John Peacock is looking slightly bemused. Not only has CAT turned up to watch over his shoulder as he makes the first parts order of the morning, but local factor branch manager Shay Allen has also squeezed into the tiny office of Peacock’s workshop, along with two senior managers as well as a PR executive. It really is quite the crowd.
The reason for this intrusion was simple. We had heard that Mr Peacock was one of a relatively small number of garage owners that chose to order the vast majority of parts online, as opposed to picking up the phone and ringing the branch. We were curious to find out what benefits were for the garage, and to see the journey the parts have to make to find their way from the shelf and on to the vehicle.
“The main thing is that it saves time” explained Peacock as he loaded up Omnipart, LKQ Euro Car Parts’ garage-facing ordering system. “With this I don’t need to have the trouble of explaining which variant of a part I need, as I can see the part numbers and diagrams and photographs on the system”. To demonstrate, he ordered a pair of springs for a Mercedes that was in for some around the wheel work. This particular vehicle had been optioned with sports suspension, so there was more than one type of coil listed. However, the illustration on the system clearly showed the type of spring that was the same as the units being removed from the vehicle.
Even better, it showed you if the parts were available off the shelf at the local branch as well as the number available in stock. It did the same for the stock levels in the national distribution centre, as well as the number of units available across the business as a whole. For popular references this isn’t an issue as they’ll generally be available locally, but anything slightly outside of the norm, the person doing the ordering can see that it will either be available next day, or a bit longer if the item needs to be picked up from a far away branch, go to a distribution hub before being delivered to a local branch and on to the customer. You can also usually choose between different brands as well.
Keeping a stock profile of parts that garages are likely to want right away is a process that involves computer software and graphs that show what is likely to be required and where, even before any parts are ordered. Obviously, braking and servicing items are always in demand, so these are auto-replenished to branches overnight, so there is always stock ready to sell.
Once our order has been successfully placed, I hightail it back to the local branch (which is fortunately just around the corner) and arrive a couple of minutes later in time to see the order being sent to a picker’s handheld terminal. In common with most modern trade counters, ECP Eastleigh is arranged so that the fastest-moving parts are nearest the door. Our springs are in a stock location on the mezzanine, so they are picked, scanned on the device and put in a tote crate near the door ready for collection by the driver.
This factor differs from some of the others we’ve visited in that drivers don’t get involved in picking at all. Drivers collect and load their run (Eastleigh has ten vans) and then book out the job on their terminal. This turns out to be the only slight hitch of the process so far in that the run took a frustratingly long time to bridge over to the device. In reality it probably took less than three minutes, but in the pressured world of parts delivery it seemed like an age. Nonetheless, Kelly, our driver, took it in her stride, even though her boss and the gaggle of senior managers were still waiting at the garage to witness the arrival of the parts.
Having dropped the parts off safely, Kelly continued on her rounds, leaving me free to have a chat with John Peacock, the garage owner. Having once worked at a Citroen dealership, he eventually branched out on his own and opened a small workshop elsewhere on the industrial estate where we now stood. After ten years, he got wind that the owner of his current garage, which is both larger and has an MOT lane, was going to sell so he bought it in November 2022. As a result, he has plenty of work, both from customers that he knew from his previous workshop as well as people that brought cars to his current place. As there are only three people working in the garage he felt that hanging on the phone to factors was just dead time, so using online ordering was an obvious solution.
There’s much more we could say about the journey of a part, but suffice it to say that ordering online wherever possible saves time and hassle for all concerned.
Ordering online: Costs and benefits
While this garage is happy using Omipart, it is worth pointing out that other online ordering systems are available from different motor factors. Alternatively, there are online parts ‘aggregators’ such as Autodoc, but you can forget having the part in your hands within the hour as the parts may well get posted from anywhere in Europe and could take weeks to arrive. Running a fast and frequent van service is every factor branch’s biggest expense and is the reason why ‘trade price’ parts are often more expensive than buying the same parts from the consumer-facing website and collecting from the store.