Any dealership manager who resigns to the belief that the parts and service departments are destined to an adversarial coexistence is wrong.

Many parts managers, service managers and general managers tell me the parts and service departments will never reach a point where that invisible barrier comes down and mutual cooperation between the two departments finally prevails.

Nevertheless, the aforementioned managers and their collective opinions are in good company. There is no shortage of dealership principals who agree with their managers that the service and parts departments are often at odds.

That “that's-the-way-it-is” thinking doesn't mean that that's the way it has to be.

Consider, for example, the following assumptions of the future that time has proven wrong:

  • “The Japanese auto industry isn't likely to carve out a big slice of the U.S. market for itself.” Business Week, August 2, 1968

  • “I think there is a world market for about five computers.” Thomas J. Watson, chairman IBM, 1943

  • “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.” Ken Olson, president, Digital Equipment Corp., 1977

  • “No matter what happens, the U.S. Navy is not going to be caught napping.” Frank Knox, Secretary of the Navy, Dec. 4, 1941, just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

  • “The phonograph … is not of any commercial value.” Thomas Alva Edison, inventor of the phonograph, c. 1880

  • “They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist…” General John B. Sedgwick, last words, Civil War Battle of Spotsylvania, 1864

These statements are reminders of how frequently even great minds make inaccurate predictions, with great conviction, only to be proven otherwise.

Similarly, any dealership manager or owner who resigns to the belief that the parts and service departments are destined to an adversarial coexistence is just as wrong.

The greatest hurdle to interdepartmental cooperation, particularly between the parts and service departments, is the attitude that, “It's not really possible.”

I've heard blame for the ongoing rift between the two departments placed on a variety of things, from the General Motors accounting procedures for dealership fixed operations to the basic fact that the departments operate as individual profit centers.

In reality, problems between departments and the solution rests with the culture of the dealership itself.

Accord can be attained, but it must come from a cultural shift within the dealership. Some dealerships have long since put an end to the squabbling between the two fixed operations departments.

Some of these dealerships I've written about in my second book, “BEYOND THE NUMBERS: Managing the Assets of an Automobile Parts Business.”

Common threads among them are management intolerance for fighting between departments, a consistent message from the top down avowing concerted operational effort, and indoctrinating employees at the point of hire.

Of course, there are those who profess that the only way to deal with the departmental relationship issue is to apply the antiseptic solution — money.

For example, tie the parts managers pay to the service department and visa versa.

However, pay is only a small part of the answer. A pay arrangement as a sole impetus will not offer a definitive solution because it buys cooperation rather than fosters the inherent value of getting along. The posture of management at the top must also positively convey support and assert cooperation. Better would be an environment born out of a dealership culture affirming “This is the way employees and departments are expected to interact and cooperate around here.”

For some dealerships the task of overcoming interdepartmental unrest will not be easy. Cultural change seldom is. There are sacred cows to deal with.

Others more open to change may not find it so difficult.

For all, making the total commitment for getting the departments to work together is the first step. You have to want to want it. Half-hearted efforts will only produce marginal results or outright failure. From the point of commitment there are four pathways to ponder.

  • Correlative, inclusive strategy
  • Organizational arrangement
  • Pay, reward mechanisms
  • Imparting the message at the point of hire

Correlative, inclusive strategy

Cooperation must begin with everyone in the organization moving as a team in the same direction — a correlative, inclusive strategy. It's correlative because all departments rely on each other to perform their tasks and make their respective goals. It's inclusive because each department is part of the whole and as such must contribute to its development.

The strategy is important because it tells the organization how it will function. In turn, each department is aware of its role relative to the adopted strategy with a clear understanding of priorities, objectives, and limitations. Hence, each department has clear expectations about how they will function with the other departments.

Central to beginning an effective strategy is to define each department's customer and how it will respond to those customer needs. For example, the parts department's customers are retail, wholesale, and internal (service, sales, and body shop). Quality and efficient service sells.

Consequently, the service department should be the parts department's number one customer. Of the strategy pathway, customer identification and ranking is most important.

The strategy development process should be viewed as a tool for laying the foundation for interdepartmental cooperation. A thought-out and documented strategy is important because all other pathways will emerge from it. If the strategy is inconsistent, or not clearly stated, the remaining pathways will not be clearly defined. That could lead to interdepartmental fighting rather than cooperating.

The role of senior management exerts great influence on interdepartmental cooperation. There can be no progress in the quest for departmental cooperation without decisive direction from the top.

Senior management including general management must consistently demonstrate commitment to cooperation between departments by example: stressing sharing between departments, equitable treatment of all departments, setting high standards of competence for department managers, and favoring performance and results over internal politics.

Organizational arrangement

How any individual department is viewed defines its status and position within the organization. No department should be considered subservient to another. The fact that the service department is the parts department's number one customer does not give the service department license to dominate the parts department.

The parts department fulfills its function according to a strategy it devised along with the service department and the rest of the organization. In essence, the parts department works as and is viewed as an equal partner of the service department.

Pay, reward mechanisms

Care must be taken so that the goals and eventual rewards of one department do not interfere with the performance of another.

If the parts department is rewarded for a lean inventory, and the service department is rewarded for efficiency in repairing vehicles resulting in demand of higher parts inventory levels, this difference in rewards will be a “bone of contention.” Disputes between the departments will erupt over low inventory levels, which are important to the parts department, and service performance require fast access to parts, which is important to the service department.

Imparting the message at the point of hire

Indoctrinate employees with the message of interdepartmental cooperation from the point of hire. Moreover, any attitudes to the contrary that potential employees might harbor, most likely due to their exposure to the cultures of other organizations, are discussed and dealt with prior to further employment consideration.

The idea is to populate the organization with team players with a common vision. If the dealership makes a continuous effort to engender interdepartmental cooperation in all employees eventually the organization will have a broad-minded staff that works together.

Finally, this isn't a blueprint for establishing a climate of cooperation just in fixed operations. All the dealership's departments must adopt a strategy, whether this or another, that encourages and promotes interdepartmental cooperation essential to the goals, growth, and competitiveness of the entire organization.


Gary Naples provides parts consulting to dealers and manufacturers. Based in Wilkes-Barre, PA, he's written two books on parts management. He's at 570-824-1528/gss83@aol.com