Merchant's Inc. achieves excellence from its service personnel and parts vendors because company leaders demand and expect it. But equally important, this Virginia-based dealership gets excellence simply because they regularly inspect for it. Last time, I explained that this expect-and-inspect approach spurred the formation of a parts committee comprising technicians, service managers and top management. The committee performs ongoing evaluations of the quality and completeness of the parts Merchant's buys.
I find the committee to be a breath of fresh air in an era where the prevailing attitude in service shops seems to be: ``Parts are parts, so buy low and sell high.''
Ultimately, the committee's efforts help distinguish this 130-store dealership from its competition.
Merchant's vice president of parts, Carl Dunn, repeatedly emphasized how much the committee's scrutiny revealed things other dealers probably take for granted.
First and foremost is the actual quality of the products they buy, especially fast-moving, price-sensitive parts such as remanufactured brake calipers and drive-axle assemblies. For instance, they were curious as to why some of the tiny copper gaskets that seal brake hose fittings to brake caliper housings leaked.
On a new caliper housing, the gasket surface has a finely knurled surface. Parts committee members figured out the gaskets leaked because the gasket surface was damaged or eroded.
Other gaskets leaked because technicians were reusing them instead of replacing them, or were installing an incorrect size gasket. Sometimes, techs weren't torquing brake hose fittings to specification.
Mr. Dunn said some remanufacturers clean quantities of caliper housings with a process that shakes and tumbles the parts together. ``When you tumble these parts together, the process can erode or abrade the finely knurled gasket surface. The eroded surface may cause even a new brake hose gasket to leak,'' he explained.
To further reduce the risk of incomplete or incorrect brake work, the parts committee began requiring that new copper gaskets-along with a reminder placard listing the brake-fitting torque spec-be packaged with the caliper assembly.
Many tire dealers have seen photographs or illustrations of wear that can occur on the cages and races inside constant-velocity (CV) joints. Some drive-axle remanufacturers grind worn CV parts during the axle reconditioning process. According to Mr. Dunn, the CV joints on some rebuilt axle assemblies the parts committee tested literally broke apart during evaluation!
``We found out that if you grind off too much metal, you weaken the CV joint cage by removing its case hardening. If parts are worn, we want them replaced-not reground,'' he said.
Not surprisingly, Merchant's no longer buys axle assemblies with reground CV parts, and the decision has reduced drive-axle-related comebacks.
Mr. Dunn said parts committee activities also have reinforced the impact good supplier relationships have on long-term company goals such as improved customer satisfaction and reduced comebacks.
Many manufacturers and suppliers welcome constructive criticism and want to accommodatedealers' needs. However, they can't react and improve if they don't get the input they need.
``For instance, when a filter doesn't fit, or fits incorrectly, there's a tendency to just accept the mistake. People put the filter back on the shelf or return it and reach for another brand of filter,'' Mr. Dunn said. ``At Merchant's, we alert the supplier to these problems and ask them to improve the product line by correcting the situation.''
Over time, small but ongoing suggestions impress upon suppliers that Merchant's means business when it buys parts. It reminds them that unless they're undergoing constant improvement in quality, fit, delivery and packaging, they aren't contributing to Merchant's long-term growth.
Eventually, ``inspect-what-you-expect'' earns Merchant's a respect and cooperative working relationship other buyers don't enjoy with suppliers and manufacturers.
Last but not least, Mr. Dunn believes the parts committee's work enhances service sales by boosting confidence.
Service personnel are more likely to make the service sale and do a complete job when they're confident the parts they need are handy. Plus, they relish the confidence of knowing the products they install fit correctly and perform properly, he added.