The parts manager can be a lifeline for sales staff and customers.

Ask him about any product, past or present; ask him any product number, past or present; and he will tell you with dead-on accuracy where, why and how many. The importance of a great parts department cannot be overlooked. With a mix between commercial and residential work over the last few years, I’ve dealt with my share of homeowners who want to fix their toilet/faucet/shower, etc., and don’t have the slightest idea how to start. They don’t know what’s wrong, and if they do, they certainly don’t know what the part is called. They don’t know where to find a new one, and they don’t know how much it’ll cost. There is one savior, one last strand of hope: The parts department.

For more than 25 years our company has had the same parts department manager. As anyone knows, the changes that have taken place since the '80s are monumental. Yet, he’s always kept up and always been the best in the business. When I started working, I knew he was smart, and I knew that you could ask him any question and normally he’d have the answer ready to go. He was a lifeline for the counter help and he was a lifeline for the customers. But it wasn’t until I worked with him that I truly understood how good he really was.

The parts department seems to be overlooked as the sales aren’t always huge and the need isn’t always there. But for Metropolitan Pipe, our parts department is one of our strongest suits and actually makes us quite a bit of money. We have two full-time parts employees, one of whom specializes in Chicago Faucets. Very rarely have I seen someone go home with no answer whatsoever. We may not always have the specific part they’re looking for from a toilet 50 years old, but our parts department will answer  what you need and what you can do.

The parts department for Metropolitan Pipe is very valuable for us. They can write standard orders along with parts orders. They’re great at dealing with homeowners and most likely all of our salesmen are calling them to answer questions anyway. The manager of our parts department is Glenn Patterson. You can work with him for an hour and see him field phone calls from three different salesmen who need his help with a part of some sort. He’ll get calls that are completely unrelated to parts, but he helps them anyway. Sometimes he’ll get countermen asking for his help with a tailpipe or a strainer. While it may be arbitrary to him, he’s just made someone’s day a whole lot easier.

It’s not only random plumbing equipment that the parts department has to deal with. While we may be a wholesaler first, we still have our foot in the luxury industry. Before we opened Metropolitan Bath a few years ago, our main luxury industry was run by our Chicago Faucet specialist, Jane MacDonald. She is the number one person to talk to when it comes to Chicago Faucet products, but she’s also in charge of most of our high-end products. Glenn often says he’d be nothing without her, and the duo complements each other very well.

Vastly underrated, the parts department seems to fly under the radar more times than not. Parts department staff are ushered into the background, being not quite an inside salesperson and not quite a counter person. They do both, as well as purchasing the product lines they specialize in. In this case for us it’s four to five different lines. It’s a tall task and is often overlooked at first glance. I worked with Glenn and Jane one summer before I was out of school and I learned more that summer than I had any time working there before. It’s about memorization, it’s about charisma, and it’s about customer service. To deal with homeowners, salesmen, countermen and the normal customer all day long is a daunting chore that must be looked at with a sense of humor or it could drive someone to the brink of insanity.

I started in May knowing that at the end of July, Glenn would be taking a two-week vacation and I would be filling in for him. I figured this would be plenty of time to become well-versed in parts. Each day I would help with menial tasks such as receiving and picking parts orders to familiarize myself with the products, and every day I would learn something new. I would spend my down time studying parts breakdowns for different products, attempting to become an expert in at least something. Whether it was an O-ring or a faucet cartridge, I figured it was my duty to know it all. I quickly learned that there was no possible “all” to speak of. There was always more to learn, and there was always criticism from Glenn. He was a great person to learn from because he’s impossible to hate and he has more knowledge than anyone I’ve met.

I’ve seen nothing but benefits come from the parts department. It’s a vital department to have, and it’s increasingly difficult to find someone who can do it and do it well. Between Glenn and Jane, we got lucky to have such a great staff. But I’ve dealt with other companies that haven’t been able to identify the difference between a Sloan 110 and a Sloan 111.

Find out from your parts personnel how many other tasks they do besides parts calls, and hopefully you’ll be baffled. Maybe Met Pipe has just been lucky enough to this point to have a parts manager who doesn’t shy away from other work and is always willing to help out a fellow employee. But mostly likely your parts department is a salvation for most of your inside sales staff.

Don’t underestimate the parts department. It takes a lot of work and is a fundamental part of your staff. The better your parts department personnel are, the happier the customers. I know of quite a few customers that will bypass the counter staff altogether only to deal with Glenn or Jane. When Glenn was off for those two weeks, I was at least able to convince them that I could be trusted as well, but it took some work, and it wasn’t easy. I have yet to find a position that is as challenging as working in the parts department.