As Jeff Bazurto considered ways to streamline the Thomason Auto Group's wholesale parts operation, he thought about how much time the dealership network's delivery drivers spent loading parts at various locations.

“Our dealerships have always been centrally located, but our delivery trucks were still spending up to two hours a day just stopping at different locations to pick up the eight vehicle lines of parts we carry,” says Mr. Bazurto, parts director for the Thomason dealership group based in Portland, OR. “Now that we've brought all those parts under one roof, that's time those trucks can be out there getting parts to our customers faster.”

That roof tops a 50,000-sq.-ft. warehouse that now houses all eight of Thomason's wholesale parts departments.

“Other dealers have parts warehouses, of course, but I've not heard about anyone with multiple franchises in one warehouse,” Mr. Bazurto says. “With no model to follow, we've had to try to figure out how to best make this work on our own.”

The company moved into a warehouse the dealership had been using as a used-car facility. Scott Ripley, the company's sales manager for wholesale parts, says while the first six months were not glitch-free, the dealership's wholesale customers have come to appreciate the benefits the warehouse system provides.

“With no model to follow, we've had to try to figure out how to best make this work on our own.”
— Jeff Bazurto Parts director Thomason Auto Group

“We've been able to increase our inventory of some lines, and improve delivery service even though the streamlining allowed us to eliminate one driver position,” Mr. Ripley says. “We now offer three daily deliveries in the Portland area, and two as far south as Salem and Eugene (115 miles south of Portland), and daily delivery as far north as Seattle.”

Also appealing to customers is the centralized phone system the dealership implemented. It connects customers to what's jokingly dubbed the “war room” — the busy warehouse office where parts orders are received.

“Our shop customers really seem to like the ‘one-call-does-it-all’ concept,” Mr. Ripley says. “With one phone or one fax number, they can order all eight lines of parts.”

The central phone number puts customers in touch with one of 11 wholesale parts specialists.

“We don't have anyone in that room with less than seven years of parts experience, and a number of them have 20-plus years,” Mr. Ripley says. “We're cross-training so that all of them become familiar with all the lines, but we still have the specialist for each vehicle line when there's a unique question or situation.”

Mr. Bazurto says, “Within the first six months here, we had wholesalers selling all of the car lines. Some have picked it up faster than others, but for folks with a lot of parts experience, a fender is a fender and a hood is a hood. It's really just a matter of learning where things are in the catalogs for the different lines.”

The Thomason network includes 10 new and 18 used-car dealerships. It's the largest dealership in the Pacific Northwest. It merged with Asbury Automotive Group in 1998.

Mr. Bazurto's biggest frustration has been the inability to integrate much of the computer systems needed for parts sourcing, maintaining a perpetual inventory and other functions for the dealerships eight lines: Honda, Ford, Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai, Mazda, Subaru and Suzuki.

“It does seem like we have to do a lot of things eight times, once for each line,” Mr. Bazurto says. “That's been the biggest struggle.”

But those headaches have been offset by the ability to improve consistency elsewhere.

He says, “Every parts manager does things a little differently, but here we've been able to get all our wholesalers on the same page, get all the pickers in the warehouse doing things the same way, and centralize shipping, receiving and returns.”

Wholesale parts account for more than 60% of the company's parts sales. Though the company centralized its more than $3 million inventory of “crash parts” at the warehouse, it retained its inventories of mechanical parts at its dealership locations.

Mr. Ripley says that while the shift to the multi-line warehouse still is fairly new, he's convinced it's a good move.

“After that first month or so, it has actually worked pretty smoothly,” he says.

John Yoswick is a freelance writer based in Portland, OR.