Article > Opinion

When Too Many Is Not Enough

By Mitch Schneider

What the dreaded stock room reveals about our businesses (and the supplier-customer relationship).
Mitch Schneider

We are presently involved in one of the worst and most frustrating “exercises” we may have ever undertaken. We are boldly going to that dark and forbidding place few shop owners ever go happily, or even willingly, for that matter: the dreaded back room.

I’m not going back there because I want to or because I have no place else to go: I’m headed back there because my new office manager insists that we – that I – confront the demons that have tormented us the longest and that we fear the most before attempting anything else!

There are a hundred reasons for the dread most shop owners feel when forced to address the subject of “stocking inventory” or explain how or why there is stuff back there they can’t explain, or worse yet, don’t remember purchasing, and most of them are valid. But I’m not sure that would do any good. I’m just going to suggest that most shop owners hate their stock rooms because the parts and accessories languishing there are a constant and graphic reminder of what may be two of our greatest weaknesses: non-technical data analysis and un-supported, unsubstantiated trust.

We have a love/hate relationship with stocking inventory because while we know we need to stock some parts and accessories in order to ensure high levels of technician efficiency and service bay productivity, we have no idea how to go about determining the what, which and how many of what that inventory ought to be. Consequently, walking back there and looking around or spending a few minutes with a sales history is a continual and painful reminder of every bad purchasing decision we may have ever made.

You see we are great at analyzing, evaluating and utilizing the data that flows from the cars and trucks we work on because we do it every day, and because we do it every day we’ve gotten pretty good at it. But, we don’t seem to be anywhere near as good at figuring out what should and should not find its way into the stock room and on to the shelf without the worst possible kind of anxiety and angst.


I can’t speak for everyone… But, for me it’s because I’ve just been misled too many times in the past.

I have purchased too many “A” list parts assortments that fit someone else’s shop profile – a shop very different from my own; bought too many “fast-moving” parts that weren’t just slow, they were stopped; taken advantage of too many “great deals” that turned out to be oh, so, expensive; and, still find myself trying to figure out how and why I have six of something I haven’t sold in a year and keep calling for a part number that moves and moves quickly, but hasn’t found its way into my inventory yet!

I know this is ultimately my responsibility. After all, it’s my business, my inventory and my sales, both made and lost. But, this isn’t what I do, at least, not what I do well. This is what you do, what some of you do brilliantly. So, why won’t you do it for me or the tens of thousands of other shop owners out there just like me?

Is it because it’s too much trouble? Does it take too much time? Is it too difficult? I’m sure someone is doing it for you: someone who both knows and understands the principles well enough to reduce your costs and maximize your return. If you’re a manufacturer and you’re big enough, I’ll bet you are doing it for your larger retail customers. Why can’t someone scale things down a bit and do the same thing for me?

I’ll bet a lot of this is done by computer. So, how hard would it be to passively monitor sales and then actively manage repair community inventory?

Too much trouble? Too costly? Too time consuming? Not enough return?

Maybe, but just think about this for a second or two: What happens if or when after being forced to figure this all out on my own I learn to manage my inventory without you or your help? What happens to the “us” in our relationship after that particular component is removed? Will the relationship remain as strong? Can it?

What happens if one of your competitors reads this and realizes just how much it would mean to someone like me to have someone like them actually help manage that inventory… And, what someone like me might be willing to give them in return!

  Previous Comments
avatar   DAVE ELLIOTT   star   9/22/2009   12:16 PM

I for one am not in favor of a shop keeping too much inventory. There are a few lines, oil filters being one anti-freeze, and maybe the top ten brake pads. Other than that, the diversity of parts needed is too great. I do understand the "need for speed" of delivery but I also understand the tying up of capital in your shop inventory. There has to be a realistic way of doing things. If you have a few parts that you have a high demand for, you'll know it.

avatar   Steve Abrams   star   6/24/2009   2:05 PM

Hopefully there is an O'Reilly Autoparts near you, if so call them and ask for the installer service specialist. They should be able to help.

avatar   Dewey   star   1/6/2009   4:08 PM

I've been in the parts business for 17 years, most in the dealership side of the business. I've found that the same practices used there work in the independent world. With a little effort and some help from the computer, it is fairly simple to track purchases and stock based on sales figures. I used Pace/Yes and track my purchases and produce reports of part numbers that match my criteria. Although there is a lot of manual work involved in setting min/max on each part number, once finished, you will find a lot of your headaches have disappeared. No more wondering why you have 50 oil filters for an engine or make that never comes into your shop.

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