If you’ve been reading my articles, you can tell I’m a big believer in the basics. I believe the basics are important, and that you can make an incredible difference right away by correcting these easy and basic things.
First, I always try to write from my heart, and with true experiences. So let me say that a common problem for some shops is parts returns sitting around and too much materials sitting on the shelves waiting to be used. Just like reality show stars Gordon Ramsay and John Taffer consistently find some of the same issues in restaurants and bars, certain issues can be consistently found in shops that need help. One such example I’ve seen many times is returns with piles of dust on them and backups that have backups that have backups on materials.
Out of Sight
Out of sight, out of mind seems to be what tends to happen if your parts are stored somewhere off the main shop floor or in some kind of trailer or storeroom. It’s really easy for them to be forgotten.
Not so long ago, I braved an expedition into a shop’s parts trailer. The first thing I was struck by was that there were way more parts in the trailer than were necessary for cars that were onsite or even on the schedule. How could this not have been noticed before? Because it was hidden and cut off from the main shop area. And being a trailer with one way in and one way out, “stuff” was just stacked in there. There were literally thousands of dollars worth of returns sitting on the shelves. It was stacks of money sitting on the shelves; at least, that’s the way I saw it.
I have a hard time understanding how employees could have walked past that trailer knowing what was going on in there and not cared enough to do something about it. I pulled the returns out of the trailer and there was practically a parts mountain. No lie, it was enough to fill the back of a parts truck. Some returns dated back more than a year. There’s no excuse for that other than laziness and bad management, or really a lack of management.
Another area of concern that drains shop resources is having an overabundance of shop materials on your shelves. Make it a regular practice to check your stock of the various products on your shelves and in your cabinets.
A few years ago, I was discussing creating an “APL” or approved product list, with my 3M reps. We took a walk in the shop and opened the cabinet where the 3M two-part cartridges were stored. When we opened the cabinet, we looked at one another in disbelief as items practically tumbled out onto the floor. To my chagrin, the reps said that I probably had more on that shelf than the jobber did on his shelf.
Any shop trying to thrive today must keep a tight hold on their gross profit numbers. Paint materials can be a profit center, but it needs to be controlled and maintained. Materials cannot be a free-for-all where anyone can order whatever they want, whenever they want. I’ve done walk-throughs in shops and seen redundant inventory everywhere. I’ve seen each body tech with his own private stockpile, and I’ve seen backups with months worth of dirt on them. That’s simply too wasteful and doesn’t work.
A great first step is to come up with an APL. This is especially helpful if you have multiple locations. It was eye-opening when I asked my jobber to print me out a statement of what I had purchased across the five stores I was responsible for in the last three months. There was a core group of things we all purchased, but there were plenty of “rogue” items and redundancies that made no sense.
I’m certainly not a certified “lean” expert, however, the years I spent with Sterling Autobody stand out as the best lessons for me in materials management. I’ve personally never seen a better system for materials management. Thanks to my time there, I learned about things like “kanbans” and “just-in-time.”
To sum it up, you only need what you need, when you need it. Get out into the shop. How much dust is on your backup paint toners? If they have dust on them, why did you buy them when you did? Why did you pay for them weeks or months ago when you didn’t really need them? How many boxes of backup sandpaper do you have? Again, you only need what you need when you need it. Most paint jobbers will deliver one or two times every day, so why pay for things to collect dust? Something I’ve done many times to prove a point is to collect all of the overstock and return it. The credit is usually in the hundreds if not the thousands of dollars.
Get out from behind the desk and take a trip out to the front lines. Take a look at the dust collecting on the returns and overstock. One of my dad’s favorite little stories was called, “For the want of a nail.” Look it up, and sweat the small stuff. It’s important!