DETROIT—Ford Motor Co. is hoping to pump up its dealership parts and service business by urging its dealers to offer vehicle service on Saturdays. On April 6, Ford's Customer Service Division conducted an interactive broadcast to give dealers information about Saturday and extended hours, according to a message sent to dealers and service and parts managers. Topics included alternative work schedules, employee communication, financial impact, union considerations and consumer marketing plans.
Being open on Saturdays has its problems. Dealers and managers worry that they will not make enough money on the weekends to make it worth their while. They also fear service and parts employees will quit.
According to the 1998 NADA Data, the National Automobile Dealers Association's annual analysis of the economic impact of U.S. new-car dealers, only 31.1 percent of U.S. dealerships have weekend service and parts hours.
Ford declined to comment. However, dealers and managers who operate during the weekend and industry watchers say Saturday hours are inevitable for dealers who want to compete with aftermarket service providers.
Employees on board
Jack Steinkamp was a parts manager for 26 years before he left the business in 1996 to run the Ford Parts Manager Association, which he co-founded in 1994. He said Saturday service and parts hours are a necessary evil, but dealerships can do more to ease employee resistance. He suggested dealerships offer Saturday workers perks in the form of extra time off and a free lunch.
Mr. Steinkamp said dealerships should schedule easier, higher-profit repairs and maintenance for Saturday, and perform the heavier, more technical work through the week.
He said it's important to establish a system that makes working Saturdays as painless as possible. ``No one wants to give up their free time, so it has to be done right,'' he said.
Gerry Braud and John Dore, parts manager and service manager, respectively, at Lamarque Northshore Ford in Mandeville, La., near New Orleans, believe they have done it right.
They began planning Saturday service about six months ago. They give employees comp time in exchange for working once every three or four Saturdays.
They publicized their Saturday hours in ads, and sent direct mail to 2,200 sales and service customers and 1,500 wholesale parts customers.
John Lance Ford in Westlake Ohio (See story above.), for instance, offers "Night Owl Service" that includes service from 7 a.m. to midnight Monday-Thursday, and 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturdays.
A good start
Lamarque Northshore Ford's first Saturday was March 6. Messr's Braud and Dore were thrilled by the results. They took in 63 vehicles—more than half of the 100 vehicles they see on an average weekday—and sold $10,000 in parts. That's about $2,000 to $4,000 more than Mr. Braud expected.
``Yes, it is profitable,'' Mr. Dore said. ``Saturday will probably grow into one of our better days.'' Added Mr. Braud: ``I'd rather be fishing on Saturday, and a lot of them (employees) would too, but this is real life.''
Ford isn't the only automaker pushing Saturday hours.
For instance, in 1995 DaimlerChrysler AG began recommending Saturday service to its dealers, said spokeswoman Melinda Wilson. Currently, 41 percent are open for service on Saturday, she said.