A well-appointed work truck can save an electrician frustration and uncountable hours of wasted time looking for tools and material, and upfitters have done a good job keeping pace with changing truck designs with an impressive selection of upfit options.
While conventional vans remain in wide use, cargo vans with greater interior space and cab-forward box vans that have a stand-up working space are increasingly popular. Electrical-related van upfit components include cable reel holders and trays to store connectors and other small parts. ECs also drive pickup trucks, and there is a wide selection of upfits for them, including ladder racks and tool-storage boxes. Folding desks and laptop holders turn truck cabs into mobile offices. Upfits also are available for utility trailers.
The cargo van category has long been considered a stable market with few changes in basic products, but recently more vans have been introduced with increased interior space.
“In the past two years, the service van market has seen significant variation in the types of makes and models that are available for professionals in the United States,” said Mike Bykowski, director of product management for the Weather Guard truck storage division. Weather Guard is a Werner company.
“Taller vehicles like high-roof vans are currently the biggest growth area in the van market. They give equipment manufacturers the opportunity to design products for the extra space in the interior of the van, while mounting accessories on the exterior of the vehicle. For example, our drop-down ladder rack as an adaption for vans with higher roof profiles allows heavier, fiberglass ladders to be lowered down the side of a van,” he said.
Many upfit products are made for specific models, wheelbases and roof heights. These packages can include a mesh bulkhead, a four-shelf unit, a five-drawer storage module and a hooked tool holder, among other useful products available to create a custom van package.
Bykowski said ECs in particular are looking for a combination of larger storage modules and accessories to keep everything organized and readily available.
“For vans, we manufacture various types of partitions, storage shelves, pull-out drawer units, ladder racks and cabinets to organize and protect tools and materials. These products can be configured in a variety of ways inside of both traditional and mid to high-roof cargo vans to meet electrical contractors’ storage needs,” he said. “Our storage equipment is designed to hold everything from breakers, fuses, electrical tools and necessary plugs and connectors.”
Pickup trucks are less popular with electrical contractors than vans, but there are instances where some consider pickups a better choice. There is an excellent selection of upfits for pickups of all bed lengths including tool and storage boxes, drawer units, conduit carriers and ladder racks. Locking bed covers keep out rain and snow and provide a measure of security for contents. Full-bed covers provide more protected space above the bed floor.
Utility bodies with storage installed on pickups are seen more often on telephone and communication vehicles than electrical company trucks.
For pickup trucks, there are low-side boxes, saddle boxes and all-purpose chests that are specifically developed to securely store a large selection of tools, while protecting against weather and vandalism. These storage boxes offer quick access to valuable tools, equipment and parts while keeping the truck bed open for supplies, Bykowski noted.
“The pickup truck market,” he said, “has seen a shift toward compact trucks, as professionals find these to be less expensive and more fuel-efficient. Equipment manufacturers are now designing more products to fit these smaller vehicles and are identifying ways to enhance functionality and organization of smaller trucks. Just as there are ladder racks for vans with high roofs, there are now ladder racks that work specifically for compact trucks.”
The addition of lighting to traditional vehicle-storage equipment is one of the most important recent developments in upfit products, Bykowski said.
“Manufacturers are beginning to add integrated lighting to their conventional storage units, especially for the exterior of pickup trucks where lighting can be nonexistent,” he said.
“For example, Weather Guard’s lighted truck box is a secure saddle box with weather-resistant tool storage lighting that features ultra-bright LED lights. It has the lighting integrated inside the toolbox to increase visibility and reduce time spent rummaging for tools. In addition to storage with integrated lighting, professionals also can purchase separate lighting kits designed to be added onto existing vehicle storage equipment; this allows contractors to customize their equipment themselves to suit their own work needs.”
Whether van or truck, professionals and especially electricians need designated spaces for storing small items.
“We have developed various storage modules specifically designed for protecting items such as tool bits, connectors and fish tapes,” Bykowski said. “The Pack Rat drawer unit is a pull-out storage unit that boasts four compartments and 24 dividers for optimal organization. The roll-out drawer provides one-hand operation and easy access for users to locate needed gear. Truck boxes come with built-in tool trays to organize smaller items, such as the one found in our saddle boxes.”
Other useful accessories that can be added include hooks and tool holders mounted to the inside of their vehicle. They can be placed in easy-to-reach locations such as the door of a van or end-panel of a storage module, making frequently used items convenient to grab while maintaining a dedicated space for them.
A number of companies offer laptop computer mounts and small folding desk tops for passenger side space in truck cabs, making the vehicle a mobile office.
Bykowski said there are several factors to consider before purchasing work truck upfits. For example, you should identify the best products for each vehicle type to determine the biggest pain points that may be experienced on the work site. Electrical contractors using vans may need specific types of storage shelves, drawer units and ladder racks to organize their specialty tools and equipment, while construction professionals using pickups may be better served by an add-on truck rack to haul multiple ladders to job sites.
“The upfitting process can be difficult to navigate,” Bykowski said, “and there are ways to ease the process, especially in the selection of equipment to fit perfectly into the specific dimensions of a vehicle.
If a user doesn’t know exactly what types of equipment is needed, Weather Guard introduced an interactive online custom van configuration tool in June 2019 that enables users to visually build out custom van upfits for the Ford Transit and Transit Connect models.
“By allowing users to place partitions, shelving, racks and other needed storage in a three-dimensional digital model of their cargo van, it is possible to quickly and easily see what the end result will look like. This tool, and other virtual programs, can help professionals expedite the shopping process and be confident that their upfit will meet their organizational needs,” he said.
Adrian Steel, Knapheide and Ranger Design are among other companies with online truck upfit tools ECs can use.
Multiple Sources for Upfits
Most commercial truck upfits are done by third parties or distributors of upfit manufacturers.
Truck manufacturers have relationships in place with one or more companies that can make specified upfits, and the truck dealership can deliver the modified vehicle.
Experienced commercial truck dealership managers understand the needs of the various trades, including electricians, and maintain working relationships with upfit distributors that inventory and can correctly install quality products. Specialists work closely with truck dealers to make sure upfitted vehicles meet the specifications of the buyer. Many truck buyers say they like this single-source process.
Purchasers of multiple trucks for fleets who want vehicles delivered to several destinations can have them sent to a nearby upfitter for installation and then returned to the truck manufacturers distribution system for delivery to local dealerships.
Truck sellers have also have gotten into the upfitting business.
For small companies with only one or a few vehicles, the best choice may be purchasing trucks and taking them to a nearby upfit distributor for customizing to the buyers’ specialized needs.
“These professionals are the traditional choice for outfitting a work vehicle, as upfitters work with the customer to determine which equipment would best suit their needs and also fit in the available space of their vehicle,” said Mike Bykowski, director of product management for the Weather Guard truck storage division.
“In recent years, we’ve also seen many vehicle dealerships begin to add upfitting as a service upon purchase; this adds a level of convenience for contractors who need an expedited upfitting process. Whether an electrical contractor chooses to upfit with a traditional upfitter or a dealership, it’s best to go into the process with an idea of what equipment will be a priority and the budget to make the most out of the upfitting investment,” he said. —J.G.