Joe Alvarado, Parts Manager, Delano
Years with the Organization: 9. Started as a parts counter employee and was promoted to parts manager after 2 years. Prior to joining Kern Machinery he spent 9 years working the parts counter of a farm equipment and auto parts company in Tipton, Calif.
Role: “Every team has to have a leader and that’s what I am for the parts department. You need to have someone you can bring your problems to, someone who can organize chaotic situations and get you going; someone who’s been in the business for a while, and someone, hopefully, who the team trusts, and I think that’s why I’m here.”
Exclusive videos with Joe Alvarado
Joe Alvarado leads by example and doesn’t take any of the opportunities he’s been afforded for granted, something he attributes to his time in the Marine Corps. When Alvarado returned to civilian life, he started working for a farm equipment and auto parts company in Tipton, Calif. It was a small, family-owned operation, but it was there that he fell in love with agriculture — more specifically the people of agriculture.
“I met a bunch of farmers and dairymen, and it sounds corny but I fell in love with the culture of agriculture, the people and the way they treated me, the way they treated my family. I had some medical issues that came up and a lot of those dairymen would come visit me in the hospital and call my wife to see if we needed help with anything. I just fell in love with the ag industry because of them.”
Alvarado worked at that company for 9 years, until Chris Schott, then a parts manager for Kern Machinery and now the parts operations manager, walked into the store one day. “He asked me if I was Joe and basically recruited me to come to Kern. He had heard I was pretty decent at what I did and asked me if I’d be willing to make a change. I owe him a lot because coming to Kern Machinery changed my life,” Alvarado says.
Joe Alvarado, parts manager for the Delano, Calif., location of Kern Machinery, talks about how a past position with an auto parts and farm supply store prepared him for a career move into a farm equipment dealership. This video is part of the Dealership Minds Video Series, brought to you by Charter Software.
After 2 years of working the parts counter, Alvarado was promoted to parts manager after Charlie Moe joined the operation as corporate aftermarket manager. “I try to look to those two [Schott and Moe] and my old boss for guidance. I just try to teach my guys the way I was taught.”
In addition to serving as the parts manager of the Delano location, Alvarado is also the parts and service manager the dealership’s motorsports store, North Kern Motorsports, which is connected to the Delano store. About 60% of his time is spent on the ag side due to the higher volume of sales. But, he approaches both sides with the same attitude — to provide the best customer service around. “It doesn’t matter what they are purchasing, they’re looking for the same attention and service,” he says.
One main difference, he says, is the amount of pressure the customers are under on the ag side vs. the motorsports side. “In the harvest season, if equipment is down you’re talking about ag equipment that’s $100,000 or $200,000 that’s not moving vs. a quad or motorcycle for pleasure riding or ag field work. The motorsports customers needs often aren’t as urgent, so while we want to provide great customer service, our employees on the counter can balance the customers needs with the freight costs or service backlog to expedite repairs or parts as needed,” he explains.
Supplying the ‘Ammo’
Using an analogy from his time in the Marines, Alvarado describes his employees as being the soldiers on the frontlines. He compares his job as the parts manager to being the ammo supplier. “I keep the parts coming to them by placing stock orders. They’re helping our customers. They don’t have time to crunch the numbers like I do,” he says. “I see what’s selling, what’s moving, what we need for this customer. It’s my job to run the reports and make sure our inventory is clean and accurate. Their job is to focus on that customer and support them.”
“There’s only two ways to judge a parts manager and that’s by your inventory and by your people…”
The majority of Alvarado’s time is spent on placing orders and reviewing reports. He says he’s obsessive about checking and double checking his orders and inventory to make sure they’re accurate. “I have to have an accurate inventory. It drives me crazy if it’s not. I want to make sure that if it says there are three of something that there are three of them,” he says. “I don’t want dead inventory, things that aren’t selling. That’s Kern Machinery’s money sitting there and we’re not making a profit on it sitting there.”
Watching the Numbers
Alvarado and the other department managers as well as owner Clayton Camp and Moe meet bi-weekly to go over their progress against targeted budgets. “One of the metrics we’ll focus on is zero sales. We want to keep zero sales down; we don’t want to keep dead inventory,” Alvarado says.
Joe Alvarado, parts manager for the Delano, Calif., location of Kern Machinery, provides a few insights on how to deal with zero parts sales and how Kern Machinery deals with parts ordered in error. This video is part of the Dealership Minds Video Series, brought to you by Charter Software.
Other areas that are reviewed in the meeting include counter tickets vs. the same period the year before and year-to-date sales vs. the year before. Alvarado uses the information from the service and sales managers to help determine his stock inventory. “It’s good because we’re sharing information. They’re sharing what they’ve heard out in the field and what they’ve sold. If they sold 20 of a certain tractor, I need to start looking at stocking some of the filters. It might take a different filter, so I need to stock those filters now.”
With so much depending on customers getting parts when they need them, Alvarado’s inventory numbers are always on his mind. “I’m constantly thinking about it. Is our inventory sufficient? Are we on time? Do we have enough? Are the counts right? Everything depends on inventory, on parts,” he says.
One thing Alvarado always keeps in the back of his mind is something Schott once told him. “He used to tell me there’s only two ways to judge a parts manager and that’s by your inventory and by your people. My people are outstanding and my inventory metrics are outstanding, but that can change at any time. So I’m always thinking about that. If something’s off and James Boel, the service manager, tells a customer ‘yeah we’re good to go there,’ because the inventory shows one of a high dollar part and the count is off, it would just make us look really bad. So that stresses me out. I wake up sometimes — I really do dream of inventory.”
Building the Team
When it comes to hiring employees, the way Alvarado sees it is the greener they are the better. It’s rare to get new employees who already have a parts background, he says, but he’s come to appreciate that. “You have to get someone who’s from outside the industry and you have to raise them up yourself. When I interview potential employees, I actually prefer a green employee, someone who has no experience. That way I can train them my way,” he explains.
Alvarado sees there are benefits to hiring "green" employees who have little experience in the ag industry. These fresh employees offer a "clean slate," according to Alvarado. This video is part of the Dealership Minds Video Series, brought to you by Charter Software.
He’s also looking for employees who are outgoing, which he says is the most important characteristic for a parts department employee. “You need to be outgoing to interact with the customers. The good thing with our customers is they’re repeat customers so you become very personal with them and build a relationship.”
The parts department at the Delano store is made up of 5 employees — two at the front counter, two in the back and one outside parts specialist who travels to customers.
The key to managing the team Alvarado has assembled is treating them fairly and like family. And, he makes sure to lead by example. “Anything that they do, I’ve already done and they know that. I still get out there and do it with them. I don’t expect them to do anything that I wouldn’t do,” he says.
He truly believes the best way to lead is to not just talk the talk, but to walk the walk too. “I have seen managers who do a lot of talking but don’t show. I think I actually show. It’s been 105 F and I’ve been out there with the team unloading a semitrailer. They certainly could have handled it, but it was more so they could see I’m not just do as I say — but do as I do.”
It’s important to Alvarado that his team knows they can call him anytime, and they do. For example, one of his employees who has young kids called at midnight one night. His child was very ill and needed to go to the hospital and he wasn’t going to make it in the following morning. “No problem. Family comes first to me, even before work. We were able to scramble and I came in and opened for him. That’s what we do for each other. They respect me and I respect them,” Alvarado says.
While Alvarado is always looking to improve the departments’ numbers and help his employees grow, he also is looking to grow professionally himself. He’s not at the level of professionalism that he would like, and it’s something he’s working with Moe on. “I’m still really rough around the edges, as you can see. I want to smooth those out and I think that’ll help. I’ve got a good team, but I think they also follow my lead. I want to get to a higher level of professionalism, that’s my goal and I think that would trickle down. That’s a personal goal of mine to help me help the company.”
There’s no hiding that Alvarado is grateful for the job and opportunity he has with Kern Machinery. While he may be “rough around the edges,” as he put it, his dedication and passion for what he does shines through. “I truly feel that Chris and Charlie gave me a chance and blessed me with that chance, so I just don’t want to let anyone down. I want to do the best I can all the time. I want to be the best at what I do.
“I got thrown a curve ball when I became chronically ill and I was upset, but when this opportunity came up and Chris offered me this job and promotion, I knew it was a blessing getting sick. This is where I’m supposed to be and this is what I’m supposed to be doing and this is perfect for me.”