It isn't difficult to imagine that today's counterperson can be replaced by a computer - after all, we now have on-line cataloging and electronic parts ordering. A part can be brought from one side of the continental U.S. to the other with a simple phone call. And the voice at the other end of the telephone can be anybody who can read and write.
But let's ask a vital question: Where do technicians usually go to get answers? To gain a broader perspective, let's start by reviewing a technician's current resources.
The latest computer-based electronic shop manual systems, for example, contain millions of pages of technical information and thousands of technical service bulletins. Let's not forget the one or more technical hotlines with complete paper and electronic libraries full of technical tidbits. Then there are the technical forums on the International Automobile Technician's Network (www.iATN.net) and the archived "fixes" for literally thousands of troublesome technical problems. Of course, we don't want to forget the automobile manufacturers now have OE factory information available though their own Web sites.
Thanks to the miracle of the personal computer, just about every bit of information possible is available at our very fingertips. Of course, when the tech gets in a jam, he can always pick up the phone and talk to - you guessed it - his local counterperson!
THE MASTER CATALOGER
Needless to say, I turn to my local counterperson on a daily basis for parts-related information. In most cases, my counterperson becomes my Master Cataloger, Master Researcher, Master Database and Constant Partner throughout the parts installation process. Little, if any, of this information can be found on a tech hotline or in a repair manual. Consequently, I rely completely on my counterperson to research any type of product-related information.
To better explain, all of these information sources contain millions of pages of technical information for fixing cars. But none offer the necessary personal link between getting the right part and installing it on the vehicle in the recommended fashion.
Case in point, my local jobber's electronic catalogs often contain errors that occasionally require considerable research to sort out. For example, when I need a Delta Pressure Feedback EGR (DPFE) sensor for Ford products, the catalog lists those particular numbers under EGR Variable Position (EVP) sensors. Sometimes, it's tricky to locate the correct DPFE sensor, even for dealership countermen, because Ford has altered the appearance of some DPFE sensors by changing the base material from aluminum to plastic. The sensors don't look alike, but they do interchange. So, my counterperson and I have developed a routine of looking under EVP sensors for application and, failing that, search the OE part number interchange to identify the correct DFE sensor for the application. Now, try to find that information on a Web site!
THE MASTER RESEARCHER
Every shop has the occasional need for an unusual item that only a well-informed counterperson can find. For example, I bought a brand-new engine hoist last year. Everything on the hoist worked perfectly, except that the lifting hook didn't swivel. Of course, that isn't a major issue for most technicians, but I was used to a lifting hook that swiveled. But where do we find such an item?
The answer: Delegate the problem to my tenacious counterperson! Yes, it's true. A good counterperson "lets her fingers do the walking" until she finds a vendor that can provide the needed part. In this case, my counterperson made several calls to industrial suppliers until she found a vendor that specializes in chain supplies. Sure, the swivel lifting hook was a bit pricey, but well worth the money and the wait. Now, my new shop hoist can not only lift an engine, it can position it throughout a full 360-degree sweep of the compass!
Of course, special tools are another request that many counterpersons simply brush off with a "We don't have that in our catalogs." Here again, tenacity provides both the product and the answer to a tough problem. In this instance, I was diagnosing an intermittent cranking, no-start complaint on a Chevy truck equipped with a Vortec engine when I noticed that my fuel pressure gauge would change readings by merely tilting the gauge. Since Vortec fuel injection systems must have between 54 to 56 pounds per square inch fuel pressure in order to start, it's important to have an extremely accurate gauge with which to measure fuel pressure.
Of course, my tool vendor was on vacation, so it was obvious he couldn't deliver a replacement gauge for at least three to four weeks. Buying a brand-new pressure gauge set would cost four times what a replacement gauge would cost. Fortunately, most replacement fuel pressure gauges have the same thread size and are interchangeable. After pulling several paper catalogs off the rack, my counterperson and I found a quality replacement. As one might suspect, the problem was finding a vendor to supply the finely calibrated gauge. Again, after several phone calls, my "Master Researcher" counterperson found a vendor ready to place a factory order on replacement parts. While I used my back-up pressure gauge to finish the job at hand, the new gauge was delivered a week later at a considerable savings over buying a complete new set.
Remember: the ability to research a problem, and the tenacity needed to find a source for the tool or part are invaluable qualities found only in the best counterpersons.
THE MASTER DATABASE
Have you ever thought of a counterperson as a database? It's true. The day-to-day experience of a counterperson filling orders and handling warranty issues and complaints builds up a tremendous volume of empirical information.
For example, which brake pads are the least likely to squeak on a Ford Explorer? Of all the people who are likely to know, my counterperson is the most available and the most knowledgeable. More often than not, the counterperson will also be the one who can access the name and telephone number of the area brake products representative. In fact, the counterperson might also be the one who makes the first phone call!
Lastly, a good counterperson is a walking library of marketing information. Do you want to know how many Honda timing belts have been sold in your marketing area? Just call your local counterperson! Do you want to know about the latest pattern failure for a specific vehicle? Just have your local counterperson pull up the sales history for a particular application of fuel pump, crankshaft sensor, starter or alternator!
THE CONSTANT PARTNER
All too often in today's merchandising climate, the modern automotive parts counterperson is considered a mere clerk who simply looks up a part number and processes the transaction. But being a modern counterperson is much more than that because the counterperson's job has become as complex as the vehicles we now repair and service.
In today's market, the modern counterperson must be multi-talented, multi-skilled and multitasking. The fact is, the reputation and performance of any jobber store is founded upon the competency and overall knowledge of its counter professionals. I consider my counterperson one of the biggest money-makers in my shop because, while I'm busy counseling customers or turning wrenches, my counter person is the one who's busy sourcing the odd-ball part number and making sure the part arrives on time. Instead of me picking up the phone and spending precious billable hours trying to source parts or information, my counterperson does it more efficiently and expeditiously than I ever could. In a pinch, I can count on the counterperson to help make the correct purchasing decision based on quality, serviceability and availability of the part in question.
It's all in a day's work for my first-call source of information - the modern counter professional!