Question: What is the biggest challenge your dealership faces in the parts department, and what have you done to alleviate the challenge?
"The biggest challenge any parts manager faces will always be having the right amount of the correct parts in stock at the most competitive price. With technology changing so fast, just keeping up with that progress is a challenge. As employees get older they have a lot of the knowledge that has made that parts department successful, but to maintain that edge you need to find the right younger employees willing to step up and accept the challenge of combining the new with the old. There will always be a demand for parts on older tractors. The parts for the older equipment are becoming obsolete quicker than the units of 20 years ago. Maintaining a good stock of these parts will be a juggling act.”
— Walter Green,
Deere Country Equipment LLC,
“Probably the biggest problem or problems are things the magazine doesn’t want to print. There are annoyances and unpleasant tasks, but it is hard to narrow down a ‘biggest problem.’ And then as to what we have done to alleviate it, you probably won’t want to print that we have done nothing. But what do you do? That is why things are problems — because they are things you don’t have the answers for.
“One thing that comes to mind is exorbitantly high prices that you have to justify to the customer, and there is no justification for those prices. So what you do is develop a callous attitude. You remind yourself that it isn’t that the prices are higher, but that money is worth less; therefore it takes more of it. Sometimes for some extra-exorbitant parts we can call the company and have them look into the price and sometimes they actually are able to lower it.
“We have problems like frequent part number changes and then changing back to the original numbers. We complain to our supplying company — that is something we can do — but it often does not register with them.
“On a more serious level, we could say that what the company would consider ‘just in time’ supply is a serious problem. The company thinks if they make an abundance of some part, they will have too many. Then it turns out that far more were needed than they calculated they would need, and it is some months before they are going to produce more of what everybody needs now. I don’t know that we have a remedy for that. Ideally, if we could anticipate the needs and stock up, but often it seems it is on newer models and there isn’t a chance to see the need or even stock up if we wanted to.
“Often change is a problem. So-called improvements may not be. For example, if we went to all online parts look up instead of locally housed parts books in our own computers, a failure in Internet service could immobilize us, so I hope we are never limited to that. Unfortunately, if that happens for the Internet at large, it will probably mean a national disaster, which would make our daily parts orders and next day delivery impossible also. The new technology that helps us will also be our undoing.
“I realize this is more than one largest problem, but there really isn’t one largest problem.”
— Greg Meints,
Wells Implement Inc.,
“Of the many challenges in the parts department, one of the biggest is staying on top of the new models and having the proper parts inventory to support those products. We have asked our parts managers to make sure they review all new models and the suggested parts lists for those models and to communicate with their store managers what models will be arriving and when. Our philosophy is to be over prepared to support new models.”
— Mark Foster,
Birkey’s Farm Store Inc.,
“The biggest challenge I face is cleaning up my inventory. I have Kioti tractors coming next week, so I need to make room for new parts, and I have lots of old stuff from this dealership’s days as a White dealer. Getting accurate bin counts, and then knowing what to stock will be my main task this fall. My background was parts for 20-plus years before I bought this store.”
— Steve Brown,
Everson Farm Equipment,
“Our biggest challenge in the parts department is inventory management. Keeping the cash off the shelf when it doesn’t need to be there. The huge swings in demand through the year make that a challenge. You could just surrender to stashing money there and growing it year-over-year, but smart business demands a better approach. Our response has been two-fold. First, we have tried to extend the selling season, mostly by use of the service department with winter service inspections and aggressive marketing. Secondly, we aggressively work to control inventory and keep it at a lower level. Using manufacturer projection programs, business system tools and attention to seasonal changes year-over-year, we try to come closer to a predicted ticket fill. Other things we rely on are shortened stock order shipping times and try to make full utilization of returns to manufacturers.”
— Greg Wilson,
Heart Mountain Farm Supply,
“Consistent processes and procedures. As we have added more stores to our organization, it has been a challenge to integrate new managers who are used to doing things ‘their way.’ We have held organization-wide parts meetings and recently had John Deere’s Parts Optimization Team perform a weeklong onsite visit to try and achieve our goal of standardized parts processes and procedures.”
— Nick Lee,
“People come through the door, looking for parts, with no model/serial number. Some do not even know the brand. For units that we have sold, we try to keep pertinent information attached to the customer’s name and address in our database. But people purchase from neighbors, friends, other dealers, auctions, etc.”
— Gene Saville,
Lamb and Webster,
“Our biggest challenge in parts is to find and train people to know everything about the countless number of lines we have. Good counter people are very valuable, and you don’t just hire them. They take years to cultivate and train. At the pace our industry, our machinery and our customers’ needs are changing, it is an ongoing struggle to keep up. We do everything possible to retain good people, and today that requires more than just great pay and great benefits. We need to build teams that function well together. Our hiring practices must focus on hiring only the best we can. We look for people who have the work ethics and aptitudes that can’t be trained. Hiring and building teams is an ongoing process and not something where you can relax or lose focus of.”
— Darryl Geissler,
“One major problem day-to-day is keeping the parts counter people focused on friendliness with the customer. If you’ve ever worked at the counter, with two or three customers waiting at the counter, the phone ringing, and parts needing to be checked in, you understand it can be a major challenge, and some can’t handle the pressure. Asking a lot of questions before hiring and making sure the employee understands the situation helps prevent surprises. A receptionist directing phone traffic and sales and management personnel discreetly monitoring counter traffic with a willingness to come out and ‘visit’ a minute or two can really relieve the pressure for the counter people. Many phone calls for parts are customers just wanting to know if their part is in; almost everyone in the dealership can be trained to answer that question, eliminating a major time consumer for the parts staff during a rush period.”
— Donny Sanders,
Martin Truck & Tractor,
“As always, there are several issues, perhaps the main one today is finding the right person to fit the demands that are put upon them. The tremendous amount of change from Case IH and business is also a challenge. Currently we are trying to find an additional parts person and are still in search.”
— Bud Lowe,
Bob Lowe Inc.,
“Dealing with shipping shortages/errors is our biggest challenge. The company accepts no responsibility for the errors and it ends up being the dealer who eats the loss!”
— Joe Wallace,
Somerset Farm Equipment,
“We keep striving to keep the customer informed if there is a backordered part as to when it will be available or check with the company to get the part expedited. Communication is the biggest challenge we face and we strive to keep everyone informed. It is an ongoing process and a tough one to overcome because once you lose the customers’ faith in what you are doing, it takes a long time to get their confidence back.”
— Randy Woker,
“The biggest challenge is finding competent help; someone who is willing to work! Our problem is we have such a variety of suppliers — somewhere in the neighborhood of 50. Everyone is just a little different. For summer help, we would hire either high school or college kids to help just put parts away. That can go either way. We’ve had some who were good, but the better part of them are bad. Putting parts away is an easy job, getting them in the right location seems to be hard. You can put them away all day, but unless we can find them when they are needed, it doesn’t work well at all. A couple of years ago we put out applications and ended up hiring a gentleman who was 59 and retired. He lasted 4-1/2 days and just quit. Help is the biggest problem.”
— Jeff Suchomski,
Suchomski Equipment Inc.,
“My biggest challenge is recruiting new young people to train and work in this department. Everywhere from finding the next generation of people committed to show up for work and people who can engage customers at the parts counter, have the personality and courtesy to handle themselves in parts counter controversies.”
— Lance Carlson,
Quincy Tractor LLC,