Are You Blind or Do You See?

Is your P&A department immaculate, or does it look like a bull ran amok through it?

I visit as many powersports dealerships as possible when I’m traveling. Most of the time, it’s a great experience. The owners are almost always agreeable to talk to me, and I usually learn something from each visit. However, more often than not, it’s what not to do.

I was recently at two dealerships. They both had similar and multiple lines. The first one was a bit larger, so it had more space to space to play with. Having said that, there are some very large dealerships that look like a bull has spent several days running amok in the parts and accessories (P&A) departments.

But, I digress. The first dealership was immaculate. When you walked in, you could see everything. Those bits that you want, like helmets and jackets, were at the back. Other accessories and smaller impulse items that might appeal to the customer were on the way there, tempting customers. Everything was laid out perfectly; helmets were all set at the same angle. You could see the delineation between the adventure/dirt areas and the street section, with those accessories that crossed over in between. Everything was tidy. Nothing was out of place. I almost wept.

How is this possible? Apparently, the rule was that if there was any time between clients, the staff was expected to tidy up. They also had one powerhouse of a woman who, each day before she left, made sure everything was perfect. After she started her employment there, the other staff began following her lead, and they constantly kept at it.

The manager encouraged this behavior and obviously was very good at motivating the staff. It worked very well.

Now, onto the next shop, which had almost the same OEM lines. It was smaller, but that’s no excuse. Helmets were scattered everywhere, since there was no specific helmet area. No specific clothing area. There were items of clothing that customers had looked at just left laying on shelving. Helmets were displayed every which way. There was no separation or continuity in displays of clothing and accessories. It was almost like the racks were just loaded and set wherever they would fit in, with no regard as to why or where they should be.

There seemed to be no leadership. No one to train the salespeople. No one to set an example. If you do not know what’s possible, it will never happen. Between clients, the employees were behind the computer doing who knows what. If a client came in, while they did greet them, there seemed to be no effort to get out from behind the computer and aid anyone until the client came up and asked for help. They also seemed to be understaffed. If there was a sale being processed and one customer being helped on the floor, anyone else was being ignored. Not only was there a lack of training, but they needed more help when it did get busy.

Of course, this requires hiring enough staff to cover the floor, which costs money. But, if you have a good manager and great training, there is no reason why any of us can’t organize the P&A department and make sure that the staff is out from behind the counter. Nothing is worse than people sitting behind the computer while there is a mess. Sure, they need breaks, but they should be out selling when they are on duty, always talking to clients. If there are no clients, sort out the displays. Make sure everything is in its place. A good employee is an investment. A poorly trained employee is a cost.

It starts with management of the entire shop and within each department. There are bosses, and there are leaders. You often see “managers” sitting in an office, when there are things on the floor that need to be attended to. I understand there are always bookings and paperwork to finish, but what is more important: sales or paperwork? Of course, if the display area is a real mess, there will be fewer sales and therefore less paperwork. Often, I believe that’s the goal.

Back to the title of this column. A new manager starts and turns everything around — hopefully tidying everything up. It looks great. Then an employee quits. The new employee maybe doesn’t get the training from before. Or perhaps you hire someone who is disorganized. And so it goes on over the next few years or so.

This creeping chaos starts small with something out of place. Then another. And then another. Soon, we look at the room but don’t see the details. The helmets are unorganized. The jackets are not where they are supposed to be. Boxes are left unopened in the back, and in-demand merchandise that should be on display is ignored.

A friend of mine is doing inventory at a dealership (he worked for an aftermarket accessory distributor), and he found an entire order from the previous year worth many thousands of dollars just sitting in the back of the storage area. Like hoarders, some people see nothing wrong because it’s always been that way, but someone new coming in will see an absolute mess. You can’t see your grass grow, but it gets longer every day.

My suggestion is that we all, once in a while, stand in the corner of the P&A department and just look. Try to gaze on the displays with new eyes. Pretend that you’ve never been in your shop before. Question everything. Try a different angle. Move around. You may decide that it’s perfect. But, I would wager that the more you stand there, the more chaos you will see. Try it. Make your managers do it as well. Let me know how it works. Are you blind, or do you see?

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