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Designing the Parts Showroom to Maximize Profitability

This third installment of the series continues the back bone theme.As with our bodies, the back bone of an RV dealership should be strong and flexible. And, given that the theme of this issue of RV PRO is Mobile Electronics, this article centers on mobility and on the application of electronic devices to support an efficient, exceptional parts operation.

Some of the concepts included in this article could require an expenditure of dealership operating funds. I realize that this might not be feasible in the current economic climate; however, if you continue to do things the same way, how can you expect different results? Also, it may not be necessary to implement every suggestion. Discuss the article with your parts associates and identify those that could be implemented or adapted in your dealership– now and in the future.

Counter or Kiosk?

One of the challenges to mobility in the parts and accessories department could be the retail workstation. In some RV dealerships, the retail workstation is a fixed counter, usually toward the rear of the retail area. The reason this type of workstation is a challenge to mobility is that most parts associates remain behind the counter and require the customer to approach them.

Many retail consultants – me included – are suggesting a kiosk-format for retail workstations; and, recommending that these workstations be positioned among the retail display fixtures. Some of my clients are mounting their retail workstations on heavy-duty casters and installing computer and other electronic gear with wireless technology to enable more mobility for their parts associates.

Why is this mobility and workstation placement important to your parts and accessories sales? This positioning and mobility:

  • encourages the parts associates to reach out to the customers
  • provides easier access to the parts associates by customers
  • enables workstation placement to support special events

Fixed or Movable Display Fixtures?

These terms could apply to both the physical display fixtures and to the placement of goods on these fixtures. To enhance the versatility of the retail showroom, some dealerships are outfitting their floor display fixtures with heavy duty casters. These casters enable the parts associates to easily rearrange the fixtures which allows for a fresh look with little effort. As part of their showroom update, most of these dealerships are also limiting the height of the floor displays. This height limitation enables the parts associates to observe the display area and to notice customers who might require assistance.

These rolling display fixtures also allow dealership owners to optimize their floor space for other uses. Some of these uses are:

  • holding owner group meetings
  • hosting special events such as new RVer orientations
  • providing meeting space for local civic groups

Why are these alternative uses of your retail space important to your business plan? Very simply, because they provide additional reasons for customers and prospective customers to visit your dealership.

Related to the placement of your floor display fixtures is the placement of clearly worded and easily visible signage to direct your customers to the area that contains the type of goods in which they are interested. Aisle width also is an important factor in the layout of your display showroom because you want your customers to have as much mobility as is reasonably feasible.

Fixed or Versatile Displays?

The previous factors relate to the mobility of the floor display fixtures.What about the versatility of the displays on each of these fixtures?To ensure that you are actively pursuing an effective merchandising plan, answer the following questions. For help with any of these questions that you answered with a negative, perhaps you should contact one of the trade consultants featured in the December 2008 RV PRO article titled, “Time to Bring in the Consultants?”

  • What policy do you have in place to schedule the re-merchandising of your displays?
  • Who is responsible to perform this re-merchandising function?
  • What training have your Parts associates received in merchandising?
  • What sources do you (or could you) utilize to provide assistance and ideas for merchandising your goods?
  • Where else could you get ideas for merchandising your displays?
  • Which dealership services are included in your retail showroom merchandising?

These concepts and factors address the physical mobility of your parts associates and your display showroom fixtures; however, there is an aspect of your parts associates performance that could be enhanced by electronics.

Electronic Mobility

What tools are available to enhance the electronic mobility of your parts associates? One of my clients provided phones with remote headsets to his parts associates. This enabled them to maintain a conversation with the customer even if they had to leave their workstation – which was situated in the middle of the retail showroom – to check stock on an item. By maintaining contact with the customer they were able to:

  • Minimize the number of lost calls due to hang-ups by frustrated customers on hold
  • Solicit needed information from the customer related to the nature of their inquiry while they were entering data on the computer terminal or checking stock on an item that was on display or in the store room
  • Reduce the length of the calls because it wasn’t necessary to place the call on hold

How many computer terminals are available to your parts associates? And where are they located? If the receiving work station doesn’t have a dedicated computer terminal with the appropriate peripheral devices, then perhaps the mobility and efficiency of your parts associates might be minimized. What functions are accessible at each computer terminal?If factory DCS (dealership communications system) functions are not available at each workstation, perhaps your parts associates cannot effectively perform their job functions.

What is the frequency of data updates from your suppliers? And how soon after these updates are received will they be scheduled for processing?If your parts associates do not have access to current, accurate information, their ability to efficiently assist your customers is impeded.For example, they could quote an incorrect price. Or perhaps specify an outdated part number. Or maybe provide incorrect information related to warranty policy.

How does this impact your parts associates’ mobility? They are stuck in an electronic rut because your data match policy and procedures are flawed.

What functions exist in your DMS (dealership management system)software toolbox? Could you create parts kits that would speed the research and issue of frequently requested groups of items? Would this function minimize (if not eliminate) errors? Are you utilizing this function?And if you are utilizing this feature, has each of your parts associates been trained in its use?

What benefits could be derived from use of a parts kit function? Besides the aforementioned error reduction, your parts associates could process these kit requests more quickly, which provides the opportunity to process more transactions per hour – thereby yielding possibly more income for your dealership!

Mobility Miscellany

Some factors that could impact the mobility of your parts associates have been mentioned in the two prior installments of this back-bone series; or, they might have been mentioned in others of my RV PRO articles.Though they are redundant, they are worth repeating.

What is the condition of your store room(s)? Are the aisles clear with nothing on the floor and no goods protruding into them? Has old, outdated display equipment been purged from the storage units to provide room for saleable goods? Are frequently required goods placed in the golden zone to enable quick, easy access by your parts associates?

Have you stocked associated parts proximate to one another to minimize your parts associates travel time while they are retrieving the goods required to complete a customer order? Are your bin locations accurate so that your parts associates can easily stock and retrieve goods?

How frequently are cycle counts processed to ensure inventory accuracy which enhances your parts associates efficiency by reducing the need to search for items that the computer indicates are in stock but which cannot be found?

Mobility Meter Measurement

What is the measure of your parts department mobility? How would you score on:

  • Workstation mobility and placement
  • Floor display fixture movement and merchandising
  • Phone system and equipment mobility
  • Quantity of and placement of computer workstations
  • Utilization of DMS functions
  • Cleanliness of and organization of the store room
  • Inventory data accuracy

There are probably more mobility factors that we could include in this article; however, I have to run!