Things break. It's as simple as that when it comes to pretty much anything these days, and vending machines aren't any different. Today's electronically controlled machines are remarkable in many ways, but like their predecessors, they are collections of subassemblies that have to work smoothly together. Parts will wear, and pieces will break, after years of use and customers beating up the machine. But how do you know when to reorder? What to stock? And how to stock it so your mechanic can find it quickly?
At Vendors Exchange, we don't claim to be the experts but we do know a thing or two about parts. As one of the largest parts distributors in the vending industry, we have a system for keeping track of our nearly 30,000 parts. If you haven't thought much about your parts department, it may be costing you money. Creating an environment that works best for your business might involve some trial and error, but it can be well worth doing. After talking to several operators, here are some simple suggestions for running an efficient parts department.
IT'S ABOUT STRATEGY
As you might imagine, working through thousands of parts can be a bit cumbersome. In order to make any storage area, whether it's a parts department or a warehouse, seem smaller, the first step is to simplify. Identify the parts you keep in inventory, and the ones that are most commonly used. In our warehouse, we categorize parts by type (e.g. motors, control boards, etc.), and then place them in bins on shelves. Each bin is labeled; and, as in a library, our aisles are labeled numerically. When a part is ordered, a member of the team has the bin location and related part number on the order so it can be found and pulled quickly. To make it straightforward, the most common parts are grouped together.
Labeling each product and determining your best organization strategy is the key to success. Darryl Martin, from D&S Food Service out of Menomonee Falls, WI, states, "It saved money to organize." D&S Vending recently went through a re-structuring of its parts department to classify each part by bin number. Making use of a vend management system and clipboards to organize the parts department enabled the operation to quickly determine which parts were in short supply, so they could be reordered.
EVALUATE YOUR NEEDS
A key part of ordering is evaluating your stock. After you determine the most-used items, it's a good idea to set a par level. This is the quantity of each item that you want on hand; when the quantity falls below par, you reorder the part. For some less common items, you may be able to keep just one in stock, and when it's used to repair a machine, order another one.
Many vending management software packages include a module that allows you to track your parts usage and inventory. If you are not presently using one of these, you can work with your mechanics to establish an efficient reordering system. At a minimum, require that a part needed for a repair be recorded when it's issued -- and that the old part that's replaced be brought back to the shop and recorded, too. This prevents waste, deters pilferage and can help you identify a "problem" machine or location. All businesses are different, but having some sort of tracking system and using it to evaluate your needs accurately is important to reduce overhead costs.
Photo | THAT'S A LOT OF PARTS! Vendors Exchange stocks more than 15,000 different replacement parts and accessories for the vending industry.
The final and probably most important aspect of your parts department management is hiring the right people. Mike O'Guim of Vendors Source (Troy, MI) stated, "I prefer hiring guys who have knowledge of the business, especially if they have been a mechanic in the past. They know how to fix a machine and what goes in it." Vendors Source, which serves operators in the upper Midwest, has a vast inventory of parts and pieces needed to repair machines. It prides themselves on its ability to understand the machine and assist customers to finding the right part.
In a vending operation, as in any business, finding and training staff to understand the product is essential to working productively and efficiently, and keeping your customers satisfied. Creating a parts inventory and issuing procedure that works best for your business may require taking a few passes to get it right. But there are plenty of tools out there to help you ensure that your parts shelves are organized and that you are saving time and money in your business. Make sure you have a solution that is simple to understand, know your product and have the right people in place to take care of your customers.
STEPHANIE BEGLEY is product-marketing manager of Vendors Exchange International Inc. (Cleveland). Begley describes herself as a passionate sales and marketing professional who enjoys pushing the envelope on new media. Her experience stretches from hospitality to manufacturing. At Vendors Exchange, Begley is involved in industry research, and regularly connects with experts and businesses in the automatic retailing world, which she endeavors to help shape. Stephanie.Begley@veii.com