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The Value of a Parts Specialist

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SHOP STATS: Gil's Garage  Locations: 2 in N.Y. (Burnt Hills and Halfmoon) Operator: Mike Brewster  Average Monthly Car Count: BH: 1,500 , HM: 600  Staff Size: BH: 29, HM:12   Average Shop Size: 10,500 sq. ft. Annual Revenue: BH: $6 million, HM: $2.5 million  

“You have to spend money to make money.” 

Mike Brewster, owner of the two location Gil’s Garage in New York, has a staffing model that exemplifies this. Every position has a capacity, and, rather than stretching his people thin, Brewster brings aboard new people when the time comes. 

Brewster places convenience above costs. If something costs a little more, but makes life easier on him and his employees, then he’s willing to invest. For Brewster, efficiency is key. And, when his business started growing, he didn’t want that efficiency to be lost. That’s why he’s followed in his father’s footsteps and employed a parts person, and hired additional ones when necessary. 

Brewster sat down with Ratchet+Wrench to discuss why the position of a parts specialist has been worthwhile.

The Backstory

Gil’s Garage opened its doors back in 1966 by, you guessed it, Gil Brewster. What started as a four-bay shop quickly grew to 16 with the shop’s move to another location in 1979. Six years after the move, Gil’s son, Mike Brewster, decided to take over the business as a second-generation owner and work with his two sisters, who are stockholders within the business. And, in 2012, the shop grew once more, adding another location in Halfmoon, N.Y., just 12 miles from the Burnt Hills location. 

Since 1980, the business has had a parts person. When Brewster took over and the shop’s continual growth added more work, he added on his own parts specialist in 2000 to his Burnt Hills shop. After seeing such success with this position, he’s since added a second parts specialist to the location and is continually evaluating the staffing at his shop.

The Problem

Ordering parts and keeping up with inventory are typically a part of the service advisor’s job. However, with the amount of work that was coming in to the Burnt Hills location back in the 1980s, processes started to unravel. 

“It became unruly,” Brewster says. “We needed more parts, had too much of some. We needed to manage parts that were in stock.”

Because of the growing workload, it became difficult for service advisors to do their job and the job of a parts person. And, when a service advisor is too busy worrying about parts, he or she isn’t worrying about the customer, which was a problem for Brewster. Orders were forgotten about and it was difficult to maintain inventory and keep track of cores that needed to be returned. 

“For us, it’s workflow, production and efficiencies for the service advisors so they’re not distracted and can spend more time with clients,” Brewster says.

The Solution

Rather than depending on service advisors to essentially do two jobs, Brewster employs dedicated parts people. This is something that the business has done since the ’80s, and continues to invest in because of the success the position has had. 

Burnt Hills, being the larger shop, has two parts specialists. The two parts people are constantly on the phone ordering special orders and dealing with main vendors, parts vendors, and are working with sales. Both of the parts specialists essentially have the same job, but the position has evolved a bit since its initial inception. One staff member has the title of parts manager and the other is the parts specialist; one focuses on inventory more and the other one on servicing technicians and working with the service advisors on parts.

When making his first parts specialist hire, Brewster went with an inside hire. One of the technicians started having back issues that made it hard to be a tech, but Brewster says he was essential to the operation. Because he was super detailed-oriented, Brewster knew he’d be perfect for the job. 

Currently, the Halfmoon location does not have a parts specialist. The reason for this is that the service advisors still have enough capacity at that location to be able to handle the parts job, too. If that ever changes, though, Brewster may have to re-evaluate. 

When it comes to the skills a parts specialist should have, being detail-oriented is at the top of Brewster’s list, as well as having a good memory and a sense of urgency.

“They’ll know a part number off the top of their head and know what parts they’ve ordered for what job,” Brewster says. “They need to know the part’s quality and where to source those parts at a good price efficiently.”

And with this, look for someone who can switch gears quickly and efficiently—Brewster hates the word multitask. Brewster relates a parts person to a service advisor; the only difference is that they don’t need to be as strong in sales. What they don’t have in sales, they make up for it in detail.

The Aftermath

Brewster pays each parts specialist between $18 to $24 per hour, but the return on his investment makes it worthwhile. Overall, the point of hiring a parts manager and specialist was to make sure things run as efficiently as possible; for example, it’s their job to make sure the cores get returned in a timely fashion, and when it is, it can save the shop money on the replacement parts; Brewster says this saves the shop thousands of dollars each month alone. And, because there’s someone always managing the parts inventory, the shop has cut down on its parts inventory from $300,000 to half that amount.

 Prices and money are all part of the overall business equation, Brewster says.

“They pay for themselves,” he says.

Because Brewster hired on a parts specialist where and when it was needed, he says it’s kept up efficiency and has eliminated lost time and money. Now, when a technician is ready to start working on a vehicle, the parts specialist already has inventoried all of the parts needed to get the job done. And because of this, the shop’s monthly car count has gone from an estimated 1,200 back before the shop had a parts specialist, to an estimated 1,460; during peak season, the car count gets up to around 1,800.

“I think with a good parts specialist, they help make you more profitable,” Brewster says.

The Takeaway

Overall, there’s not a set timeline or schedule on when you need a couple extra hands. If you know your processes, you’ll know when they need to be fine-tuned.

How did he determine this was the ideal setup for his shops? Brewster simply asked himself one question: “Are time and money being spent as efficiently as possible?”

If the answer is “no,” this is your first clue that you may need a parts person in your shop. Brewster says shop owners are all concerned about losing money. And to him, wasting time leads to wasting money. As a shop owner, you want parts to be ready as soon as the order is put in. When you spend the time waiting for a part instead of fixing it right off the bat, productivity will be lost, which means more time on one vehicle and less time to be able to take on others—hence, lost money. 

“If you have techs waiting for parts because service advisors are busy, they don’t have time to source parts,” Brewster says. “They’re not sourcing something last minute at not a good price. Timing is everything.”

Are processes slipping? Are cores returns being missed? If so, it may be time to start thinking about a hire. 

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