees about what fleet does

Educate attendees about new vehicle technologies

Provide attendees with practical knowledge about their own vehicles

Improve relations with user departments and elected officials.

Give attendees a peek at what fleet does, introduce them to the people who work there, and show them how it functions. Then when it comes time to work with other departments, such as human resources or the attorney’s office, they’ll have a better idea of what you’re talking about.

Three fleet managers with recent changes to their open house programs explain what they did and how they were able to tell their fleet story.

1. Change it up

The same open house every year can be repetitive not just for staff, but for the people who attend. The City of Culver City, Calif., normally opens its doors and gives attendees an overview of its compressed natural gas (CNG) initiatives, said Paul Condran, fleet services manager. The event is well received, but following a request by a city council member, fleet decided to instead host an advanced vehicle ride-and-drive event for city employees to show them the other vehicle technologies the fleet owns. The event, which took place April 2, featured a battery-electric vehicle, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, a hybrid vehicle, and compressed natural gas vehicles. It also featured an all-­electric transit bus.

The City of Dublin, Ohio, began a Citizens University in March, providing an eight-week course on city operations. The second meeting, which took place April 2, featured fleet and Public Works, which hosted a group of 20 students ranging from young adults to those of retirement age for a three-hour event. This is in addition to the city’s annual “Touch a Truck” event  for the public in the fall.

The City of Troy, Mich., held a tire changing contest for attendees. A fleet technician is pictured providing a demo before the contest begins. Photo courtesy of City of Troy
The City of Troy, Mich., held a tire changing contest for attendees. A fleet technician is pictured providing a demo before the contest begins. Photo courtesy of City of Troy

2. Make it interactive

Interactive elements within a fleet event, such as Culver City’s ride-and-drive, can make the event more memorable. The City of Troy, Mich., fleet held an open house on April 22, the first one it has had in years due to workload and staffing constraints. Sam Lamerato, CPFP, fleet superintendent, explained that the staff split up into five stations, which consisted of (1) a technician showing how he certifies speedometers on marked patrol cars; (2) a technician showing how he equips patrol vehicles with emergency equipment; (3) a tire changing demo followed by an attendee contest; (4) a technician showing how to perform a simple ­under-hood inspection, check tire pressure and tread, change wiper blades, etc; and (5) a welding demo followed by attendee participation — they were asked to weld together figurines of a male and female that had been pre-cut and prepped.

Lamerato said he was surprised by the number of attendees who wanted to participate —people who had never welded or changed a tire before were lining up to try it.

3. Pay attention to details

Details matter when putting on an event. Condran and Lamerato did the following: Asked trivia questions about fleet; provided employees with matching new polo shirts with the fleet logo on it; cleaned the shop, washed down tool boxes, painted fading lines; printed up pamphlets with vehicle technology information for attendees and put laminated pamphlets in the cars; gave out tire pressure gauges at the vehicle inspection station for attendees to take home; provided prizes to winners of trivia questions and contest winners; and provided lunch.

4. Provide useful knowledge

While the Troy fleet staff was showing attendees how to check their tire pressure, the City of Dublin gave its attendees another piece of useful knowledge: showing them how to track plows through the city’s telematics program. Attendees can go online and see if and when their street has been plowed, a program that rolled out in October 2014.

“The residents really love the technology we use within the city,” Darryl Syler, the city’s fleet manager, said.

5. Ask your friends and business partners for assistance

All the vehicles the Culver City fleet displayed didn’t belong to the city. Condran reached out to his fleet colleagues and business partners for help. He borrowed the electric transit bus from BYD, an electric vehicle manufacturer; a Chevrolet Volt from a local dealer; and a Ford C-Max plug-in hybrid from a nearby city. Condran explained that Culver City has the Ford Fusion Energi, and he wanted to allow attendees to test drive both vehicles.

Culver City (Calif.) hosted an advanced vehicle ride & drive day for city employees to test out some of the fleet’s vehicles. Photo courtesy of City of Culver City
Culver City (Calif.) hosted an advanced vehicle ride & drive day for city employees to test out some of the fleet’s vehicles. Photo courtesy of City of Culver City

6. Make sure someone is available to answer questions

Condran knew people would have a lot of questions about the technology, so he arranged a Q&A session during the event.

“A lot of people have questions, but they don’t have anyone to talk to about it,” Condran explained. The Q&A session gave time for fleet staff to allay fears about range and charging, he said.

7. Get the word out

Condran’s team made a one-page PDF announcing the event and sent it to all city staff members, the city council, and commissioners. He suggests sending it out a couple of times so people don’t forget the date.

8. Plan early and ask for team input

Both Lamerato and Condran began planning months in advance. Working with Risk Management, Culver City found out it needed to have a fleet employee in the vehicles as they were being test driven by attendees.

Figure out the logistics, such as if you need to rent or borrow tables, chairs, and tents; if you need catering; and if vehicles are available, washed, and fueled.

“Talk to the team. Make sure that they support the effort because they’re going to be the ones who help you set up and manage the event,” Condran said.

Lamerato said talking to staff is a must, as it was technicians who came up with the station ideas.

Syler advises fleets to understand the goal of the event. The Dublin fleet’s goal was to show how it was a good steward of taxpayer money, and staff developed the event around this idea.

Troy fleet staff are members are pictured with welded figurines of a male and female that had been pre-cut and prepped for attendees to put together. Photo courtesy of City of Troy
Troy fleet staff are members are pictured with welded figurines of a male and female that had been pre-cut and prepped for attendees to put together. Photo courtesy of City of Troy

9. Be realistic

Work within the parameters of your event, Lamerato said. While some technicians would want to go into detail about their jobs, they need to remember the limitations, such as timing. City employees could attend the Troy event in two-hour shifts — that limited timing for each station, so staff had to scale back.

10. Plan for the future

Syler said the first Citizens University event went so well, fleet and Public Works plan to ask for two days next year. He added that there is already a waiting list for the 2016 event next April.

Condran has already seen immediate results after Culver City’s successful event. He said two departments, Treasury and Transit Operations, expressed interest in getting plug-in hybrid vehicles, and he’s working on buying the vehicles. In addition, an employee from IT purchased a Ford Fusion Energi for personal use.

While Condran doesn’t anticipate having a technology ride-and-drive every year, he does plan to have additional events in the future, possibly opening it up to the public. He’d also like to add even more advanced technologies at later events.

“I would love to show an autonomous vehicle,” he said.

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