AN OLD BASEBALL CREDO SAYS THAT FOR A TEAM to win pennants it must be strong up the middle.
It must have a savvy catcher, a hard-hitting outfield, and especially a talented “keystone combination.” That's a second baseman and shortstop who anticipate each other's moves and turn rally-ending double plays.
The keystone combination in any new car dealership is its parts manager and service manager, and like a smooth working second baseman and shortstop they blend their abilities to complete the plays that help make a winning team.
Autonomous parts departments who consider themselves simply as purveyors to the service department reduce the dealership potential to provide excellent service. The proliferation of new-vehicle models challenges the parts department to efficiently provide needed parts.
Effectively deploying your parts and service personnel means motivating them to assume responsibility for service customer satisfaction. Otherwise, customer needs may be neglected and the dealership suffers.
Parts department personnel in the traditional dealership are buried among their bins, completely sheltered from any personal contact with service customers.
Interaction between parts and service is generally limited to the parts counter. Consideration for each other's problems may not be a high priority.
Regularly scheduled meetings between service and parts personnel to air mutual concerns and formulate future planning would be a big step toward getting two important departments together as teammates.
These meetings, conducted by the respective managers, would let employees look beyond their own turf and gain a perspective on the total service operation.
Parts department personnel especially would become enlightened to the consumer problems that service managers and writers face daily, and might try harder to locate needed parts in future dealings with those colleagues.
There have been reams written about dealerships neglecting consumers. That includes criticism of service writers' attitudes, technicians' ineptitude and service managers' callousness.
Yet minimum attention has been directed toward the impact of parts department efficiency in this context. Parts department managers can do things that are counterproductive to the overall dealership.
Veteran parts managers are generally very turf-conscious. They don't welcome intrusions from service. Problems in the parts department are not easily spotted. It usually takes months before mismanagement appears in the results of year-end inventories, a factory audit, a consultant's investigation or a shopping service.
Most dealers and general managers know little about the operation of a parts department except for inventory turnover and gross profit retention.
As a result, the criteria for hiring and managing parts staff are loaded with instinctive judgments, some of which are based solely on personality.
According to many customer satisfaction surveys, a significant number of respondents cite parts unavailability as the reason for their service dissatisfaction.
This does not mean parts personnel should be held totally responsible for a scarcity of parts. However it does question the effort parts people are willing to exert to locate parts from other dealers before they blandly shake their heads at the inquiring technician and simply order the needed parts from a distant warehouse.
Parts and service managers must begin to think and act as a team, not as individual players.
Technicians are not without guilt in the “parts unavailability” game. A favorite ploy of aggressive flat-rate technicians is to order unnecessary parts which they know are unavailable in order to avoid low-paying, unpleasant labor operations.
Service managers and writers also cite alleged parts shortages to escape the wrath of disappointed customers whose vehicles haven't been worked on all day because of service scheduling problems. It's tempting to blame parts shortages for service department screw-ups.
So, what to do?
Satisfying the service customer must become as important to the parts manager as servicing his wholesale accounts. It's unacceptable for parts delivery trucks to be tied up delivering wholesale parts while service jobs are held up for want of someone to pick up the needed parts from another dealer.
Conversely, service department staffs must acknowledge the need for outside parts sales to balance the sales activities of successful parts departments.
It's a question of finding the right combination. That's why parts and service managers must work as a team to train their personnel in how to work together, how to see each other's points of view, and how that helps win over customers.
Nat Shulman was owner of Best Chevrolet in Hingham, MA for many years.