In the past 20 years, the number of aftermarket SKUs has exploded. With that fact in mind, running one parts store these days is quite a lot of work. But add in another location, and you’ve got a mind-numbing number of products to keep track of.
That prospect doesn’t seem to frighten Clive Treharne, owner of Deb’s Auto Parts Inc., which has served the automotive aftermarket in northwest New Jersey for 20 years. Deb’s built a strong business by exceeding customer expectations on delivery speed, having stock of needed parts — a lot of parts — and delivering the right part the first time. Deb’s offers $100 million in available inventory. “Twenty years ago, I knew most of the part numbers for popular parts like distributor caps and brake pads,” Treharne said. “There is no way I could do that today. A key advantage we have is that we are technologically more advanced than our competitors. With our Activant Prism solution, we have the information and the system to provide superior customer service.”
Deb’s uses RF technology to assist in many aspects of inventory management. By using bar-coded labels and an RF gun, inventory accuracy has noticeably improved, according to Treharne. “With bar-coded labels, we seldom have sales of our ‘unknown’ part numbers, which used to be our biggest seller.” But Treharne takes RF’s capabilities a step further, and has used the technology to transform the physical inventory process. “It used to take about six weeks from start to finish,” he said. “With RF, it’s less than two weeks and far more accurate.” RF technology also has allowed Deb’s to accelerate the receiving process. “Having an RF gun in receiving is much faster and much more accurate. Our payback on RF was six to eight months,” he said. “It’s another area of our business that was transformed with technology.”
Through the use of AConneX, customers of Deb’s can see inventory and order online 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “Every week, the percentage of our AConneX business grows and will continue to do so, Treharne said. “For many of our customers, it’s much more convenient. We arrive in the morning, and we have orders waiting for us to fill. We get the sale, and they get to order when they want.” The ability to answer customer inquiries over the phone, rather than having to call them back, is key to getting the sale. “You risk losing a sale when you have to call a customer back. With AConneX, we don’t have to call customers back just to research part availability.
Instead, we can check our distributor’s stock online and instantly quote price and delivery time. The customer gets a fast answer, and we make the sale on the first call. This kind of customer service means more sales for us.”
Deb’s buys from a number of vendors that aren’t on an automated pricing program. In the past, those prices had to be manually entered, which was both time-consuming and ripe for errors.
Today with Activant PowerPricer, that task is extremely easy. “Vendors e-mail their prices in a spreadsheet, and we easily upload 30,000 parts into Prism. In fact, we have more prices in the system than we ever did before,” Treharne said. “Our tool supplier regularly sends us 200-page color catalogs that we give to our installers. Before, when installers ordered tools, they’d give us the part and page number, and we’d manually look up our cost and calculate a price. Now the supplier’s price list is uploaded with PowerPricer. It’s all in our system. We quickly and accurately quote prices.”
KEEPING RETURNS DOWN
The old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” has proven true at Deb’s. Since installing Cover-to-Cover, returns have dropped from as high as 20 percent to the low teens. Reducing returns has had a positive effect on counter productivity and inventory levels. “The typical scenario was for an installer to call needing ‘xyz’ part, and we’d have three parts that might be the correct part. Then we’d send all three and then go back and pick up the unused two. While the parts were out, we might reorder based on the physical count, not knowing which would come back,” Treharne said. “Today with Cover-to-Cover, we send the installer pictures so that the installer orders only one correct part. We save a trip to pick up parts, our inventory is more accurate and the customers are very impressed when we show them the pictures.”
A notable business improvement at Deb’s is increased margins from having more accurate cost and inventory data.
Treharne knows exactly how much each part costs and ensures his price delivers an appropriate return. “We no longer guess at pricing, and I know that some of my competitors still do. That’s a huge advantage for us to be able to accurately price so that we win the business and deliver a return to the bottom line,” he said. “I rely on Activant to help run the business. I use several daily reports that indicate sales, margins and inventory. Every time we add a module, we see a return. Thanks to Activant, we run more efficiency and have increased sales.”