Parts managers, what would we do without you?
That’s a rhetorical question, by the way. We’re pretty sure a lack of parts managers would make the carefully ordered world in a repair shop spiral out of control.
But most parts managers don’t spring fully formed from a HEMI engine like Athena from Zeus’s head. Instead, they build their careers over time, learning things as they go before emerging in their final form.
Because so much of what they know is developed through experience, there are an awful lot of things newer and/or younger parts managers might not know. So we sat down with some people who know parts and the duties of parts managers pretty well:
- Troy Willich of TDI Fleet Services
- Zeb Todd of The Service Company
- Irvin Bowman of Wayne Truck & Trailer Ltd.
Once we had them trapped in a Zoom meeting, we posed the following question: If you were to find a DeLorean and time travel to your younger self, what advice would you give them?
“Great Scott!” they exclaimed.
Okay, none of them actually said “Great Scott!” (missed opportunity, guys), but they did provide some fantastic advice for up-and-coming parts managers, or people looking to hire parts managers down the line. So grab a pen and take some notes—this is important stuff!
1. Know your market and how much each part is worth.
Your parts represent a huge chunk of a shop’s cash flow. Any part sitting on a shelf is literal dollars—and it’s appreciating or depreciating depending on how often it’s used across your customer base. If you have an obscure part sitting on your shelf, it’s probably losing value as it sits there vs. a coil that might go on every trailer in America.
Bear in mind that depending on where you are, you may be taxed on the inventory you keep in your parts room. The parts manager needs to be aware of that. “Parts is a long game, not a short game,” Troy says. “Anyone can buy parts…but leaving them sitting on a shelf is going to impact things.”
2. Treat your vendors right.
You’ve got to build a strong relationship with your suppliers.
Because you want a vendor to think of you when items are scarce, especially during the ongoing parts shortage.
One of the biggest mistakes Troy has seen a parts manager make is the rookie who thinks they can buy cheaply and apply pressure to a vendor, wanting them to lower their prices. “Unless you truly partner with that vendor and you have that relationship with them, they’re not going to partner with you. They won’t be concerned with your success.”
Irvin agrees. “In this industry, we live off our vendors,” he says. “If they don’t bring us a product, we can’t do anything.” Treat them well. Be kind. Remember that they are people, too. If they pick up the phone and you’re a bright spot in their day, they’re going to go that extra mile for you.
Wait, Fullbay, you may be saying, people aren’t nice on the phone?
Sadly, a lot of vendors report total grumps on the other end of the line. So be nice. Ask how they’re doing. Regular old human empathy and kindness really can go a long way.
3. You need a routine.
“Parts management comes down to routine,” Zeb says. “Building out a set schedule of what I’m gonna do, on what date, what report I’m gonna run … learn to pattern your work cycle off a routine and have a written document from the very beginning.”
Schedule things out as much as you can and stick to that schedule. Doing this lets you keep an eye on what you have going on in the shop, inventory-wise, at almost any given time—and it’s a huge help when it comes to forecasting.
4. Communication is always key.
While the relationship between a parts manager and a shop’s technicians will depend heavily on the working environment (and the types of personalities involved), there may be some element of push-pull that the parts manager needs to navigate. Zeb and Troy both chuckled when they told us techs would want every part kept in stock at all times.
“We use a combination of opinions and data to make good choices about what we have on the shelf [at any given time],” Zeb says.
A parts manager also ends up participating in a lot of internal marketing. If your techs are constantly asking for a particular part and you decide to up your stock, tell them. If you have to discontinue using a part and swap in another, tell them as well.
It’s a constant re-examination of data and trends. Parts managers have to look at what they sell and figure out if they could sell more of them—and if selling more will benefit their customers in the long run.
5. Tenacity counts.
The biggest qualification in a new parts manager, Irvin says, is an understanding that there are things that you don’t know. “The parts position is the most difficult to fill with a person correctly,” he says. “You can get a warm body to pick up the phone and call random people, but to get somebody who is diligent, and really good at it, and can drive profit and the bottom line—you need somebody that is on it.”
If you’re training up a new parts manager, odds are they aren’t going to be able to step into the role seamlessly. It’s not a place for a cocky know-it-all who thinks they can make it up as they go along. Your parts manager-to-be doesn’t know what they don’t know—and they need to be willing to work hard, keep learning, and tough it out. As they master certain areas, they’ll face new challenges, like figuring out when to turn to another vendor for parts, or where to source parts when no one seems to have them.
6. The right software is helpful, too.
The life of a parts manager is complicated at the best of times. The right program can take the place of endless spreadsheets and Post-It notes taped to computer monitors and squirreled away in drawers. It can also make ordering parts a lot easier.
We started Fullbay with the intention of making life easier for everyone who works at a repair shop. Parts managers in particular tend to be fans of Fullbay, in “part” (har har har) because the app produces several outstanding reports they can use to see what’s in stock and forecast what they’ll need in the future. And yes, our new partnership with FinditParts means you can order what you need from right within the app.
Are you a parts manager looking for a better way, or a shop owner who wants to make the life of your parts manager a little less crazy? Then check out our free demo and let us take some of the pressure off—your parts manager has enough on their plate!