Santiago Alcantar, Parts Manager, Bakersfield & Lancaster
Years with Organization: 2.5. Prior to joining Kern Machinery as the parts manager at the Bakersfield and Lancaster, Calif., stores he worked as a manager at AT&T and Sears.
Role: As a parts manager, Santiago Alcantar says it’s his goal to make sure a customer walks out the door with everything they needed, if not more.
Exclusive videos with Santiago Alcantar
Santiago Alcantar wasn’t an expert on agriculture equipment when he joined Kern Machinery in 2013, but he was an expert when it came to customer service and retailing. Before joining the dealership as the parts manager for the Bakersfield and Lancaster stores, Alcantar worked as a manager for AT&T and Sears.
“So coming here was completely different from what I was used to. I was comfortable managing teams, taking care of customers,” he says. “The only obstacle I had was learning the business. I had the fundamentals of building great teams and great customer service and, as you see in our store when you walk in, with the merchandising and store flow.”
The move to agriculture has had a profound affect on Alcantar. “The biggest difference is I personally feel that this has a lot more meaning than anything I’ve done in the past,” he says. “You’re working directly with the ranchers and farmers, and what they do impacts us all. In consumer electronics retail, it’s a lot of things you want, but nothing you really need. In this industry, they need our products to survive. The farmers need it to sell to the public. The workers need it to have a job.
“So it’s really meaningful to work here. That’s the biggest difference. It’s a passion and you see it in everyone who works here. They really love what they do and they enjoy working with the customers that walk in every day.”
“Outlook is a parts manager’s best friend. If you can utilize it correctly, it makes a big difference…”
Coming from a consumer retail background, Alcantar had a lot to learn when he started working with ag equipment. However, that background was important in helping him learn all the equipment, he explains. “In retail, it’s always moving, always changing. Every three months there’s something different out there, so you’re always learning something new. That was something that really helped me when I got here because I was used to that fast pace and learning new things. Plus, I personally like to immerse myself in anything that I do so that I understand everything around it,” says Alcantar.
Learning the equipment and the business was important to him because it meant he could better serve his customers. Everything he does in his role at Kern Machinery comes back to making sure the customer gets the best service possible and has a positive experience.
Alcantar says his ultimate goal is to make sure that when customers walk into the store they get everything they came for — and maybe even a little more. “We want to explain to the customer that these are the parts they need to complete the job. So that way when they leave, they have everything that they need,” he says.
He has his parts counter team ask every customer before they leave, “Where are you going from here? Did I have everything you needed when you came in or is there something lacking?” The parts staff then reports back to Alcantar with their answers. “I’ll then take a look at an item and see if that’s something that we’d want to stock here to make it more convenient for customers. We want it to be a one-stop shop for them. So then I have to use my retail background. How is it going to impact the customers? Are they going to want it? Is it an impulse buy or something they need?”
Jumping into Action When Parts Don’t Arrive
If there’s one thing Santiago Alcantar hopes does not happen on any given day, it’s that parts he ordered aren’t delivered. “That throws a big wrench in my day,” the Kern Machinery Bakersfield parts manager says. “In the middle of harvesting almonds, it’s 24/7. You have to have those parts. If they don’t show up and that machine is down for an extra hour, it’s unacceptable. Those machines have to be running.”
Of course, situations like these are inevitable, and Alcantar says when it does happen you need to react and find a resolution to the problem. He relates one example that happened last fall when a customer came in to pick up a part. “We went to pull the order and the part wasn’t there. I contacted the manufacturer, which was about 6 hours away, and explained the situation, where we’re at, what parts were ordered and what happened.
“They understood that they had dropped the ball on their side and they made provisions to get that part delivered that same day from their site to us. And we got it to the customer the same day. So that was something that was very important for us to have and for the customer to see that we care that much about their business that we were willing to make sure it happened for them.”
As a result of this exercise, Kern Machinery has added more electrical products like flashlights, connectors, fasteners, etc., as well as different types of lubricants and tapes. Alcantar says some customers were going to auto parts stores like NAPA or O’Reilly for these items. “I want to make sure that we provide a solution for our customers when they come into the store, that they’re buying everything they need from us saving them time and money,” he says.
Providing the best customer service possible means employees and customers need to be able to communicate. The San Joaquin Valley is a bilingual market and a number of the workers, ranch hands and supervisors that come into Kern Machinery are Spanish speaking. “It makes a big difference when you have somebody at the counter who can speak Spanish. It makes the interaction more comfortable. With our lawn and garden/OPE side, predominantly they’re Spanish speaking. So it’s imperative that I have Spanish language capability on that counter. Our ag side is always willing to help out the lawn and garden team. Sometimes my retail specialists can struggle with the language barrier, but they can get through. It’s a must have in our day-to-day activities,” Alcantar says.
All three of the lawn and garden/OPE parts specialist employees are bilingual and two of the ag counter staff are bilingual. “There’s always someone available to help a customer out. And if not, they get a hold of me and I will go and interpret for them. Even my retail specialists that are non-Spanish speaking can understand enough to get through and the customers really appreciate that,” Alcantar says.
With the variety of different crops growing throughout the year, Alcantar says he’s constantly ordering parts. Because of that, being organized is essential.
Santiago Alcantar, parts manager at the Bakersfield, Calif., location of Kern Machinery, shares an anecdote on why it's important to build a good relationships with shortline manufacturers and other vendors. This video is part of the Dealership Minds Video Series, brought to you by Charter Software.
“A big part of my day is placing orders and making sure they are processed in a timely manner. That’s something I do on a daily basis. There are time cutoffs for placing orders and there are certain days that vendors deliver. Some vendors will schedule to come in and we do on-site orders,” he says.
Kern Machinery has 20 different suppliers that they use monthly, but Alcantar says there are additional suppliers he orders from more frequently on top of those 20-plus.
To keep track of everything, Alcantar relies heavily on his Outlook calendar. “Outlook is a parts manager’s best friend. If you can utilize it correctly, it makes a big difference,” he says. “I use my calendar to keep organized. And if I don’t, I’d never be able to remember all the things that need to happen on a daily basis. It doesn’t mean that things don’t change, because in the blink of an eye, something comes up and I have to shift gears. But it’s more or less a guide to the daily tasks I need to complete each day. And there are certain times throughout the day when I need to get them done. For instance, Deere daily stock orders have to be entered by a certain time so they are processed correctly, ensuring I will get the parts within the 2 days that we need them.”
When Alcantar first came on board, he says it took the parts staff some time to adjust to the new guy who came from consumer retail. But today the team has really come together and has each other’s back. “Something you learn really fast in retail is you need people who can multitask and perform jobs other than the job they do on a daily basis. That’s something I’ve made a priority here — most of my people are cross trained in everything that they do within the parts department,” he says.
“You’ve got a couple key factors when people meet. There’s storming, norming and performing. Storming everyone gets together at first; everybody’s trying to figure out who is the king of the hill and who knows what. Then you start norming, where everyone comes and starts to work together. And then people start to perform, which my group does now. They all perform. They all know what they’re doing. That’s a big part of our success — everyone doing their job and everyone helping each other out. When somebody needs help, there’s somebody right next to them to step up and give a hand. If we get a big shipment in, it’s not uncommon for my retail specialists from the counters to jump right in and help out to get the order checked in so that way it’s on the shelf and it’s ready to sell to the customers right away.”
Alcantar holds department meetings once a month, but he prefers to have “little huddles” throughout the week. “Those small huddles — as opposed to just the big meetings when everyone’s gathered — impact the business because you’re able to get the point across really quick so the staff understand. You’re in the heartbeat of the day.”
A Uniform Warehouse
For the past year, Alcantar and the whole Bakersfield parts department have been working on a major project — reorganizing the warehouse and making it uniform.
“With the sales floor when you come in, it’s nicely merchandised. It’s like items next to each other. We’re doing the same thing in the back. We’re organizing, making use of all the space efficiently and moving parts around,” he explains.
It’s a big project — one that he expects will take a couple of years to complete due to the size and volume of Kern’s inventory. But, when all is said and done, Alcantar’s goal for the system he puts in place is to apply the learning across all of Kern Machinery’s locations.
Another part of the project has been updating all the bar codes to a uniform shape and size. And, instead of applying them straight to the shelving, now they are on magnets that can easily be moved as needed. All parts are also placed in boxes so there is no confusion about which part goes where and with which bar code. “My goal is to make it more efficient for everyone. So, no matter who comes into the store, it’s easy for them to adapt and learn how our processes are done.
“That’s my big goal, to make everything uniform.”
At the end of the day, everything Alcantar has done in the parts department comes back to making sure his customers can get back into the field. “They need to be able to harvest the crop, to get it out to market, to make sure that it’s sold. And it all depends on getting their parts and their machinery up and running so they’re efficient and they can keep moving forward,” he says.