What Makes a Good Parts Customer?

by Alana Quartuccio Bonillo

It’s true what they say: Relationships are a two-way street. Good partnerships rely on what both sides put in. One of the most important relationships in the auto body world is the one between collision repair shops and their parts suppliers.

Both need each other to survive. Shops can’t repair vehicles without parts, and suppliers cannot operate without clients buying their products.

Last month, New Jersey Automotive heard from body shops who shared what they seek and want most from their parts suppliers. (See bit.ly/NJA0822.) When we asked body shops what makes a good parts supplier, good communication and customer service seemed to be at the top of their list.

This month, we set out to find what parts suppliers believe make the ideal customer.

Not surprisingly, parts suppliers agree that good communication is key.

“To me, the ideal customer is someone we can have open communication with,” shares Christine Rizzo-Donaruma of Ciocca/NJ Parts of Flemington. “That is the biggest thing for me. I’d like to think body shops want the same. Having clear communication makes everything flow smoothly.

“We like to have fun with our customers, and we want to develop friendships,” adds Rizzo-Donaruma. “When I go on the road, I develop friendships with our customers, and they become part of our family. It’s great walking into a shop where everyone knows who you are and is happy to see you.”

On the flip side, zero or ineffective communication can spell trouble for suppliers.

Mike Kaufmann of the Mike Kaufmann Dealer Group has witnessed this a number of times where customers will order parts they wind up not needing. Many factors can lead to that happening, but when they fail to cancel the order, they compromise the dealer who went out of their way to obtain and deliver the part.

“It would make things better if they simply told the dealer, ‘I located the part. Please cancel the order,’” Kaufmann suggests. “That way, the dealer doesn’t have to deliver the part – they can put it back in their stock and maybe deliver it to someone else if it’s a hard-to-get part.

“Shops want communication from the dealer; well, it goes the other way too. Shops need to communicate back,” adds Kaufmann.

It’s always been about communication for Rick Weber of Maxon Buick-GMC-Hyundai; however, he misses the days of connecting with customers on the phone.

“Years ago, I developed relationships on the phone with my customers. The internet has changed a lot of things. The personal relationship is disappearing. It’s all electronic now. It seems like things are going in a direction where it’s all faceless, nameless entities, and it’s really changing the business. Hand-shake agreements don’t exist anymore.”

Rizzo-Donaruma has witnessed customers become frustrated with some of the web-based tools used in today’s world. She wants shops to know that these things aren’t there to make their world harder; it’s actually intended to make the process easier.

“A lot of people don’t like change,” she admits. “If a customer has a return that needs to be picked up, we ask them to go on our website. It’s not to make the process painful…it’s to let the dispatcher know, so if they are in the area, they can send the right size truck to pick up the order. We try to help our customers as we know there can be a lot of stress for them.”

Another issue can stem from how shops place their orders. If they don’t place their order accurately, there will be problems getting what they want, when they want it.

“You have to be well organized,” says one supplier. “You can’t place an order in two or three requests and expect to get everything at the same time if we only have the capabilities of making one delivery.”

It’s no secret that supply chain issues causing parts delays has had a severe effect on body shops, but the parts suppliers have been on the receiving end of the shops’ frustrations all this time.

“We constantly hear complaints about everything being on backorder, but it’s not our fault,” says Rizzo-Donaruma about the effects of current events. “We have to rely on the manufacturers, and we wish we could get the parts in faster too! Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen. It’s very important to us when shops can be understanding about it. We know their frustrations. We know they are under pressure, but we are too, just on a different level.”

“The dealers are going through the same trouble as the shops with backordered parts,” offers Kaufmann.

These challenges have been hard on both sides, which is why working together is key.

“We need to be together in this. We all need each other,” states Rizzo-Donaruma.

“Without communication, things will just get worse, and both sides will get bent out of shape,” Kaufmann advises.

One of Weber’s biggest frustrations is the customer who tries to play a game using the parts supplier as the pawn. His delivery drivers have witnessed shops try to file fraudulent claims by ordering a part, copying the invoice upon delivery and then sending the driver back with the part for return. “If you aren’t buying the part, you aren’t getting the invoice.”

One supplier spoke of another game where he’s seen shops turn parts ordering into a contest. “Don’t order from us and another company to see who gets there fastest. That’s a waste of our time.”

Another no-no for suppliers is bounced checks.

In the words of Weber: “They are just difficult to deal with. It’s not a fun thing.”

So, what does his ideal customer look like?

“I say it all the time. Order the right parts, don’t return anything unnecessarily, and pay your bill on time,” according to Weber.

Kaufmann has taken the brunt of frustrations from customers, especially due to supply chain woes, but he’s finding most are starting to ease up and accept the way things are.

In his eyes, “a good customer will be calm and professional in handling things. There is no blame put on the supplier unless the supplier didn’t communicate correctly.”

Just like shops cited many factors in what makes a “good” supplier, the suppliers have many ideas about what makes a good parts customer, as well. But there’s one thing both sides agree on, and it’s pretty clear:These relationships work best when both sides communicate well. After all, it does take two to tango.

Want more? Check out the September 2022 issue of New Jersey Automotive!