It's no secret that I like old machinery. Vintage cars, motorcycles, trucks and any kind of old tools or equipment fascinate me.
If it was made before the age of transistors, I can't help but feel that it is more robust and reliable than whatever took its place. I recently rediscovered, however, that maybe not everything that's "digital age" is so bad.
Our computer system went down for the better part of two days, and doing things the old fashioned way wasn't really all that much fun.
Driving around in an old car or motorcycle gives you a unique feel for the way things were done in the past. Everything is manual or mechanically operated: no electronics to interpret and act on your intentions. You feel more in control.
The ride may be slower and less smooth, but it's more elegant somehow. However, the thought of spending the rest of my days paging through mountains of catalogs, wondering which price schedule to use and getting writer's cramp left me a little cold. And pity the poor soul who had to decipher all that handwriting and spend their days slaving over an inventory card file index.
The impact computerization has had on how we do business is truly amazing. When I first started with this company, our store was a four-man operation with two full-time on the counter, one full-time driver and one combination man. Every order was done just as it was since the days of the first aftermarket parts store: look up the part, check inventory, price the invoice and pull the part.
In the 20-plus years since then, we've grown a little bit. Our full-time counter help has now doubled, but our productivity dollar-wise has done much more than that. The square footage of our store has increased very little, while the number of parts we handle has grown exponentially with each new model year. Without the tighter inventory control, and faster reorder and restocking times computerization provides, we would have outgrown the building years ago.
Electronic cataloging and part finding, while far from perfect, is still the way to go. Even with all its errors, omissions and ambiguities, it's much faster than using the catalogs all the time. Even though I still find myself using printed catalogs quite often, it is usually for older applications or to verify a part with an illustrated buyer's guide.
Computers also make it easier to train new counter help. When I first made the change from OEM to aftermarket parts, one of the most difficult aspects was learning the many different lines that we carried. Dealership parts personnel need only learn the various groups and sub-groups a part might be located in--they all come from the same source. With the vast number of aftermarket suppliers, it's possible to pick and choose whichever portions of their lines best suit your needs, so you could spend as much time figuring out what catalog to look in as you did actually finding the part. Electronic indexing at least gets you on the right page.
The only downside to the whole situation is that it has made me lazy. I find that I don't commit part numbers to memory as much as I used to, perhaps because I don't have to work as hard to find them. During our electronic downtime, I also ran a pen out of ink before somebody walked off with it--first time in a long time. Back in the good old days I would never let my pen walk off: It was as indispensable as a set of contact points are to a Model A Ford. n
Mike Gordon, a 20-year counter sales veteran, works the counter at Sanel Auto Parts, Concord, N.H.
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