Whether he’s wading through thousands of old parts from the acquisition of a 50 year old dealership or is knee deep in issues that come with a manufacturer’s new parts ordering system, Ben Hamilton brings a calm presence to the role of parts manager at the Derby, Vt., location of Champlain Valley Equipment.
Planning plays a huge role in Hamilton’s ability to forge ahead during the tough times and tweak department best practices when times are good. “Josh (store manager), Bill (service manager) and I meet three times a week — Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings at 7:15,” says Hamilton. “Monday is usually an overall view of the week. What do we have coming up? What do we have to plan for? We look at things like upcoming events, things that we each need to know about. On Wednesdays and Fridays, we continue to move forward with our outlook.”
These management huddles set the tone for the level of communication among all employees at the Derby location.
I’m a 'Numbers' Guy
The label of “numbers guy” is a point of pride for Hamilton, who spends hours analyzing parts data and looking for ways to streamline the parts ordering process.
One ongoing project Hamilton is currently spearheading involves cleaning up the dealership’s quick-codes in their parts database. The first step is to develop a common naming system. Then it can be loaded onto the department computers.
Sorting through the terminology and defining items is one thing, it’s another whole task to get members of the team on the same page with those names.
“I have thousands of quick-codes that I’m putting in the computer,” says Hamilton. “For example, we have little plastic clips that you use to attach body panels on the equipment. It looks like a little Christmas tree. Previously, we had all different names for these things: plastic pine tree clips, Christmas tree clips, plastic rivets, the list goes on.
“My job is to get one of those unique names to stick, so if someone searches for ‘pine,’ for example, the search results will show only that one piece.”
Incremental changes like these help the parts department become more efficient. In Hamilton’s eyes, a couple hours of planning work today will save the parts guys dozens of hours of work querying the database in the next year.
“I know we have one of the best metric bolt inventories in town, but so many of them have specific New Holland part numbers that it’s not always easy to find the exact one you’re looking for,” he says. “It’s pretty easy to lose a sale on little stuff like this, so every little shortcut helps.”
Once set up, the data-mining system in the DIS business management system enables Hamilton to create searchable spreadsheets for all types of parts.
Tracking Sales Codes
The new business software has also enabled Hamilton to roll out a new initiative to track parts sales by team member, giving him the opportunity to see how everyone is doing. As the department grew from 2 fulltime employees to 4 fulltime plus a manager, it became increasingly difficult to track parts sales.
Hamilton explains, “Back then, I could split it up by who opened the invoice. That’s the way the system tracked it. Now, we do it per line item so I can tell how much each of the guys has sold to the shop, how much they sold across the counter, all of their margins, that sort of thing.”
Breaking down transactions in this way helps Hamilton sort through datasets, discover trends and address any potential shortfalls before they happen. “Having a big enough dataset is huge. It’s a baseline. Then you have to adjust for changes in models. When new equipment is rolled out, you have to be prepared with enough parts on the shelf for what might come in. For example, does that new tractor model use some of the same parts as the old?
“When a customer comes in, they expect us to have the part they are looking for in stock, and they want us to be able to find it fairly fast.”
Prioritizing Customer Service
As CVE has grown through absorbing and acquiring other dealerships, Hamilton plans to continue offering the same level of customer service at the parts counter as they always have.
“You don’t go to Wal-Mart for the customer service,” he says. “The greeter might be nice, but I would never go there for an experience. You go there for cheap prices. That’s not why people come to CVE. Despite growth in the dealership, we’ve stuck to our principles on customer service and product knowledge. The preparation continues to pay off.”