One of those critical hats involves being an inventory and parts expert. To make a fairly broad generality, most repair shops do not have parts-specific employees. In most cases, the people responsible for the parts side of things are writing repair orders, talking to customers, collecting money and managing shop workflow. These folks are going to take the path of least resistance when it comes to parts. If they know they can get a part from a particular supplier, they probably are going to do so.
In fact, with so many parts suppliers ordering parts on the Internet, this tendency is more true than ever. The problem from a parts supplier's perspective is twofold: how to be the path of least resistance, and how to help these decision-makers know what you have available.
When a service consultant needs a part, there is a pretty good chance he has a supplier he will use first. He may have an affinity with the supplier and/or their employees, or prior experience tells him that one phone call or login will get that monkey off his back.
In my world, the best way to be the path of least resistance seems to evade some parts suppliers and their employees. Here are a couple of ideas.
Holding on the phone is expensive for a shop. If you can't take the call, ask to call back. Your customers will appreciate being able to continue with their workday.
Internet parts catalogs can be hit or miss. If you cannot find what you are looking for, the sale is probably lost. There is fabulous technology out there to make your Web site and inventories searchable by keyword. Look at the suppliers with great systems, and if yours is not as good, you are not the path of least resistance.
Here is a somewhat dated example that should give you some ideas. I was walking through our parts supplier's warehouse with my salesman when I noticed they had the little spark plug boots for Ford COP ignition systems separate from the coil. While not an expensive part, it generated a whole preventive maintenance option for me and a way to repair a car that was not previously available to me one minute before that moment.
The warehouse now holds tours for their customers to help them get an idea of the items they have on hand. Sometimes you're not aware of parts that your customers need, simply because none of them know about them yet. What about a flier that lists the "time savers" or the "did you know we have..."?
The marketplace is competitive and requires direct communication between employees and customers. The more we do our jobs without direct communication, the less opportunity exists for information transfer between employees and customers. For imaginative suppliers, opportunities abound not only to be the path of least resistance, but also to be the valued partner that keeps over-stretched repair shop owners tapped into what you have to offer.
Donny Seyfer is a second-generation repair shop owner and ASE Master Technician. An active industry educator, Seyfer hosts two automotive radio shows, serves as chairman of the Automotive Service Association of Colorado, works nationally to help repair shops with IT and service information utilization and writes for Motor Age, a sister publication of Aftermarket Business.