A Link in the Supply Chain

A Link in the Supply Chain Views from Aircraft Parts Distributors By Michelle Garetson April 1999 This is the kind of day where I don't want to see the boss in the hangar," grimaces Pete Schroeder, director of maintenance for...

API has been increasing its focus in recent months on its Internet site (www.apiparts.com). "Right now, some of our customers are being offered the opportunity to establish Internet accounts so that they can access the same databases as our salespeople," says Botana. "However, a majority of ordering is still done over the phone or in the field."

At Varga Enterprises in Chandler, Arizona, Internet focus has become more prominent in the last eight months. According to Varga's general manager, Marv Corsbie, the company took a look at the possibilities about three years ago and launched its site (www.vargaair.com) about one year ago.

"Overseas companies have been using Web for years and the U.S. has been behind in its utilization," says Corsbie. "In the future, we hope to offer technical-type information to cross-reference from the Varga site. Many times, customers will order parts and components, but would also like some technical information and guidance regarding those items."

While all agreed the Internet is not going away and should be embraced as another opportunity to service present customers and to court new ones, there still needs to be the human element to parts distributorship.

Press "5" To Speak With A Human
"In pre-computer days, the telephone was the tool," continues Corsbie. "Salespeople were and still are, on the phone, on the road, calling on customers. This hasn't diminished and hopefully never will. We try and get to know our customers as best we can to help them make the best decisions for them — you can't do that over the Internet."

Ken Cooper adds, "AAR's outside salespeople are key to soliciting new business and for maintaining customer relations after the sale. We are proud of the technical support group, which quite often receives calls from customers who had been referred to us from manufacturers."

API's Botana also praised his company's customer service and tech support personnel, but then brought up the subject euphemistically referred to as "challenging" customers.

"Challenging customers call for a lot of technical support information and cause us to do a lot of Ôlegwork' for a very small return." He did say that the challenging customers are in the minority and that typical customers are relatively easy to accommodate. Botana adds, "On average, a customer calls three places for price and availability. Obviously, they need the part; otherwise they wouldn't be calling. We want to build customer confidence in our operation so that we are ultimately their first call."

Unorganized customers create delays for themselves and the distributor. "I can't tell you how many times customers call us and don't know how their company is listed," says Cooper. "Customers who are not prepared with the information to get the parts and technical support they need can delay the whole transaction unnecessarily."

Aviall's Quinn warned of the pitfalls of chronic price shopping. "Although it is tempting to believe that the use of many distributors can help in lowering the price by fostering competition, this can often be a false economy. The most effective way to ensure strong support from a parts distributor is to focus on total cost reduction, not price. Customers and distributors should establish support partnerships in order to reduce the need for continual price shopping and allow the distributor to stock key components for them."

Kaizen and the Art of Aircraft Maintenance
With respect to keeping key items stocked and available for customers, parts distributors have had to adjust for the kaizen approach taken by many manufacturers and customers in recent years. The Japanese word kaizen, in short, means "continuous improvement." This business practice has given rise to the JIT (Just In Time) inventory management system in an effort to streamline operations and reduce costs.

"We try to keep a good stock of inventory because more and more, our customers as well as the manufacturers are not keeping large inventories," Corsbie explains. "This trend started about 5 years ago when FBOs and manufacturers went to the JIT method for parts. They rely on us to have the items or to be able to get those items without too much delay. We started tracking the types of items that we were getting calls for on a daily basis. That's where the good relationships with our customers really come into play."

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