Planning for Parts Department Training
David Brunette started his career as a mechanic, before ascending to roles as an advisor and service manager. For years, he knew one workplace language: that which is spoken on the shop floor.
Then, when he rose to the role of parts and service director in 2005, Brunette was suddenly barraged with foreign concepts from the parts world.
In the past, he had assumed parts department employees were out of touch and impassionate. But, Brunette quickly learned that, in fact, parts departments are an invaluable dealership asset.
“There’s a lot that [parts employees] do behind the scenes, and there’s a lot to maintaining an inventory,” explains Brunette, now the parts and service director at Eskridge Honda in Oklahoma City. “They’ve got to know a whole lot of things, and they have to answer to all kinds of people … there’s a lot of languages they have to speak fluently.
“The parts department is the least sexy of all the departments in a dealership, [but] it doesn’t get the respect it’s due.”
These days, Brunette adds, the parts department is the most profitable business segment for most dealerships. That’s why, in Oklahoma City, he makes certain that all of his parts department employees are 100 percent up to date with all required training.
Over the years, though, Brunette encountered some resistance from his bosses when it came to training expenditures for parts employees. It’s a battle he didn’t take lightly.
Years ago, Brunette says, parts inventories were recorded by filling out cards in a file box. Today, through the use of computers, a stock order can be completed in five minutes—if, that is, a parts department staff is well versed on how to use each element of software such as its DMS.
And that’s a key reason why parts department training is so important—because, without it, inefficiencies can spread throughout fixed ops.
“There’s ongoing training all the time,” says Brunette, who also notes the importance of training to increase product knowledge. And “the biggest challenge is you have to [physically] separate yourself from the department to get the training; if you try to get it during the normal business day, there’s too many interruptions. … Because the calls don’t stop, the customers don’t stop. The problems don’t stop.”
While finding the time for parts department training can be a nuisance, getting funding for training is often truly problematic at dealerships. Brunette has often found it difficult to get the green light to send a parts counterperson to training sessions provided by his dealership’s DMS provider.
The main reasons why?
“Because you have travel expenses, hotel, food, downtime at the dealership,” Brunette explains. “And, you have to be able to show a good return on investment to your GM to get that authorized.”
In recent years, Brunette and his bosses at Eskridge Honda have found a compromise that ensures the dealership’s six-person parts department will stay on top of all necessary training.
“You get one person highly trained,” Brunette notes. “In our instance, Larry Doane, my parts manager, we’ve sent him to these classes, so he’s the leader of the pack, if you will. And he passes what he’s learned to his counterpeople.
“So, you get one [employee] trained as highly as you can, and expect them to pass that on to their co-workers.”
The facility has found that solution to be cost effective and more than adequate. Not only does Eskridge Honda send its parts manager to its OEM’s training sessions, it also makes sure to seek out Honda’s online training videos or webinars, along with any and all low-cost, local training, for issues ranging from new product offerings to hazmat shipping certifications. The Metropolitan Auto Dealers Association often hosts seminars, for example.
Brunette has found that, through creating a departmental culture in which training is encouraged, his parts staff has built a wealth of knowledge. He likes to think of it as using his department’s resources to the fullest extent.
“You don’t really give [employees] an option; but you try to do that in as soft a way as you can,” he says with regard to training, “... by explaining the importance of why they need to know how to properly use their DMS, or how to properly use Honda’s Interactive Network.”
Years ago, when Brunette—the old mechanic at heart—started working alongside a parts manager, he learned just how demanding working in the parts area can be. Parts employees, after all, have to be able to communicate effectively with technicians, independents, do-it-yourselfers, and service advisors, just to name a few.
And now, aided by continuous training, all employees in Eskridge Honda’s fixed operations are speaking the same language. They all understand the importance of staying up to date with their evolving DMS software, because they know that customers expect to speak with computer-savvy employees who won’t waste their time.
These days, Brunette spends the first few hours of each shift working at the parts counter, observing and listening to employees.
“That’ll tell you where their training’s needed,” Brunette explains. “I’ve sent a parts person to get telephone etiquette training; it isn’t something you’d immediately think of, but I don’t care how good you are with a parts catalog, if you’re not good at speaking to a customer, you’re not going to do any wholesale.
“It’s as simple as paying attention to what people struggle with—that’ll tell you where their training is needed. … It’s all about listening, and observing.”