Consolidators: Auto Glass Now Opens Two New Locations
Items such as fasteners, clips and rivets may be small, but their impact on profits can be huge. Invest in too many, and you’ll end up with stuff you’ll never use. Invest in too few, and you’ll end up not having stuff on hand that you need.
Many design alterations that plastic retainers alone can take up a complete catalog and a huge part of your parts inventory.
With literally thousands of different fasteners, clips, rivets and bolts necessary to complete the variety of jobs rolling into your shop, you can have big money tied up in little pieces of plastic and metal. Without the proper hardware, however, a $2,000-ticket repair could sit … and sit … waiting for a couple dollars worth of fasteners to arrive from the parts distributor or for a $10 supplement to be OK’d by an insurer.
How much inventory is enough? How can you be sure you’ve included all the necessary clips and fasteners required to complete a job when the original estimate is written? Understanding your estimating system and the packaging methods of parts suppliers, and managing your inventory — finding a balance between too much and too little — can help.
Little Items, Lots of Money
Kivett’s Body Shop, located in Hollister, Mo., is a typical rural collision repair facility. But even a small shop like this one keeps busy and has a substantial amount of commonly used hardware in stock. Jim Kivett, the shop’s founder, tries to inventory only those items he knows will move quickly. “I’ve been stuck with many dollars worth of one [hardware item] or another sitting on the shelf, so I’m very careful about what I [keep in stock],” he says.
Just how much money in inventory are we talking about?
According to many shop owners, the dollar amount of in-stock hardware required to open a new facility in a rural area of 12,000 to 18,000 people is about $1,000. A shop typically grossing only $100,000 a year in sales would therefore have 1 percent invested in hardware inventory. What kind of hardware should a start-up facility have in stock? A basic, universal starter packet is probably adequate, say many shop owners (see box entitled “Starter Kits,” on page 68).
If Kivett’s Body Shop, a small-town operation, is so vigilant about hardware stock, I tried to imagine what kind of inventory control I’d find at a larger operation. On one hand, I figured a smaller operation could keep strict control of hardware inventory. With a lower repair volume, they’d obviously need less hardware, making inventory more manageable. On the other hand, even with good planning, a trim section or panel may lack the proper hardware when it’s received, and a modest hardware section could leave a small-shop owner searching for fasteners and clips — holding up the completion of a job.
When I spoke with shop owners in larger, metropolitan areas doing $1 million in sales a year, I found that the amount of money tied up in hardware inventory can be quite substantial. Not including run-of-the-mill bolt assortments, hardware inventory for a larger shop ran as high as $20,000 — and that was just for fasteners used to attach parts, components, trim, etc., to the vehicle exterior or interior; we’re not even talking about paint-system materials or support items, such as sandpaper, used on a daily basis.
Many shop owners track their inventory of fasteners, clips, nuts and bolts with computers, but the software used to keep tabs on hardware doesn’t always keep up, say some. Losses due to lapses in inventory-management software were reported by several owners. “Although we utilize a computer inventory system with a built-in monthly re-order program, we sometimes lack specialty clips and other fasteners,” says Randy Austin, owner and manager of Auto Body USA in Springfield, Mo. Operating two locations, Austin says that, on average, he has $4,000 to $5,000 in hardware inventory.
Of even bigger concern to shop owners are losses attributed to estimating systems that lack data on many common hardware items. “How can we expect to be able to keep and stock hardware when our estimating programs have major voids with regard to the clips and other fasteners we need to complete a job?” asked one shop owner.
Austin agrees, adding that “creating a supplement to a computer-generated estimate for $8 to $10 is a negative profit area that needs to be addressed [by estimating-system manufacturers].”
As many shop owners and estimators will attest, insurance companies aren’t always open to receiving supplements. And in cases where the supplement is for small-ticket hardware items that weren’t included when a trim or facia package was selected on the estimate, they’re even more reluctant, says Austin.
How do the estimating-system manufacturers respond?
A spokesman from one estimating-system manufacturer explains that many estimating systems supply hardware items when it’s expected that the item won’t be included in a trim or facia package. Determining which OE parts get packaged with new clips is hard to calculate, he says.
As a solution, system engineers see a growing increase in the need to add reminders during program estimating to allow the shop owner to “red flag” a part or trim section so the retainer hardware will be ordered and added right to the top of the estimate, eliminating the need for hardware supplements. It’s obvious from research, says one manufacturer’s spokesman, that some replacement parts require new hardware; the old fasteners just aren’t re-usable.
However, information-system providers and estimating-guide publishers don’t agree that the burden to solicit information for such instances should entirely be on them. They see it as a two-way street, with manufacturers ready to listen to end users of their products and expecting the active participation of shop owners.
Good planning can head off most of these estimating “head to head” difficulties with insurance companies. The real trick lies not only in looking for what may not be there in the way of hardware, but in seeking out parts suppliers who’ll “open stock” the critical fastening pieces that may be hard to get and often aren’t included in packaged parts.
When it comes to hardware pet peeves, shop owners rank the obsolescence of many items and the lack of a service policy by companies to take care of this problem high on their list.
When I contacted jobber supply houses and mail order houses, most said they do have an obsolescence policy. The few that didn’t have an official policy admitted to rather liberal return agreements based on individual relationships with their clients.
Also high on the list are over-stock problems that arise from suppliers over-packaging an item used only four or five times a year. “You get the good with the bad in many [packaged] assortments,” says Jim Yiils from Holyoke, Colo. Since Yiils strictly does paint and body on one domestic make, packaged hardware assortments leave him with many import and alternate-brand fasteners that he’ll never use.
How can you avoid being stuck with fasteners and clips? Shop owners and jobbers alike say asking the right questions before you purchase is the best way to be sure you aren’t stuck with stock that doesn’t move.
On the other hand, not having the right fastener for the job is also a big problem. Many shop owners reported that sometimes a fast vehicle turn-around is impossible because of missing clips or fasteners. Add missed paint-booth schedules and employee down time due to a work stoppage, and that little piece of hardware has turned into a big money loss.
For those clips that don’t come off in pieces — like those on belt moldings — leaving them lying in vehicle trunks, under the front seat or in panel enclosures is another good way to waste money and materials. Unfortunately, it happens all too often. Leaving even a couple items, such as plastic button fasteners, in a car causes two problems: First, the inventory you actually used on the car won’t be accurate. Second, the inventory shelf may be low or void of the item that’s currently rolling around under the front seat of the Toyota you just released. Even the best computerized inventory programs can’t deal with these errors; it’s up to the techs.
Keeping Tabs on Nuts and Bolts
I once heard the average body shop has less than a 40 percent employee productivity level. If that’s true, your techs should have time to organize and maintain a top-notch hardware section. (If you’re really getting only 40 percent efficiency from your techs, your problems go way beyond hardware!)
Consider delegating responsibility of the hardware department to one specific tech. As part of the organization, other techs requesting an upgrade for any hardware item would have to go to this tech to get what they need. A simple system such as this could put a stop to hardware shortages and job-stopping glitches. To reward the tech in charge of inventory for his time, consider a bonus based on the success of the system or another form of compensation.
Hardware Help Wanted
Like other issues in the collision repair industry, it will take some time to satisfy all the concerns shop owners have with regard to hardware inventory. The continued explosion in hardware design alone calls for some real changes in the marketplace in the near future and, hopefully, the OEMs will consider body shops when putting those new vehicles together bolt by bolt and fastener by fastener. Perhaps manufacturers will consolidate some part numbers and cancel a few that can be substituted adequately.
In the distant future, other solutions now thought unfeasible may find new support. How about virtual pools of hardware items located at a supply warehouse out of which shop owners could grab what they needed? Buying in any quantity, such as by the pound or by the dozen, may then be viable. Such a system could drive down inventory costs, as well as help maintain a profitable time-line for production. Increased trade with other countries also could open new avenues for supply, making those hard-to-get items readily available and stimulating a more precise stocking network.
Until then, it’s up to you to create a hardware inventory that keeps your shop running efficiently. The pieces that make up this inventory my be small, but they can have a big impact on shop production and profits. How big an impact is up to you.
Contributing editor Bob Leone, a retired shop owner, is ASE Three-Way Master Certified and is completing qualifications as a post-secondary automotive instructor in the vocational school system in Missouri.
The following basic stock assortment was compiled by shop owners, parts-supply counter service experts and my own front-line experience. Although this “starter pack” may not include bolts, nuts, bumper hardware, etc., it will no doubt get you started in the right direction.
1. “Christmas tree” retainers (one-time use only recommended).
a. Door/trim panel clips — 7/8-inch diameter head (half-moon design), 24/32-inch length, 150 pieces per pack.
b. Door/trim panel retainer — 1/4-inch hole, 3/4-inch long, 100 pieces per pack.
c. Hood insulation retainer — 2-inch diameter head, 21/32-inch long, 50 pieces per pack.
d. Push nail fastener — 3/8-inch hole, 7/8-inch long, 1-inch diameter head, black, 50 pieces per pack.
e. Push-pin (pop-through) nail fasteners — 1/4-inch hole, 29/32-inch diameter head, 100 pieces per pack.
f. Push-pin rivet fasteners (shoulderless) — 25-mm washer, 50 pieces per pack.
g. Push-pin nail fastener — 1/2-inch hole, 1/8-inch shoulder, 20-mm washer, 50 pieces per pack.
h. Screw nail fasteners — 8-mm hole, 3-mm grip, 20-mm washer, black, 50 pieces per pack.
i. Screw rivet fastener — 25 pieces per pack.
j. GM C/K truck door panel/trim (button head) — 7-mm hole, 12/32-inch diameter, 50 pieces per pack.
k. Bumper/facia — 7/16-inch hole, 13/16-inch head, 2-inch long stem, black, 50 pieces per pack.
l. Snap pin (nail) — 8-mm hole, 6-mm grip, 20-mm washer, black, 50 pieces per pack.
m. Screw nail fastener — 8-mm hole, 10-mm hex, 15-mm stem (universal), black, 25 pieces per pack.
2. Trim/door-panel retainers (metal).
a. Short wire design — 5/16-inch, 1/2-inch hole (universal), 100 pieces per pack.
b. Metal wire design — 5/16-inch, 1/2-inch hole, 50 pieces per pack.
3. Nylon nuts and screw grommets.
a. Bezel nut — 1/4-inch x 7/16-inch oval for #8 screw, 1/2-inch round-head application, 50 pieces per pack.
b. General-purpose grill, etc. — 5/16-inch square hole for #8 and #10 screws, 100 pieces per pack.
c. Cowl retainer — 1/4-inch x 7/16-inch rectangular hole for #8 screw, 5/8-inch square head, 5/8-inch long, 50 pieces per pack.
d. Radiator hardware, grill application, late model GM truck and universal — zinc-phosphate screw design for #8 screw, 25 pieces per pack.
a. Headlamp and grill, Toyota and universal — 8-mm hole, 5-mm screw, 12-mm square head, 13-mm long, white, 500 pieces per pack.
b. General-use multi-import — 8-mm square hole for #8 screw, 16-mm round head, 18-mm long, white, 50 pieces per pack.
4. Retainer clips (push-on, nut bolt retainers).
Regular flange, U.S. thread:
a. 3/16-inch 10-24 — 100 pieces per pack.
b. 1/4-inch bolt — 100 pieces per pack.
c. 5/16-inch bolt — 100 pieces per pack.
d. 3/8-inch bolt — 100 pieces per pack.
a. Plastic GM style — 25 pieces per pack.
b. Blue metal GM style — 25 pieces per pack.
c. Bumper cover retainers — (universal) flat, stainless, 25 pieces per pack.
5. Sheet-metal screws.
a. #8 Phillips head — 1/2-inch long, drill point (zinc coat), 7/16-inch washer, 200 pieces per pack.
b. #8 Phillips head — 1/2-inch long, drill point (black), 7/16-inch washer, 100 pieces per pack.
c. Phillips head (chrome plate) — 4.2 mm x 12 mm, #8 screw, 1/2-inch long, 200 pieces per pack.
d. Oval head (nickel) — #8 x 2 , #6 H.D., 100 pieces per pack.
6. Self-tapping screws.
a. Loose washer “tap” screws — 4.2 mm x 20 mm, 7-mm hex, 16-mm washer, black, 100 pieces per pack.
b. Drill point tap design — 4.2 mm x 20 mm, 7-mm hex, 16-mm washer, black, 100 pieces per pack.
7. Speed nuts.
a. “U” type clip nut — #8 screw, metal grip to 1/8 inch, 50 pieces per pack.
b. “U” type clip nut —#8 screw, wide grip, 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch, 50 pieces per pack.
c. “U” type clip nut — #8 screw, thick-panel design, 25 pieces per pack.
d. “U” type fold-over nut — 1/4-20 thread, long reach, 50 pieces per pack.
e. “U” type fold-over nut — #10/24 thread, 25 pieces per pack.
f. “J” type clip nut — #14 (1/4 inch) tap thread, 25 pieces per pack.
|What’s What in Hardware
Classifying the hardware used to literally hold the vehicle together can be easy if you lump the individual items into general categories.
• Category: Structural fasteners.
Includes: Any bolts, nuts, washers, locks, pins, rivets and special self-locking or other positive-retention devices that are under compression or load and provide for a significant portion of the assembly retention on any given vehicle.
• Category: Non-structural (metal) fasteners.
Includes: Bolts, T-bolts, screws, nuts, washers, clips, molding retainers, threaded or thread-cutting screws, riv/nuts and interlocking puzzle clips. Sometimes included in this lot are universal molding clips, screws and spring-type fasteners used to attach metal (such as chrome trim) to plastic panels (such as interior door panels).
• Category: Plastic fasteners.
Includes: Plastic parts for window mechanisms, including guide clips, nylon-style gears, cable tracks, window rollers, hood-insulation retainers, nail-type (plastic) fasteners, push-through rivet-type (plastic) fasteners, door-panel trim retainers, metal-into-plastic expansion-type screw fasteners, plastic-into-metal thread-lock fasteners and plastic-into-plastic screw-type fasteners. Also popular are plastic nut screw retainers, layered push-through panel interior clips, plastic loom and retainer grommets, and universal “Christmas tree” panel fasteners available in dozens of head sizes and configurations.
Any tech who’s pulled at door panels or interior trim to get at body damage has a story to tell about panel fasteners. Despite some nifty tools to get up under the mushroom section of these hard-plastic, push-pin-type rivets, things can get tough. When a door panel has been distorted to the point of destruction, we can cut around or use more radical force to separate the item from the door structure. But most of the time, we haven’t quoted any replacement inside trim on the estimate and must work diligently to be sure the panels come off in one piece; the old force methods used on ’70s cars will result in cracked panels, distorted electrical connectors, damaged lockrod parts and other problems.
While working one summer at a service department, I was forced to learn new ways to remove those stubborn interior door panels and to extract window motors and lock actuators. Here’s some hands-on help that really works:
1. Use a clip-removal tool and a flat sleeve-type tool to prevent unnecessary damage.
2. Slip the lower jaw of the clip-removal tool between the inside of the panel and the fastener head.
3. Use a sleeve to pry out the panel to secure access to the fastener tip.
4. Place just enough force against the panel and tip so when you squeeze the clip-removal tool, the sleeve is also acting to help push the pin through the body of the fastener.
This method is a bit slower than just forcing the fastener off with a flat clip-type tool or with only the squeeze pliers themselves. However, the panel will look a lot better when you’re finished and, with a little care, you can save moisture-barrier material, foam spacers and noise-dampening material from being ripped up.