LITTLETON, Mass.The red vending machine near the parts counter at Acton Toyota of Littleton looks as if it could dispense candy bars and bags of chips.
Instead, the device is part of a system that allows the service department at the car dealershipand othersto monitor and control its distribution of shop supplies, manage technicians' use of expensive tools, enhance the productivity of service and parts employees, eliminate lines at the parts desk and save time and money.
We've seen a drop in expenses. It's cut down on the supplies we have to buy, said Randy Irwin, Acton Toyota's service director. And we know where our tools are.
The system's ven-dor, Myers Tire Supply Inc., based in Akron, estimates that its Xpress Ven-ding Program typically saves its dealership customers between $64,000 and $125,000 a year in labor and inventory costs.
Myers makes the investment in the machines that deliver supplies to technicians, said Taryn Chmielowicz, the company's director of marketing and customer support.
In exchange, we ask the dealer to shift spending on shop supplies and consumables (to Myers), as well as pay a nominal fee for maintenance and software, she added.
Each of Acton Toyota's 42 service technicians with access to the vending machine punches a personal identification number and a product code number to get needed items.
The machine stocks such supplies as cans of shop chemicals and rolls of electrical tape. They drop from their shelves to a tray at the bottom.
A chart provides a menu of available supplies. An adjacent locker has compartments for larger itemssuch as lubricants and boxes of rubber glovesand costlier supplies, such as a tool that enables technicians to read tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS).
The vending system permits the dealership to track each technician's use of inventory. It notifies Mr. Irwin and other managers by email if a special tool is not returned within four hours.
It also enables Acton Toyota to reorder supplies automatically from Myers. Mr. Irwin said the supplies that the dealership buys from Myers are priced competitively.
Acton Toyota has used the vending machine since the start of the year. Mark Bentley, Acton's shop foreman, said he worked with Myerswhich developed the program in partnership with Apex Supply Chain Technologies, in Mason, Ohioto meet the dealership's specific needs.
It's a fantastic system. It's working better than I expected, Mr. Bentley said. I don't have enough good to say about it.
Mike Coffey, Acton Toyota's parts manager, said the system frees up time for my guys. They're not always stopping and grabbing things.
And it has cut waste. Previously, techs would be able to take as much as they wanted and stash it away, and we'd be out, Mr. Coffey said.
Myers declined to say how many franchised auto dealerships use its Xpress system. Ms. Chmielowicz noted the program's customers include six dealerships operated by Performance Automotive Network as well as Richmond Ford in Richmond, Va.
For Acton Toyota, Mr. Irwin said the dealership's vending machine system seems like a great idea. We hope to expand it.
Ursula Zerilli contributed to this report, which appeared in Fixed Ops Journal of Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.