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Get More Out of Your Parts Vendors

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With five buildings, six paint booths, 90 employees and 81,000 square feet to work in, Kendrick Paint and Body in Augusta, Ga., does robust business in collision repair. Family-owned since 1952, Kendrick fixes Fords, Ferraris and everything in between, and, a few years back, really wasn’t looking for help writing estimates on collision-damaged Mercedes-Benz vehicles only. But when they realized that the services of the expert who offered it wouldn’t cost a dime — and actually saved time and expense in repairs to the high-end vehicles — this singularly tasked helper was welcomed at the shop anytime.

It seems like a no-brainer: Who wouldn’t like to get the exact parts they need and not a single item more — the first time, every time? Better yet, how about having someone else take on the responsibility for this task at your collision repair shop?

“It’s part of what we offer as a vendor,” says Tommy Carson, wholesale manager at Mercedes-Benz of Augusta. The personalized service means that Carson spends about 80 percent of his time on the road, studying the Mercedes-Benz vehicles that his body shop customers are charged with repairing to like-new condition. A comprehensive Web site by the parts distributor is a companion to the personal visits, along with information and support for shop staff to research vehicles, parts and procedures. This way, the shop staff can bone up on any parts or repair issues at hand, or be ready with questions or discussion when Carson arrives.

SPRECHEN ZIE DEUTSCH?

“Most people are afraid of Mercedes-Benz because of the fact it’s such a very high-end, luxury vehicle; it’s German-engineered; and normally when you take a vehicle that’s considered to be German engineered, the intricacies of those vehicles kind of go deeper than some of the domestic models,” Carson says.

Because of this, the Mercedes-Benz dealership decided to offer technical assistance in writing estimates for collision repair shops, in part to offer overall better customer service by looking at the vehicle in person instead of simply taking an order by phone.

“We just find it makes more business sense to do that rather than go back and forth” when something goes wrong, says Carson.

Simple mistakes or even misunderstandings are common when you’re translating something from German, Carson says: “A lot gets lost in the translation.”

Understandable, since many of the parts on a Mercedes-Benz are all called the same thing. “So if you call me up and ask for a paneling for a Mercedes-Benz, and that’s the only information you give me, it’s virtually impossible to know exactly what you’re talking about,” Carson explains.

“So it makes more sense to be looking at the car and going over the car with them, and seeing some of the things that are commonly missed.”

Some “misses” have included wire harnesses, control units and issues with the mechanical side of repairing the car. “There are so many different things you have to do to make sure that number one, the vehicle is safe to work on, and number two, that you’re not going cause more damage by trying to repair something,” Carson says.

“Some of the vehicles actually take a lot of research,” he adds. “Just to make sure you’re getting everything done correctly you’ve got to go in and find out the way the vehicle was set up originally and make sure that everything is going back the way it’s supposed to.”

Steve Kendrick Jr. says he’s been working with Mercedes-Benz of Augusta during the 15 years he has been at the family business, and the addition of Carson’s customized service has been welcome. As a consultant on all things Mercedes-Benz down to the best replacement bumper cover with specific headlight washer nozzles, Kendrick offers high praise for Carson and for Mercedes-Benz of Augusta.

Says Kendrick, “They’ve been a really big help in helping us streamline the repair process.”

WHERE ARE THE OTHERS?

Most of the shops that Carson has been doing business with for some time pick up the phone and call him when a Mercedes-Benz arrives in their shops. “I’ve also started doing some business with insurance companies,” Carson says. “I’ll have insurance adjusters call me up and we’ll try to take care of the technical side of the problems before it gets too deep and takes more time.”

If offering on-site parts consultations is such great customer service for a vendor, why aren’t more of them doing it?

The biggest reason likely has to do with a lack of personnel.

“It’s a pretty major step to have somebody go out and inspect a vehicle, because we’re putting our name on the line,” he adds. A big mistake easily could cost the dealership parts department one or more of its valued customers, but done correctly, it also can earn loyal customers through newly formed bonds of trust and respect.

Some shop owners might balk at the idea that they would need outside help to order replacement collision parts, Carson admits.

“Most shops start out that way,” he says. “Where our service comes in handy is when the shop is actually beating their head against the wall — it commonly happens with Mercedes. Almost every car out there, you’re going to run into some problem with that car and not know how to fix it.”

Although he isn’t the only person at the Mercedes-Benz dealership who’s qualified to visit shops and offer estimating assistance, Carson says that as head of the parts department, he takes on a majority of the responsibility.

“Every once in a while we have somebody else do it and fill in for me,” he says. “But I run the department, and I’m much more comfortable with me looking at it. Because if somebody else looks, I’m going to look behind them nine times out of 10.”

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