Auto Service World
Feature   May 1, 2003   by Andrew Ross

Countertalk: Cooling System Tips

As is the case with so many components these days, you cannot rely on the weather to bring you the sales you crave. Preparation and a heads-up attitude are your best weapons.

When it comes to cooling system components–radiators, hoses, belts, water pumps, and thermostats–minimizing lost sales is an important factor in determining how successful this segment is for your operation.

As with most jobber operations, you likely have a wall of belts and hoses with the suitably high-tech piece of inventory retrieval equipment: a long stick with a hook on it. Everything is at your (extended) fingertips, but what about your customers?

It is important to pay nearly as much attention to the on-hand inventory of cooling system components at each trade customer’s location as it is your own. It is difficult to detail regularly, but if you listen to their requests carefully you may be able to hear clues that point to an inadequate inventory on hand.

1. If a trade customer calls you every time he needs a serpentine, V, or micro-V belt, you need to talk to him about getting some on-hand inventory.

2. When a customer calls for an upper rad hose, you should ask if they have a lower on hand. It is a subtle way of finding out if they’re planning to replace it. Remind them that a degraded hose is not usually apparent from the outside. If the upper hose has sprung a leak, can the lower be far behind?

3. If a customer calls you to order a rad hose or a thermostat for a 1995 Chevy Cavalier, you need to get their inventory replenished. Once a garage is unable to fill the most popular orders from on-hand inventory, it unnecessarily wastes time, costs you money in delivery, and puts you at risk of losing the sale if he calls your competition (another jobber or the dealer).

4. A properly profiled inventory of belts and hoses need not be a burden to the shop. It frees up time, allows them to get customers served more quickly, and preserves profit for them and you, since you’re not having to run out with parts worth just a few dollars.

5. Pay attention to the variety of work your customers may be doing. It may seem odd, but they may be buying heavy-duty belts and hoses from one business, agricultural applications from another, and think of you only as an automotive supplier.

6. Know your coolants. With a variety of specific technologies out there, it is easy for technicians to get confused. Some think that Dex-Cool, for example, is just a different colour, a ploy if you will, and proceed to use standard coolant in its place. Others believe that Dex-Cool need never be replaced, which is a problem if it gets contaminated with other fluids from the engine. Learn about the variety of coolants you carry, how to determine compatibility and condition, and communicate well with your customers.

7. Don’t forget about tensioners. There are few things worse than having a customer return after a belt service complaining of “a new noise.”

While independent service providers are understandably reluctant to load up on inventory, you need to communicate the benefits in terms of time and speed of repairs. Even the fastest delivery driver is going to run a distant second to the garage’s own “hook on a stick.”

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