What better facility to use as a combined parts warehouse than one that was designed and used as… a parts warehouse?
The Tonkin Dealerships, a group in Portland, OR, had been planning for years to merge its 10 lines of wholesale parts business into one centralized facility.
The company had plans in place for a warehouse facility just south of the city. But when America Honda closed its regional warehouse in Portland, the Tonkin organization saw the 120,000-sq.-ft. warehouse as a natural fit.
It offered a good location — with easy access to the area's primary north-south and east-west freeways. It was designed and built with parts storage, shipping and delivery in mind, right down to the “invisible” tracks under the warehouse floor that help “steer” forklift drivers straight up and down the aisles almost effortlessly.
The new Tonkin Parts Center is one of a kind, says Ron Crane, general manager. He visited other dealer-ships around the country but failed to find one doing what the Tonkin operation wanted to do.
He says, “A few dealer-ships sell a lot of parts, and some handle two, three or four lines out of one facility, but we weren't able to find anyone that carries 10 lines in a facility this size,” says Crane.
“It's really unique, which has made it a lot of work. We've had to pilot a lot of software to accommodate it. But it's also an exciting challenge.”
Another Portland area dealership, the Thomason Auto Group — part of the Asbury Automotive Group — launched a similar combined parts warehouse operation in 2000. But it has about half the square footage of the Tonkin facility, and Thomason has subsequently sold off three of the eight automaker lines of parts the warehouse initially housed.
Some of the Tonkin Parts Center numbers are staggering. More than 60 employees. A parts inventory of $5 million — and growing. More than two dozen delivery vehicles. A warehouse the size of nearly three football fields. Parts racks that nearly reach to the 28-foot-high ceiling.
But it's the convenience and service such a facility offers the dealership's wholesale customers that's more important than such statistics, says Kris Tucker, one of Tonkin's wholesale parts sales representatives.
“We still have our parts experts for each manufacturer, but each of them has access to the parts databases of all the lines right from the computer on their desk, and ultimately each of them will be experts in multiple lines,” Tucker says.
He adds, “They all have email and digital cameras that will allow them to send a photo of a part to a shop, or even to have a video conversation about a parts order for shops set up to do that.”
Rather than having multiple trucks bringing in parts from individual outlets, Tonkin customers will see only one truck, delivering multiple lines of parts that eventually will be color-coded by line along with the invoices.
Rather than running one or two longer runs each day, trucks will be making fewer stops per run, with a truck leaving the Tonkin about every half hour throughout the day.
“And all our delivery vehicles are equipped with GPS (global positioning systems) which enables us to know where they all are at all times,” Tucker says. “All of that gives us the ability to get parts out to customers more quickly.”
While the retail and service department parts operations remain at the individual Tonkin dealerships, wholesale parts inventories were moved to the new warehouse over time. The GM parts move from Tonkin Chevrolet required more than 50 48-foot truckloads and 75 people working three days.
Says Tucker, “We moved the dealerships in one or two at a time over the weekends, so we could make sure that by Sunday night every part was put away in a bin, every part was posted into the inventory system, and all the parts for that Monday morning were picked and ready to go.”
Unlike smaller multi-line warehouses, the Tonkin Parts Center is not divided by automaker line, but rather into three “zones,” with all large sheet metal parts, for example, in one zone, regardless of whether they are Honda, Ford or GM.
Parts orders received and entered in the call center upstairs are transmitted to each of the three zones as necessary. Carts, forklifts and a conveyor belt are used to ship and receive orders.
The facility's five acres of land allows for a truck-loading area with 12 overhead doors, all covered to allow for loading and unloading out of the Pacific Northwest's frequent rainfall.
The new facility will also eventually house the Tonkin Dealerships business office staff. There are several conference and training rooms that the company plans to make available for use by the industry.
Tonkin's 16 new and used dealerships had parts and accessories sales of nearly $44 million in 2000, the third highest of any dealership group in the country as measured as a percentage of total sales (10.8% of Tonkin's $406 million total sales).
John Yoswick is a freelance writer based in Portland, OR.