Mitch Schneider: Sealed, Signed and Delivered

Mitch Schneider: Sealed, Signed and Delivered

Profit, Productivity and Proficiency are destroyed when parts adversely impact our profit model. It doesn't matter what the reason - someone is going to suffer and I'll bet you already know who that someone is going to be.

Ours is not the only industry that depends upon outside sources or suppliers for success. There are lots of industries that require the availability and/or delivery of “material” in order to complete a process or a project ­successfully.

If you aren’t convinced, ask a contractor or, better yet, begin a project that has a “guaranteed” completion date. Then, wait until the project begins to fall behind schedule because something didn’t show up when it was supposed to, or was wrong or damaged when it did show up. If you’ve ever built or remodeled anything, you already know what I’m talking about.

There is “Real Time” and there is “Contractor’s Time.”

Despite the fact this may seem like precisely what happens when the delivery truck is late, the order isn’t complete, the parts are wrong or someone dropped the ball entirely and they aren’t there at all, I’m not sure it is. You see, the contractor can move to the next project until his supplies and suppliers catch up with him. He can go someplace else and do something else.

He can utilize his assets and resources at another location, while you — as the client or customer — find yourself inconvenienced until the “right” stuff arrives on site and the contractor is able to reschedule because he isn’t quite finished with the job he started when your job couldn’t be finished.

If that contractor has any kind of backlog he won’t feel a fraction of the pain you are likely to experience. I know; I’ve had friends who were waiting for a fixture, a countertop, a piece of glass or the right hardware, or who dropped by to shower while their bathroom was torn apart.

The contractor was still working on a bathroom, somewhere, while they were patiently waiting for the correct fixture to arrive. He just wasn’t working on their bathroom. And, while you and I can continue to work as long as we have cars to work on, the profit models are quite different and there is a significant difference between the mess that’s left behind when a contractor moves to another location and a vehicle that is languishing and left for dead, essentially killing a lift and/or bay.  

Profit, Productivity and Proficiency are destroyed when parts adversely impact our profit model. It doesn’t matter what the reason, someone is going to suffer and I’ll bet you already know who that someone is going to be.

Most business owners outside our industry know things are more likely to fall apart than not. They also know what it will cost them when they do. They understand and prepare for failures like these. And, for the most part, account for them in their estimates.

Almost everyone in our industry estimates a job as if everything was going to go perfectly, leaving those of us who do realize things are never likely to go that well to compete against those who embrace the aberrated kind of optimism that suggests everything will go flawlessly.

That’s why it is so important to reduce or at least minimize the risk of any kind of a parts-related problem or failure. The problem is no matter how proactive you try to be, the fates will always conspire against you.

They conspired against us yesterday and, in so doing, brought to light an increasingly serious problem that appears to be getting exponentially worse every day: boxes that have been opened before they arrive and are found to have the wrong part in the box, a used part in the box or parts missing from the box altogether.

I’ve written about this before. But, each time this occurs, the fallout seems magnified somehow and this time was no exception. it’s bad enough the saturn brand has been eliminated, but, to compound matters, these vehicles are likely to cling to life longer than there will be parts available to sustain them.

We were working on a 2003 Saturn Vue. Now, it’s bad enough the brand is dead, but, to compound matters, these vehicles are likely to cling to life longer than the parts availability necessary to sustain them.

You may want to argue, but we’ve already seen it begin. Our Saturn Vue came in for a misfire a couple of weeks ago. It suffered from a number of problems all related to the continuing economic crisis and a single mother trying to deal with survival in Southern California, which generally translates to a lack of regular maintenance.

A lack of regular maintenance generally results in more catastrophic failures and a, “Do whatever you can with whatever I have, which is not very much and very likely not enough.”

The Vue needed spark plugs, valve cover gaskets and, as a result of the valve cover gasket failure and the oil that contaminated the spark plug boots, it needed a coil pack as well. The customer could afford to do only the plugs. The consequence of doing just the plugs — redundant labor when the coil packs had to be replaced in the future — was explained, and while the choice the client made may have been a poor one, it may very well have been the only one available at that particular moment.

We made it clear it was not only possible the misfire would return, it was likely. Nevertheless, the customer authorized replacement of only the plugs. The vehicle returned to the shop with a misfire and misfire code a few weeks later. Now, there was no choice: the vehicle was going to need valve covers, intake manifold gaskets and a coil pack.

This is not the only Vue in Southern California. But, judging by parts availability, you would probably find that hard to believe. We tried four different suppliers and two different dealerships, only to find out that we were going to have to order from more than one supplier and then wait for them all to arrive.

Single moms don’t generally have more than one vehicle. There may be more than one vehicle in the family, but with economic resources stretched as far as they can go without snapping, additional vehicles usually carry one or more of the kids to chores, school or after school employment.

Mom works Monday through Friday. We work Monday through Friday. Mom is off on Saturday and Sunday. So are we! That means a weekday appointment and at least one day in a rental car. We ordered the parts and scheduled the vehicle for the day after the parts were to arrive. The parts arrived late Monday night; the vehicle, early Tuesday morning. So far, so good.

photo 1No one noticed the box had been taped closed when it arrived. No one mentioned that it had two separate dates hand-written on the outside of the box. I’m not sure what difference it would have made had someone mentioned it. Just finding the parts was difficult enough.

Nevertheless, when the intake manifold was removed and the tape on the box “protecting” the intake manifold gaskets was sliced open and the parts spilled out onto the counter, it was immediately apparent they were wrong. The part number was correct, the gaskets were not.

Someone had opened the box, taken what they needed, placed a set of incorrect gaskets back in the box (Figure 1), taped the box shut (Figure 2) and then returned it for credit (Figure 3) — a great deal of trouble for such a small reward.

I’ve been at this job a long time; long enough to realize it is not a perfect world. But, let’s look at the cost: the cost to the consumer, my cost and the cost to the distribution system. The consumer was going to be without a vehicle for at least one more day.

photo 2That would mean a second day in a rental car. It would also mean frustration, anxiety and a loss of confidence in us and our ability to get the job done, on time and within the estimate.

Now, let’s look at our cost. We have a disgruntled customer, we have a job torn apart, ready to go back together, but without the appropriate parts. We have a vehicle tying up a bay while we wait, and a technician who is actively fantasizing about how he will dismember whoever it was who sabotaged his job, the “parts guy” who sent the box out that way, or both!

Do you know what it costs you to have a bay remain empty or unproductive? Take all your General & Administrative Expenses — your expenses independent of the Cost of Direct Labor and Cost of Goods Sold — and divide that number by the number of bays and then by the number of hours you are open. No matter how efficiently you run your business, or how carefully you manage your expenses, it is still a very scary ­number.  

Sure, you may be able to push the vehicle out of the bay and out of the way.

But, that means three or four people pushing it out and then back in again: three or four people times each salary cost broken down per minute, times the 12 or 15 minutes it takes to organize everyone, call them away from whatever they were doing, the cost in lost time from those jobs, and then doubled because the vehicle will eventually require the same three or four people and the same costs to push it back in again.

Photo 3

Don’t want to push it out and then back in again? No problem! The clock starts ticking on the lost revenue per bay: every minute, every hour, every day!

What about the cost to the distribution system? I’m not sure I care. Harsh? Perhaps. But, shouldn’t someone have looked at the box the first or second time it was returned? Remember, there were two dates written on the outside of that box! Someone put them there. And, whose responsibility was it to ensure that everything that was supposed to be in the box was, in fact, there?

My guess is it would have cost substantially less than the cost of returning it, sending it out again and then processing it a second time, then sending it out a third time!  

As odd as it may seem, I am more frustrated and angry with the wretch who stole the right gaskets from the box, replaced them with the wrong gaskets, and then sealed it all up and sent it back, than I am with my supplier.

That doesn’t mean that I’m not frustrated with my supplier. It just means that I am less frustrated with him than I am with the miserable bastard who started this downward spiral in the first place. That wretch shouldn’t be allowed to purchase parts from anyone until they learn to act responsibly. But, that does not mean my supplier is absolved of all responsibility either.

Regardless, I want to know where that box came from. I want to know who had it last. I want to call them…No! I want to get in the car and drive there. I want to ask them what they were thinking, and why they did what they did.

But, more important, I’d like to personally ask them to leave — leave the industry, leave the country, leave the planet!

They took the right gaskets out of the box and put the wrong gaskets back in. They signed the box, sealed it and allowed it to be delivered to someone like me or, maybe, someone like you. And, then it apparently happened all over again, twice!

I’d like to buy them a one-way ticket out of this industry. I’d like to put it in a box, sign it and seal it just like they did. And, then I’d like to deliver it personally just to see their reaction when the box was opened and something unexpected spilled out onto the table!  

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