With unlimited moving parts, people and boats, running a successful service department can be a bit like playing Tetris. Find that right fit or everything starts stacking up; one mistake builds on another and the next thing you know you’ve got a disaster on your hands.
(For all you Millennials out there, Tetris is how we used to pretend to work before Facebook was invented.)
For the best dealers, having organizational systems in place are what separates profit from failure. There’s no one answer to what makes a good system, but from whiteboards to digital, having a plan and following it is the key to success.
Sometimes a simple system can be best. That’s the strategy that Danver, Mass., dealer Russo Marine has embraced.
Russo has modified a system originally designed by auto industry consultant Reynolds & Reynolds for car dealers.
With Russo Marine selling, servicing and storing more than 2,000 boats a year, scheduling and dispatching has to be a science, said president/CEO Larry Russo Sr.
“It’s a system that’s very basic; it’s easy, it’s simple and everybody in the company can go look at [it] and see what every tech is doing today,” Russo said. “We’ve been using it for 25 years and we haven’t had to modify it too much.”
It starts with an appointment pad that displays the entire week. As requests for service come in, appointments are made and put onto that calendar. At a glance, the service manager (or anyone else for that matter) can quickly look forward to see what’s coming.
“You’re visually able to see blocks of open opportunity and as the jobs arrive or as the jobs are assigned, they get crossed off, they get yellow highlighted, so you get that wonderful satisfaction of moving it off the page,” Russo said.
To accompany the appointment pad, Russo uses a daily tech schedule, with a block for each individual service technician. For example, the schedule contains seven blocks for the seven techs at Russo’s main Danvers location.
Under each tech’s name, there are six lines for job assignments. Each line contains the customer job number, as well as an estimate of how much time is being assigned to the task.
“Everybody at a glance can look at that sheet and see what job has been assigned to whom and how many jobs that tech has for the day,” Russo said. “It’s a living document that flows from day-to-day. What’s not accomplished on that daily tech route sheet simply gets transferred over to tomorrow’s sheet, so you never lose your place. You’re loading every day as you go forward.”
The third component to the system is a whiteboard that keeps a three-week rolling schedule, allowing a long-term look at the schedule, as well as promised customer delivery dates.
“The whiteboard is where you’ve now committed to the customer when the job is going to be done,” Russo said. “It keeps everyone focused on the long-term jobs that need to be scheduled. Once you commit to a date, with proper management, make sure that you start that job well in advance to get it done on time and get it done right.”
One of the most important parts of the system is that the service manager maintains strict control of all aspects of the schedule to avoid confusion and miscommunication.
“If you allow multiple people to make entries, that’s where you tend to get off track,” Russo said. “So to the best of our ability, it’s managed by one person. In that person’s absence, it’s his job to assign to it one other person. When he comes back, he only has to speak to one person. They all know what’s going on, but only one person gets to manage the system.”
Russo has twice made the move to a computerized system, but both times has come back to the paper-based one. The company uses Dockmaster and years ago tried its scheduling system and, more recently, a former service manager created a Google spreadsheet to manage the schedule.
“Conceptually it was terrific. It’s on your phone, it’s portable, you can be anywhere at any time and you can reference it,” Russo said. “It just got so unmanageable because it was an electronic document that was in complete flux. It was never stable. The service manager would make changes and people didn’t know that changes were made.”
In the end, the visibility of the current system makes it easier for everyone. This spring, though, Russo will be replacing its whiteboard with a 50-inch flatscreen TV, creating an Excel spreadsheet that mirrors the three-week rolling schedule.
As we noted earlier, there’s no one answer for how to build a successful system and improve efficiency.
Even as Russo was unhappy with a computerized system, Hagadone Marine Group has found a Google-based system to work for the Idaho dealer.
“Our Google Docs system was created right here,” said service manager James Barnhart. “It’s simple, just created out of the Google platform, but it really works. It does everything we need it to do, and as we launched it in 2013 and refined the process in 2014, it’s made a tremendous difference in efficiency and the customer experience.”
When Barnhart started at Hagadone more than a decade ago, everything was still handwritten and the scheduling system was basically non-existent. Hagadone was billing $400,000 in labor; in 2015 it was closer to $1.5 million.
“Everything is on an electronic schedule that’s shared online by using Google documents – and now that our company email is all on Google, it ties in very well,” Barnhart said. “We can do it from anywhere with our smartphones. All changes are color-coded. Boats are scheduled all the way through the process. The person at the counter can take new appointments, it’s projected on a big screen at the shop, all the changes are in real time, and that’s something I haven’t seen in any other shop.”
At Austin Boats & Motors, the dealership uses a combination paper, dispatch wall scheduler and computer system for scheduling and dispatching. Paper repair orders are color-coded to quickly identify the customer’s concern:
• Red – come back/return
• Green – customer warranty
• White – retail/customer pay, consignment checks, trade inspections
• Pink – rigging
• Yellow – stock warranty
• Blue – stock part replacement
After the paper order is generated with the customer, it is also entered into an electronic work order by the service manager.
The colored paper repair orders are then put in each individual technician’s box. All notes of performed maintenance and repairs completed are recorded by the tech on the original colored paper. After the work is completed, those handwritten notes are added onto the computer generated repair order, a copy of which is given to the customer at pickup.
Austin Boats & Motors uses a dispatch board showing scheduling for each tech. All dispatch board entries are color coded to match the paper ticket color that the technician is working from.
The system allows any staff member within the dealership to easily view the progress of all work.
“This is an exceptional visual aid for porters, riggers, technicians, managers and sales staff,” said vice president Martin Boyer. “The progress of any ticket is available at any time and they can also quickly discern the department’s current work obligations.”
The Texas dealership also uses software to monitor and evaluate technician efficiency after recently implementing the EVO software system.
With the system, technicians can now punch on and off of a particular job, actual time versus billable time can be examined to determine the efficiency of each technician on each job.
This information assists in scheduling, as well as evaluation of the techs. Efficiency is used to help determine which techs need to attend which training sessions and schools (online or on location) and it is also used for determining in-house needs such as processes for repair order completion, the sale of parts to service repair orders, special tools needs and purchases.
Not one size fits all
Even within a single dealership, the best solution may be multiple systems depending on the situation.
Bosun’s Marine uses three distinct scheduling and dispatching systems: one for spring deliveries, the second for the summer season, and the third for fall haul-outs, winterizing and storage.
Like most Northern dealers, the Massachusetts-based Bosun’s is faced with a major spring rush once the weather starts to turn.
“To handle this, we have been refining and tweaking our scheduling and dispatching system for years to achieve the highest possible levels of efficiency and quality,” said president Tim Leedham.
Every winter, Bosun’s sends a mailer to each of its customers containing service menus and requested launch dates. The hundreds of returned launch requests are then grouped by location in the yard and by the nature of the work.
“From this, we fill out a ‘War Board’ that covers two months at a time,” Leedham said. “This War Board is mounted on the wall behind the service counter, and all our customers’ names are entered on their assigned launch date, for everyone – both employees and all our customers – to see.”
The War Board helps the parts department (which uses a “just-in-time” delivery system) know when it needs to have all supplies and parts for the technicians. The techs also get to see an entire month’s schedule at a time and offer their input on potential problems.
The same system continues into the summer, with the exception that the War Board has more sections of open time to make necessary warranty repairs, rush delivery of sold boats or any other last-minute needs.
“We strive to visit, evaluate and, whenever possible, repair any warranty requests for non-running boats or important boat systems breakdowns within 24 hours of notice,” Leedham said. “We achieve this on about a 90 percent basis and, for four years now, we have done this within 48 hours 100 percent of the time.”
To prepare for the fall, Bosun’s sends out a mailer to every customer in August with service menus for fall hauling, winterizing and storage, and asking for requested haul-out dates.
Again, that information is used to group customers with like products for hauling dates and for space assignments in the six storage yards.
“At this time we also ask for an estimate of when they want to launch the next spring,” Leedham said. “With all this data, we place the boats in the yards so that they can be winterized in groups, by teams of techs and their assistants.”