Thanks for your question! Some of my answers here might seem counter-intuitive, but as you may know, Lean Six Sigma often is counter-intuitive! So I’m going to recommend that you try to turn the garages’ ordering behavior into a competitive advantage rather than trying to change it. Here’s why…

First, let’s examine the reason why the garages may be ordering “just in time” (which is actually a Lean concept!). A Lean Six Sigma approach would suggest that you actually interview some of those garages and get some Voice of the Customer (VOC) feedback; the key principle is to learn why the customers want what they want, and then try to meet their needs as comprehensively as possible.

As you talk with the garages, you’ll probably discover that they have some good business reasons for their ordering behavior. For example, when they first examine a car, they may identify the parts that they need at that time, but they also may need the owner of the car to approve the proposed repair work before they can proceed. Or they may find that some owners approve the services and then fail to follow-through. So if the owner declines some of the services or changes his/her mind, the garage could get stuck with a part that they no longer need. In contrast, by ordering just-in-time the garage may actually be reducing its costs of carrying inventory and obsolescence. So perhaps they’re using Lean principles efficiently for themselves, even though that’s not so efficient for you!

Presuming that you do that VOC interviewing and hear some kind of answers similar to the examples above, we’d recommend that you implement some solutions that more efficiently support those customers’ ordering preferences, including:

  1. Get really good at quick delivery. If the customers realize that your company can get them the parts very quickly after their order, they may prefer your parts over competitors’ offerings, even if you’re a little more expensive.
  2. Consider partnering with a larger delivery company to enable that fast delivery. For example, Amazon is now promising 2-hour delivery of 25,000 SKUs in metro areas. They have developed a network of small independent delivery teams that you could leverage by partnering with them. Their economy of scale might actually make your deliveries both faster and cheaper.
  3. Perhaps keep some consigned inventory at larger garages, so that each garage doesn’t feel as exposed to the risks of carrying inventory. You would continue to own the parts until they are installed in a car, and you could replace each part in the garages’ consignment inventory immediately after it is consumed (Lean calls that “Supermarket Kanban”). Consignment causes other challenges, however (e.g., the need to check/count the parts occasionally, the risk of loss, and the need to move parts between locations), so you would probably have to approach this potential solution carefully. Lean Six Sigma would suggest a data-based approach to deciding which parts move quickly enough to justify keeping them on-site at larger garages.

Some combination of all of these solutions could help, but the most important thing is to understand the customer and win by trying to give them what they need rather than trying to change what they want!

Hope that helps.

Dodd Starbird

As the Managing Partner for Implementation Partners, Dodd leads change efforts that consistently achieve exceptional results for clients by integrating best-in-class process and change management skills with strategic business management and leadership experience. He is equally comfortable in the boardroom and on the work floor, enabling him to deliver a powerful combination of vision and implementation that gets critical things done.