Richard Knott, Parts Manager, Buttonwillow

Years with the Organization: 31. After working in the parts department for another John Deere Dealership for 3.5 years, he joined the Kern Machinery parts department and has been there ever since.

Role: “A big thing for me that I believe in is you have a parts department, a sales department and you have a service department and you have to make those all chime together to make them go and I think that’s a big part of my role — to make that happen.”

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Richard Knott is a parts department lifer. The parts manager started his career off working for another John Deere dealership north of Kern Machinery’s stores. After a 3.5-year stint in the parts department at that dealership, Knott came to Kern Machinery and 31 years later is still keeping the parts department on goal at the Buttonwillow location.

“I’ve had opportunities to go into sales and do different things, but I like the parts world. I like the challenge. I like the freedom of being able to buy what I want to buy, prove that it turns, it fills, it moves, it makes money and just working with a good group of guys. Just trying to be better than the competing dealerships’ parts managers. I haven’t gotten bored with it yet. I have grown up with it. It is the same type of thing, but it’s not the exact same thing every day,” says Knott.

Diverse Crops, Diverse Products

Part of the reason every day is different is because of the crop diversification that California has seen in the last 20 years. “I remember here a long time ago when I first started we had so much cotton. We were just cotton — one row crop — and you would set your time up and order 3, 4 truckloads of stuff and you were done. Those days are long gone,” says Knott. “We recognized the trend to permanent crops early enough to make that move and to pick up all our other lines to go along with John Deere equipment.”

All those additional product lines — and crops — presented a challenge. With so many more crops than when the region was mostly devoted to cotton or what can traditionally be found in many other regions of the country, there’s no down time following harvest because the next season has already started for another crop, Knott explains.

“With cotton, it was 30 days, 60 days and they were done. Now when you’re starting the almond harvest, they use 4, 5 or 6 pieces of equipment to harvest that crop. They’ll go through shaking the trees, sweeping, and harvesting the nuts intensely in many cases 24/7, for 8-10 weeks to get the crop in. Then growers have to go back into the same fields with the shakers and the sweepers for another shake in a month to clear out unharvested nuts to avoid pest issues and they’ll use many of those same machines,” he says. “So I’m looking at another 5 months of use for those product lines that we didn’t have with the row crops. So it’s a bigger spread of equipment time use.”

Over the last 10 years there’s been a lot of growth in Kern Machinery’s specialty lines, many of which are from smaller manufacturers. This has forced Knott to reevaluate some of his normal ordering practices. “We’re pushing the manufacturers and to keep up with the volume, I have to look at ordering a bit earlier. So I may run orders 2 or 3 months ahead of my normal schedule so the inventory is ready. That gives the manufacturers time to get it ready and then we’re forecasting demand — what crops are up and what crops are down,” he says.

While the parts department seems to offer a never-ending challenge, it’s one that Knott enjoys. “It’s a good challenge, I like it. It’s not a routine job like in the past when we just had 2 crops. On a day-to-day basis, you just have to set a few goals a day to accomplish and finish, but then you still have your long-term goals,” Knott says.

Strong Fill Rate = Strong Service

With so many product lines and customers who are almost constantly in the field, controlling and maintaining inventory levels is a crucial part of Knott’s role at Kern Machinery. “In order to help our customers succeed we need to keep a good parts fill rate and have good turns. We really thrive on fill. We want great customer service, and to do that you have to have good fill rates. If you have good fill rates, the rest is going to follow,” he says.

“If you don’t have the part, you’re dead in the water…”

The other big metric he keeps an eye on is zero sales — items in inventory that have sat on the shelf for 12 months or 18 months for some of the more specialized items. Finding the right balance between zero sales and a high fill rate is tricky. “You want to keep your zero sales down, but on the flip side you want to keep your fill percentage up for customer service. The customer is never going to be happy if you don’t have 10 out of 10 items. In reality it’s hard to do,” he says.

Richard Knott, parts manager at the Buttonwillow, Calif., location of Kern Machinery, talks about keeping the parts fill rate in line. This video is part of the Dealership Minds Video Series, brought to you by Charter Software.

Knott talks about the importance communicating with customers and deciding to visit a farmer when necessary. This video is part of the Dealership Minds Video Series, brought to you by Charter Software.

Knott aims to stay in the high 80s to 90% for a fill rate. “I don’t know if anybody out there is getting high 90s, and if they are then they’ve got a high zero sales number. That means they’re not moving the parts on the other end of it. That’s not going to be as profitable because you’re carrying inventory too long,” he says.

The parts business for Kern Machinery has become year-round, making organization key. “It used to be you would have 2 or 3 months of hard time and then you could settle into a routine. I don’t see that time anymore. It’s a 12-month, year-round cycle now that we’re looking at buying parts, turning parts and returning zero sales parts,” Knott says.

To stay on top of things, Knott sets calendar reminders for 12 months and pays close attention to the seasons. “You really have to listen to customers to gauge the seasons. Our season can shift 1 to 3 weeks depending on water and weather and when it comes and goes. I try to spend a lot of time with the customers and really listen to what they are doing and react to that. Based on what I hear from customers, I’ll push my orders, push my vendors and say, ‘OK, I need to order this early. I need to get it here now.’”

Worst Case Scenario

For Knott, the worst thing that could happen on any given day is having an unhappy customer because a part didn’t arrive. “If you’ve got a customer who’s here and that part’s not here when it’s supposed to be here — regardless if it’s one of your team’s mistake or it’s out of your control — he’s down and that’s the worst thing. I hate it,” he says. “So we’re going to do everything in our power as best as we can that day. If we have to put someone in a truck and get it, we have to go get it. We’re going to do that even if it means a 6 hour roundtrip — and sometimes it does. If you don’t have the part, you’re dead in the water.”

When a situation like this occurs, Knott’s first move is to fix the problem. Once his team has taken care of the customer, he examines what happened. “After we get it fixed, I’ll go back and spend some one-on-one time with the counter guy, and we’ll go back to see what happened. What could be changed for that not to happen again? What can we do differently other than having higher inventory?” he says.

These one-on-one sessions with his team members is how Knott prefers to meet with the parts department and address training needs. Having a team that has the same goals and understands how the department works together is important to Knott. In instances where there is someone who has a bad attitude or isn’t getting on board with the team, Knott will take them aside to address the problem. “If it gets to the point where nothing is changing, then I will tell them, ‘Either you get with the team or we need to look at parting ways or going in another direction.’ Because you can’t have someone who does not care or who’s not on board and still have great customer service. That’s probably the worst thing you can have,” he says.

More Dealership Minds Profiles February 2016 Issue Contents

Exclusive Videos with Richard Knott


Communicating with Customers and Visiting When Necessary

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Clayton Camp 01

Keeping the Parts Fill Rate in Line

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