How to Properly Staff a Parts Department

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A look at how an accomplished parts manager has refined his process for finding ideal parts employees

It’s not uncommon for Dan Krueger to arrive at work before 5 a.m. He has pridefully been immersed in the parts business since the age of 10, when his father helped run a NAPA store.

So, these days, Krueger keeps a watchful eye over his dealership parts department with Tubbs Brothers Inc., in Sandusky, Mich.

“I take pride in it. I work my tail off,” says Krueger, who along with his day job as parts manager, serves as the president of the Metro Detroit Ford Lincoln Parts Managers Club.

Krueger happily notes that, in nearly 17 years as a parts manager with Tubbs Brothers, he has never endured a month in the red. That said, he also knows his bosses expect him to continue to produce.

So when his department needs to hire a new employee, as was the case earlier this

year, Krueger doesn’t do so hastily.

“I want to make sure that the new guy is on board with keeping it the same way that we [typically] do things,” Krueger explains.

Of course, even the best-laid plans go awry on occasion—a fact Krueger was reminded of last winter.

The Problem

Virtually throughout his tenure with Tubbs Brothers, Krueger has possessed a hard-working, efficient staff. By early 2018, however, Krueger noticed an outlier in his staff of five full timers.

A backroom clerk was doing subpar work.

Over time, the clerk had become far more enamored with his cell phone than with work assignments. By late 2017, the employee’s faults were many. Namely, he displayed a lack of efficiency, productivity, and drive.

“He would step out, he would disappear,” Krueger notes of his former employee. “I’d ask him to take a 10-minute delivery, and he’d be gone for an hour.”

By February 2018, the backroom clerk’s time was up in Sandusky.

Krueger tries to be a somewhat lenient boss, but he could look the other way no longer. The main quality he demands in his employees is a respectable work ethic, and he was no longer witnessing it in the backroom clerk. So, he severed ties.

“I look for people that pay attention to detail, are concerned about taking initiative,” Krueger says.

“I try to hire people that I don’t have to babysit.”

The Solution

The ordeal earlier this year prompted Krueger to refine the manner with which he seeks new hires.

For starters, last winter proved to the parts manager that he needs to take staff chemistry into account when making new hires. Since the majority of his staff exhibits exemplary attention to detail, Krueger was reminded that it’s unfair to ask for anything less from new hires, even if they’re rather inexperienced.

“In the military, attention to detail is a catchphrase,” Krueger notes. “And, in a parts department, that’s invaluable.”

When his parts employees talk to a prospective customer on the phone, for instance, Krueger expects them to take detailed notes about contact information, VIN, or how much they were quoted, for future reference. Anything less opens up the possibilities for inefficiencies later.

Attention to details, he says, can “turn a department from good into great. And those are the type of things that I monitor.”

At this stage of his career, Krueger has developed a multi-pronged approach when hiring. The main steps include the following:

Keep an Open Mind. In Krueger’s opinion, you can unearth a solid, prospective parts staffer outside the auto industry. In fact, not long ago he ended up hiring an energetic, ambitious worker that he had noticed toiling at a local golf course. To Krueger, keeping an open mind when hiring is every bit as important as networking with colleagues.

The parts manager says he’s “always on the lookout,” for potential new hires, and “looking for talent where I can find it.”

Study Resumes and Applications Closely. Certain elements of a resume wave obvious red flags (think job-hopping, or a lack of education). Similarly, certain notes on an application can sound alarms, like an admission of a past criminal act. But Krueger looks even deeper when scanning such documents, and pays particular attention to how applicants fill out paperwork.

“I ask them to fill out a job application, and one of the major things that I check is grammar, and penmanship,” he says, explaining that sloppy handwriting hints at a lackadaisical approach to work.

Utilize a Trial Period. In Krueger’s mind, a new hire must prove themselves for the better part of a year before he considers a recently vacated staff role 100 percent filled. After making a new hire, he monitors their work at length, and seeks feedback about the recent staff addition.

“I listen to my wholesale customers, I listen to my service technicians, my body shop manager, my service manager, the other members of the parts department,” Krueger explains. I ask, “how they seem to be fitting in. … You’ve just got to have your finger on the pulse of what’s happening.”

The Results

In recent weeks, anxieties have been eased in Tubbs Brothers’ parts department, which has over $250,000 in inventory. Krueger still logs well over 40 hours per week, but he won’t lose any sleep over his staffing. His handful of parts department employees are all fully invested in their work.

And, Krueger is confident that, the next time he needs a new parts staffer, he’ll have a more streamlined process for quickly pinpointing an ideal job prospect. In fact, the parts manager has even refined his sales pitch to upper management with regard to budgeting for a new hire, pointing out financial figures like his department’s typical net profit, and sales per parts department employee.

“You need to be an asset to the company in order to ask,” Krueger says of requesting to fill a position, “and make a good business case for why you need to do it—have a gameplan with what you want to do.”

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