Alternatives to a Parts Back Counter – Part 4

This is Part 4 in a four-part article. 

  1. Self-Service Parts Area

A self-service area could yield increased technician productivity due to a reduction in wait time at the technician parts counter.  In interviews, many technicians will evidence the frustrations that occur by having to wait for the simplest of parts.  They will say things like, “All I needed was a set of six-cylinder spark plugs and I had to wait 15 minutes.”  Maybe it was only 10 minutes in reality, but compare this type of wait to being on hold while trying to reach someone by phone.  Have you ever stood in line at a fast-food establishment for 10 minutes without being waited on?  If so, you can appreciate the frustration, especially when it affects someone’s livelihood.  Perception can affect morale.

The technician cannot walk out.  He must wait his turn to get his parts in many dealerships.  So the question is, could a self-service area be a morale builder?  In many dealerships, perhaps it could.

TO SUSTAIN A self-service parts area requires a commitment by both the parts and service staff to ensure that the dealership’s investment is protected.  A parts manager is a protector of the dealership’s investment, and many parts managers would be nervous about the prospect of placing high-volume, tempting items, common to many vehicles in a place where they cannot control the transaction.  In some shops, the technical staff may have caused some distrust from past behavior.  An old, common example familiar to many parts counter people is:

  1. The technician comes to the counter and orders parts.
  2. The parts counterperson fills the order.
  3. The parts counterperson asks for a repair order.
  4. The technician says he does not have the repair order yet.  However, the service advisor is getting the ticket or the technician has a number but the parts department does not have the soft copy of the repair order.
  5. The technician commits to getting the ticket to the parts counterperson, but vanishes until he needs the next part.
  6. The parts counterperson gets aggravated and possibly forgets to check on the repair order to charge out the parts.
  7. End of the story … “No ticket, no laundry”!

GETTING THIS TECHNIQUE off the ground requires some real teamwork to help benefit both the parts and service departments.  The technical staff must ensure that the parts department gets accurate information such as the repair order number, the correct part number to bill and the correct quantity obtained.  Service management and technicians with spheres of influence should show leadership in following policy.  In advanced production environments, group leaders, team leaders and lead technicians can be the role models.

An important part of implementing a successful, long-term self-service area is selling the idea to the technical staff and for them to realize the benefits that this technique holds for them.  If their commitment to doing a good job with this technique is strong, peer pressure on those who are not following the program should be a factor.

IF THE PARTS specialists are relieved of filling orders for the simple parts, they will have more time available to concentrate on the more technical, intricate parts orders that require expertise in expediting.  In some situations, the parts specialists might have time to actually deliver parts to the technician in his work area.

ONE OF THE first thoughts, naturally, is “What would you stock in this area?”  The parts in this area should be fast-moving, common parts.  Maintenance parts such as spark plugs, basic tune-up parts, oil filters, fuel filters, air filters, timing belts and other maintenance parts specific to the maintenance recommendations of the manufacturer should be the main focus of this area.  Other parts that are not maintenance parts but are fast moving are good items to stock in this area if they do not require a high-degree of expertise to determine the part number.  Some examples are batteries, hose clamps, heater hoses, bulbs, hardware, recall/campaign parts, and fast-moving hard parts.

TECHNICIANS WILL REQUIRE assistance in determining the right part number for some parts.  Laminated application sheets attached to parts bins as reference tools are a good idea.  Maintenance kits for specific mileage intervals can be implemented with labels that list the vehicle model as well as the part numbers included in the kit.  Maintenance kits are also a good way to eliminate the time necessary to gather all of the necessary mileage interval parts.  This usually boosts production in most service departments.  Another way to assist the technician in determining the right part number is to place a Bell and Howell type computer terminal in the self-service area.

SECURITY OF THE self-service area is an important concern.  An ideal location is visible from the parts counter.  Video surveillance is another good way to monitor the area.

Ideally, a self-service area should be locked after normal business hours.  There should be ways to accomplish this in most dealerships even if the desired area is not lockable at this time.

I would recommend a perpetual inventory of the area daily.  Assuming 21 average monthly workdays and 170 part numbers stocked in the self-service area, eight part numbers would have to be checked daily to complete a perpetual inventory.  The inventory would be completed twice monthly and 24 times yearly.  Add a once-monthly complete physical count to this process and shortages or problems should be spotted quickly.

BILL OUT PROCEDURES are as important as getting the parts.  There are a number of ways to accomplish this.  Parts requisition slips with spaces provided for the repair order number and part numbers work well.  Pre-printed forms with part numbers stocked in the area with a space for the quantity and repair order number also work well.

A place for the technician to write his name or number on the forms is also a good idea.  In one actual case, a parts manager had a bar-coding company come into the dealership and bar-code parts stocked in the self-service area.  A computer terminal was mounted on a swivel base to allow technicians to turn the terminal toward them, enter the repair order and scan the parts to be charged out.

WILL A SELF-SERVICE area work for you?  You probably will not know for sure unless you try it.  There are a couple of questions you can ask yourself.  The first is, “Will it work?”  The second is, “What if it would work and I failed to implement it?”

Written by David Dietrich

This is Part 4 in a four-part article. (View Part 1 | View Part 2 | View Part 3)

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