IT's the little things we do in life that add up to make a difference in this world and in our companies.
The most current example of little things adding up is this year's presidential election. Many of us live in states that are strongly “red” or “blue.” Maybe our politics differ from the vast majority of those in our state, and we view ourselves as a voice crying in the wilderness. Or if our politics match those of the majority in our state, we may think of ourselves as just another voice in the crowd — and equally insignificant in making a difference in the election.
But regardless of where you live, each voter counts. One by one, the votes of these everyday people are tabulated, and the fate of the most powerful individual on the face of the planet hinges on what these people decide. This same process hires and fires other myriad elected officials whose decisions and lack of decisions affect our companies, our lives, and our future.
While all votes count equally, candidates did not devote an equal amount of effort to win those votes. Many of you drew particular attention from the candidates because of where you live.
It's interesting that most of these hotly contested states form the epicenter of the truck body and trailer industry. From Pennsylvania through Ohio, Indiana, and out to Iowa, these were considered swing states in the 2012 election. A couple of these states lean Democratic, others lean Republican, and others don't lean at all. With so much of the country firmly committed to one party or the other, just a few votes in these states can decide the direction of the entire country.
Isn't that a lot like your company? A few things can make it or break it. Dr. Al Bates, whose presentation spoke at the recent National Trailer Dealers Association convention will appear in Trailer/Body Builders next month, has made a career out of showing dealers and distributors how they can win if they just do a little better job at collecting receivables, managing inventories, or slightly increasing sales. Small gains in these areas generate major gains in profitability. But these things have to be done at the same time. Every vote counts.
That's especially true for those who sell aftermarket parts. What do you choose to carry? Do your customers know that you carry it? How do you tell them that you carry it? Do you have it in stock? Do you have too many of them in stock?
Running a parts department is a delicate balance. Computer technology is now an indispensible tool to help parts managers know what and how much to stock. Although computers have been in parts departments for a generation, IT guys continue to refine the services that software can provide. Check out our story on Thermo King Northwest, one of a select group of dealers chosen to evaluate a new program that Thermo King is now rolling out for its dealers to help them fine tune inventories. (See story)
Inventory is but one of the issues that industry parts departments must face. Just look at the litany of concerns that Allen Phibbs mentions that can impact a dealership (see story). A poor performance in one area may not be life or death for the dealership, but any one of them may be the reason one or more customers could choose to go elsewhere. Do enough of them well, and the customer votes you his business.
For parts managers, elections don't just come along every four years. They occur every day, all day long. Parts departments involve endless issues that must be decided. Not every decision is decisive, but the votes eventually add up.
The challenge for parts managers is that, unlike politicians, they don't win by doing a majority of these things well. They need a super majority to stay in business.
Parts and service managers must deal with a lot of things. They also have to deal with a lot of people. How can they do all that they need to do while focusing on the small things that make a big difference?
It may be that this old saying applies here: use things and love people. Use the technology, fill the shelves, and drive the delivery trucks to achieve one purpose — to serve another human being called a customer. All the printouts, processes, and systems are simply tools to that end.
In counting numbers and stocking things, it's easy to forget the ultimate purpose of purchase orders, repair orders, monthly reports and an array of other things that come with the territory. The parts manager who focuses on things tends to struggle. But when he uses the things he has to serve the people who come his way, he really does have an opportunity to make a difference.
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