Two questions our clients consistently pose are, "When will my vehicle be done?" and "How much is it going to cost?" Responding to both with an accurate answer is key to customer satisfaction and the success of the business.
One challenge to delivering precise answers is the proliferation of parts. There are more parts on a vehicle today than in the past, and even parts with the same name vary greatly from one manufacturer to another.
Spark plugs are a simple example. It used to be easy to estimate the cost of a tune-up, specifically replacing the plugs. Today, we first must determine what type of plug the engine requires. Not knowing if it takes a standard plug or one with an iridium-tipped electrode could throw your estimate off by $10 to $15 per plug. Multiply that by four or eight, and your estimate is completely inaccurate.
Because of this parts proliferation, independent repairers that service multiple makes and models find it challenging to menu price many services as in years past. In our everything-on-demand world, having a quick and efficient method of building an estimate is critical.
In the last five years, we have begun ordering the bulk of our parts online. In that time, parts companies, shop management software developers and software companies have devoted a lot of time and money to developing software that makes parts acquisition and pricing more efficient for the service dealer. Thanks to the integration of shop management software and parts catalogs, we now have a fairly efficient way of building accurate estimates and ordering parts. (Although, there is still a lot of room for improvement.)
Personally, I prefer to buy from suppliers that offer online cataloging and parts ordering. Not only does it save time for me, but these suppliers also seem to be on top of other aspects of their own businesses and create a better working relationship with my company.
In my shop, the technicians source and order parts for their own repair orders, as well as create the estimate for the service advisor. This scenario creates some healthy debate with other shop owners about whether it is the most effective use of a technician's time. I feel it is because the technician knows more about what is needed for that vehicle and what the vehicle is equipped with, and it frees up the service advisor's time so he or she can devote more attention to the clients. I've run my shop this way for more than a decade. Electronic parts ordering further refines the quickness and accuracy of our system.
From the parts supplier's point of view, I have to think that electronic parts ordering frees up counter staff as well, giving them time to spend with customers who have non-standard parts requirements or who need to locate a hard-to-find part. Another benefit of electronic cataloging is the person ordering can see the same catalog as the counterperson. Now when there is a question about which part is correct, they can communicate more effectively and efficiently.
One supplier even offers electronic returns. When a technician needs to return a part, he goes online to complete a return form and the part is picked up with the next delivery.
Electronic parts cataloging and ordering is also something the OEM suppliers don't offer. I do all I can to avoid picking up the phone, but when I must, my first call is to those offering electronic ordering.
Chuck Hartogh is vice president and co-founder of C&M Auto Service Inc. of Glenview, Ill., and Vernon Hills, Ill., and is an ASE-Certified Master, L1 Technician. (ASA).