Springtime and increased consumer confidence in an economy recovery bode well for our industry, as the number of once-stalled repairs hopefully begin to shift from vehicle neglect (eight out of 10 vehicles on the road are in need of maintenance or repair, according to a recent report by the Car Care Council) to preventive maintenance, prompting a domino effect of more business in the bays, with parts sales increases not too far behind.
Hearing first-hand from someone on the parts firing line provides an interesting perspective on how the economic climate affects “first-call” status.
“It is actually easier to maintain first-call status when it is busier as generally the shops are too busy to be calling around, but that doesn’t mean we take them for granted,” says Harris Steinberg*, president of Morris Auto Parts, Inc., and POJA Warehouse LP. (POJA is a Philadelphia-based WD co-op of 25 independently owned and operated locations that each serve an average of 500 wholesale accounts in Eastern PA, and all of New Jersey and Delaware.)
“It is more difficult to maintain first-call status during slow times when shops tend to shop around for prices in order to gain extra profit to cover operational losses,” Steinberg explains. “So concentrating on being first call when it is slow gives you a much better chance of being first call when it is busy.”
It starts with a centralized call center with ASE-certified Parts Specialists answering the phone, an on-going continuing education program, quick delivery and drivers that are tracked using GPS, and having the right inventory mix and fast replenishment. But a key factor in maintaining first-call status is solid communication within your company to deliver on customers’ expectations, especially advising them about changes in delivery time. “It all goes back to courtesy and treating the customer with respect,” explains Steinberg. “The key is to keep our customers’ bays turning so that they can maximize their profits and give the best level of service to their customers.”
And, as far as obtaining first-call status with new accounts, the same philosophies apply delivering value-added services (like a stock cleanup or changeover, training and marketing programs that help drive more profitable business to their bays) that show we care about the success of their business, says Steinberg. “We will send outside sales professionals to their location to determine what opportunities exist to help the customer,” he continues. “We also try to carry product lines that are unique in our marketing area, and products that offer extra and different features inherent in both the product design and marketing, in order to help our customers sell the product to their customers, and give them extra confidence in the performance of the product they are installing.”
So, just as you deliver outstanding service as you expertly fix your customers’ vehicles, this industry’s parts professionals will go the extra mile to earn your business. Tell them what you need and they’ll deliver after all, their success hinges on your success.
*Steinberg was named Counterperson of the Year, by Counterman magazine in 2006.