Keeping a Fleet Up and Running Just Takes a Little Planning

It’s time to take a fresh look at the practice of stocking service parts.

Old school thoughts on this issue revolved around having the necessary stock on hand to repair a customer’s equipment on the spot. Service trucks had shelves stocked to the ceiling with thermostats, filter driers, capacitors, start relays – you name, it was on the truck. And as if the heavily stocked trucks weren’t enough, every business had a warehouse that was stocked to the ceiling with more parts.

The thought pattern of old went like this: you don’t want to give your technicians an excuse to hang around the supply house because time is money, so you stock your own parts. This rational never really made sense and it makes even less sense today.

Why didn’t it make sense? Because the reality was, most of the stocked parts were never billed out to a customer. The parts were either destroyed by bouncing around on a truck for six months, or broken when a refrigerant cylinder was tossed on it, or the tech forgot to list it on his invoice why he did use it.

If the loss of stock dollars wasn’t bad enough, the extra fuel usage, and the wear and tear on the overloaded trucks was the cherry on top.
Things are different now. Fuel costs almost $5 per gallon, a new truck costs upwards of $30,000, and warehouse space is no bargain either. Why spend all that money on trucks, fuel, and storage, just to keep something your local parts supply house already stocks?

Are you concerned about not having the parts available during off hours? There are two answers for that.

First, most supply houses have a store person who carries a duty phone so they can open up after hours and on holidays for emergencies. If the one you’re using doesn’t offer that convenience, find one that does. It’s worth it. Second use an “on call” box.

The on call box is simply a box stocked with parts. You stock the box with common parts that would be used during the season. If it’s heating season, stock it with an ignitor module, low water cutoff, water feeder valve, defrost board, thermostat, transformer, and a couple of 56- and 48-frame motors.

Whatever parts are in the basket should be multi-use; the motors should be reversible, multi-voltage, and have a multi-use motor bracket. The thermostat should be heat pump compatible and have separate RC/RH terminals. The idea is to have as few parts in the box as possible by only selecting multi-use, and multi-function parts.

Every item in the box should have a tag with the item description and part number on it. Whenever a part is used, the technician attaches the tag to the service ticket; this helps with billing, and for restocking of the box. The term box doesn’t mean you need to stuff everything in one tiny box; you can use two or three boxes, the idea is to give the stock to the person who needs it, the technician on duty. No you simply pass the stock onto the technician who is on duty for the weak.

Next time we’ll talk about cutting your warehouse down to size, and reducing your technician’s time spent chasing parts.

This is Part 1 of 2. Stay tuned for conclusion next week.

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This article is copyright © 2011

ABOUT Patrick Peterson

Patrick Peterson of ZenHVAC has seen the HVAC industry from all angles, serving as a technician, manufacturer’s tech rep, salesman, technical trainer and business owner.