When I hear people talk about the parts department in dealerships, I am always amazed at how simple they believe it would be to work behind the counter. Most people think that parts people just hang out, look things up, and hand parts to customers. Nice, simple, and easy.

If you are in the parts department, you know that is not what happens. During season, there may be eight people waiting by the locked front door of the dealership, ready to rush in behind you. They want you to find parts for their equipment. While you are trying to help them, you have a tech needing parts for a piece of equipment he now has time to work on, and all the phone lines are lit up with people who want you to look up part numbers so they can order the parts online.

A parts department at season is like no other department in a dealership, and at times it seems like an impossible task to make everyone happy. The challenge you have in parts is that it is the highest profile part of every dealership. More people are touched by what happens at that parts counter than in any other department in the company. Everything is happening at the same time, and everyone is in a hurry to get his part and leave.

Some people would say, “Well, just hire more parts people!” That’s easier said than done. Not just anyone can be pulled off the street and put at a parts counter. There is a substantial amount of knowledge you need to have. Secondly, because of the flow of customers, you might have twenty people to take care of at the parts counter in an hour, and just as suddenly as it starts, the flow of people and phone calls stop. Nobody knows why, and there is usually no rhyme or reason to it, but people just stop coming in. So, for 60 minutes you can’t catch your breath, and then nothing more happens for an hour. How do you staff for that?

That is why I tell dealers, “Time is your enemy in the parts department.” If you want to do a good job at moving and selling parts, time is the one thing you have to wrap your arms around.

As you think of time in the parts department, it’s important to look at your parts process and consider ways to improve efficiency. You want to take less time every day to do what you need to do in order to make the department works at its best. Take a moment to look at the space around you. Are there areas in the parts department where space may not be used to the best of its capacity? Look under your parts counter. If it’s similar to most parts counters, the shelves are packed with important manuals, but they aren’t used on a daily basis. The shelves are also stacked with junk somebody left or just put under the counter to get out of the way. Is your countertop nice and clean, or is it piled high with a random assortment of flashlights, fuel stabilizers, and shop towels a tech left from the last time he came to pick up a part?

Have you ever thought about your parts department transaction time?  It’s often the most neglected, yet critical, element you must measure and manage.
Your transaction time is the average time it takes you to move a customer through the parts counter process, and having him leave with either the part he came in for or with an answer to his problem, and making him satisfied with the solution.

You obviously want to have a customer in and out of your parts department as quickly as possible since doing so allows you to take care of more customers in a shorter amount of time. Over the years, I have found that striving for a transaction time of around four minutes is a good goal to have. I understand that it might be tough to do in the beginning, but it’s a target that, if achieved, will have a huge impact on both your dealership and customers.

Reducing the amount of time it takes to care for a customer can be something as simple as removing the stools from in front of the parts counter. You want customers to feel comfortable and welcome in the dealership, but at season you don’t want to spend a lot of extra time listening to them tell you how much they love using their piece of equipment, or its history.

It’s important to build strong relationships with your customers, but I have found that if they sit down, they have a tendency to socialize more than if they were standing. The extra time doesn’t add to the quality of the experience they had, but in most cases, it’s time that could have moved the customer in line behind them through your parts process quicker. If you’re busy at the parts counter, and all the phone are ringing, do you really want customers sitting down with a cup of coffee and talking to you for 20 minutes? It’s not that you don’t want to take good care of them; it’s just that you don’t want your transaction time to go up in the process.

Keep in mind that when the season slows and you have more time, there is nothing wrong with moving the stools back; time is not at a premium and it gives you a good chance to build those relationships that are critical to growing your business.