Running a Shop Operations Working With Vendors

Same Old Song

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I’ve written to manufacturing, distribution and counter professionals in the automotive aftermarket almost as long as I’ve been privileged to write for you.

It started at Hunter Publishing in the mid-1980s at what was, at the time, the No. 1 read publication on that side of the industry: Jobber and Warehouse Executive, and continued for almost thirty years at two other publishing companies.

If I told you I didn’t miss it, I’d be lying. I miss it terribly. I miss it because the absence of that dialogue is a constant reminder of what’s missing in our relationship with the other half of our industry. The one component that almost ensures we remain in an open loop, functioning in a kind of light operating service limbo: communication.

So far, we have failed to build a feedback mechanism that works. We have yet to develop the skills or create the opportunities necessary to communicate effectively with the folks who manufacture and distribute the parts we purchase and install. Like any other relationship, success depends upon open and honest communication for it to work. It must be built on mutual respect as much as on mutual interest.

In my writing, I explored the intricate and complicated life we share, talking about real problems in search of realistic solutions and from the feedback I received, I was encouraged—encouraged we could build a partnership that worked for the repair community as well as it worked for manufacturing, sales and distribution. As I find myself closer to the end of my career than the beginning, I’m not so sure anymore.

As far as I can tell, the aftermarket still has no idea what the true cost of failure is. At least, not as experienced by a shop or shop owner when it comes to material defects, quality or function. And, nowhere could this have been more apparent than it was on a recent morning as I listened while my manager tried to explain why passing another steering gear across the counter and offering us $35 per labor hour was unacceptable.

The steering gear was for a 2006 Acura TL, more than a five-hour remove-and-replace job, not counting the fluid exchange or the alignment. The first steering gear functioned for 11 years without leaking. Its replacement didn’t last 11 days.

THINKSTOCKThe counterman deflected my manager’s frustration by pointing him toward our sales representative. Our sales representative deflected his frustration by getting the manufacturer involved. The manufacturer called and decided the best way to handle the situation would be to drown an already smoldering fire in a sea of words.

Instead of recognizing the problem, establishing empathy, apologizing and taking action in search of a solution, he managed to do everything but that. He went down the same script you and I have been forced to endure every time you returned a part that was obviously defective, a part that had NOT failed as a result of some kind of bizarre installation error. Of all the parts you have ever returned for analysis and evaluation, how many have been returned NTF (No Trouble Found)? I may be crazy, but I’ll bet the number returned NTF is exponentially greater than the number of claims accepted.

And $35 per labor hour is just plain inadequate. It’s insulting, in fact. It represents an almost perfect reflection of the lack of understanding the aftermarket demonstrates every day when it comes to the true cost of a failed part. More to the point, it doesn’t come close to the cost of a decent technician.

They don’t understand the loss of profit on the first job, the cost of the technician and the ancillary supplies required to do the job a second time. They don’t understand the loss of the technician to do for-profit work while forced to do the job over and they certainly don’t understand the lost profit on the parts that would normally accompany that lost five-plus hours.

Nor do they understand the most tragic loss of all: lost confidence; the confidence lost between your client and the shop; the confidence lost between you, your suppliers and their chosen manufacturers.

We told our supplier and the manufacturer that “business as usual” just wasn’t going to cut it anymore. It was inadequate, inappropriate and unacceptable. A new, more equitable solution would be required or someone would be forced to suffer along with us—suffer a significant loss in future revenue.

If I were still writing for the distribution and manufacturing communities, this recent ordeal would have been directed at them. But, I don’t. So, I offer it to you instead, not for sympathy, but as an example of antiquated policies and procedures we should no longer be willing to accept. It is a status quo we should be anxious to discuss and committed to change.

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