An Alternative Parts Staffing Model
There are numerous schools of thought regarding parts department staffing, from segmenting your parts staff by department or having one team serving all segments of fixed ops. Deciding the correct structure for your dealership comes down to understanding the needs of your fixed operations departments and the capabilities or limitations of your own department, says Susan McDaniel, parts director at Bill Luke Chrysler Jeep Dodge and Ram in the Phoenix area.
While the parts department had always had staff members dedicated to helping certain departments, the staff still primarily worked out of the parts department office.
“With my service helpers, my thinking was that if they’re not helping technicians then they can help other customers. That way everyone is being helped,” McDaniel says. “What I saw was that, if they weren't helping a tech, they started taking other’s phone calls and wholesale customers, and then the tech would walk in and they would have to wait. We kind of felt that over time, after having the discussions, that it would be best if they were exclu- sively out on the drive and having that captive audience and being on call for them and only them.”
When the opportunity presented itself to open a new facility dedicated solely to the dealership fixed operations, McDaniel decided to take the opportunity to restructure the department, effectively increasing both communication and revenue.
Bill Luke CJDR has been in business since 1927 and remains one of the few family-owned and -operated dealerships in the Phoenix area, with another smaller location in Tempe. The Phoenix locations sells roughly 600–700 used vehicles and 300 new cars per month; the service and body departments see 3,000 cars per month. The parts department, meanwhile, has roughly $1.5 million in inventory at any given time and sells $60,000 in walk-up retail, $400,000 in wholesale and $300,000 to the body shop every month, respectively.
“For my job, I make sure that we have the parts and the staffing that we need to help all the other departments grow and sell as much as they can,” McDaniel says.
"They're in the same room and the same area, hearing the same thing, knowing what the impact is on the whole department."
—Susan McDaniel, parts director, Bill Luke CJDR
To support that volume, McDaniel manages 30 employees in the parts department. And while the staff size was there to handle the work, the communication wasn’t. The problem, McDaniel says, was that the facility itself was old and divided. The fixed operations departments were segmented and separated and included a traditional parts department with individual retail, wholesale and back counters, and a warehouse and driving area. As the dealership grew, that separation prevented quick, effective communication between the departments. The service department wanted technicians to remain in their stalls producing work, rather than ordering parts or constantly checking on orders, and as the body shop began to experience increased volume, the managers wanted to cut down on the number of parts being double ordered or not ordered at all.
“Knowing what the impact is on the whole department is very important; knowing what’s going on at the time, knowing what the necessities are and what the urgencies are,” McDaniel says. “Can they wait two hours on that part or does someone need to jump in the van and get it right now?”
Those communication problems weren’t easily solved—until Bill Luke underwent a $15 million expansion in 2004 that included a 160,000-square-foot service and body shop.
That expansion afforded the fixed operations departments an opportunity to design the facility of its dreams and create a space with more transparency. That transparency was emphasized in a number of ways, most predominantly by removing any walls in the news facility. All walls, including those in the waiting area, are windows.
“Everybody can see what’s going on at any given time, including the customers,” McDaniel says. “The main concern in this new facility was that we wanted everyone to work together as closely as possible and the communication to be as good as it possibly can.”
In the new facility, the body shop occupies the upstairs area, which is 75,000 square feet. Because it’s out of the way of the retail and wholesale area, McDaniel says that’s where segmenting the parts department began; she moved the two body shop parts advisors and one helper directly to the parts area, where they now work directly and exclusively with the body shop and its managers.
Originally, the service department parts advisors sat in a pod and were instructed to take incoming wholesale calls during down time, but McDaniel says that’s what led to techs waiting. McDaniel and the service manager decided to move those parts advisors, two helpers and a parts runner directly to the service drive and work exclusively with the 80 members of the service department. A former service advisor stall now doubles as the parts advisor’s desk. Technicians now send in parts requests to those parts advisors, who then look up and price the parts, and have the parts runners retrieve and deliver the parts directly to the technicians’ stalls. In addition, those parts employees are paid 25 cents per billed shop hour, and in a service center with 65 bays, McDaniel says that’s an additional $400 per month each.
Finally, McDaniel does still have a traditional parts office where she and an outside sales manager sit, in addition to an internal and Internet counter, and retail/wholesale counter.
Not only has revenue increased, McDaniel says the former communication problem has been virtually eliminated. Instead, it’s bolstered a culture of transparency and teamwork, where all employees work toward a common goal.
“They’re in the same room and the same area, hearing the same thing, knowing what the impact is on the whole department,” she says.
The segmentation has continued to evolve as new departments have cropped up at the dealership. McDaniel has four parts advisors working at the company’s tire and accessories department, for example.
The bottom line, McDaniel says, is that you need to have a clear understanding of the needs of your fixed operations departments and how your parts department can be most beneficial to the other departments. That involves communicating with the other fixed operations managers, which McDaniel says the dealership does by holding weekly meetings, building strong relationships and frequently checking in.