Sunday, February 19, 2006

Pay Attention to Your Front Line

Someday, someone will have to explain to me how auto parts stores stay in business. Given the sheer weight of inventory they have to keep on the shelves of every store, the markup must be huge (just to pay the cost of storing the part, let alone to make a profit on it)! With rent, payroll, utilities, and insurance, I can't believe auto parts stores are profitable, let alone make enough profit to pay back the costs of opening new stores.

I have four, shall we say, project vehicles in the pipe right now. A '57 T-Bird, a '67 Mustang, a '72 United warehouse tractor, and a '91 Cavalier. As you can expect, I'm spending a considerable amount of time (and money) in auto parts stores right now. Here are four interactions with the front line personnel I've had in the last week:

Store A - Parts needed: points, condenser, and spark plugs for the Chrysler Industrial on the tractor. On walking in the store, I noticed there was no cashier. I stood by the parts desk for a couple of minutes before one of the three clerks noticed me and strolled over. After establishing that he has no way of just going to the shelf and picking up the points and condenser I needed (and had the part numbers for) without a make and model of vehicle, he brought six spark plugs out. I opened the closest box to me and showed him that the spark plug in the box was not the right spark plug, and was used to boot. The clerk took the plug from me, looked at it, threw it down on the counter, yelled "What the f...", and stormed off to find the parts manager.

Store B - Parts needed: points and condenser for the tractor. I know the drill in this store, so I knew which clerk to go to right away. While he went to look for the parts in the back, another customer walked up to the next line (I've made this mistake before, so I knew what was going to happen). The two clerks assigned to that desk finished their conversation a minute or so later and acknowleged the customer, who asked for brake shoes. Now, it's not marked, but this desk is strictly for paint customers, so the customer received the "Oh, one of these other guys will help you," line. The clerks then went back to talking while the customer stood there bewildered. Understand, he and I were the only customers in the store, and there were eight clerks working the desks; I left five minutes later and still no one had offered to help the other customer.

Store C - Parts needed: points and condenser for the tractor. Getting smarter, I asked the parts clerk for points and condenser for a '59 Dodge truck (the tractor thing was just confusing people). A few minutes later I finally had my points and condenser, so I decided to see what else I needed in the store. I loaded my arms with towels and a box of rags; the clerk appeared out of no where and said, "Here, let me take those up to the register for you," leaving me with empty arms to grab more "essentials" off the shelves.

Store C (again) - Parts needed: a headlight switch for the Mustang. The parts clerk brought two separate parts out of the back to let me see which one I wanted. I selected the right part, we moved to the register, and the clerk asked, "How did those points work?"

All three of these stores have managers. One of the managers is paying attention to the front line personnel and how they treat the store's customers. In that business, the extra mile by the front line may be the difference between sucess and failure.

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