Avoiding the Parts Run

ethernet cables

“But they sent the wrong color. Did you know that this job has an open ceiling plan? We have to have gray or it will stand out.”

The cable on-site was blue, and we needed 1,000 feet of gray right now or the schedule and budget would go off the rails. I called the cable supplier right away but they didn’t have gray in stock. Their part numbers had changed and we ordered the part number that was right last month but this month it was blue instead of the gray we needed — their fault, my problem.

I needed my guys on-site, not driving to stores that may or may not have the cable. As project manager, I called every supplier in a 50-mile radius of the job site. I asked the clerks to see what they had in their store. It took all afternoon to find two places that — between them — had enough of what we needed.

I spent my time on hold with overworked store clerks so the installers did not spend their time driving all over the city for parts. I needed all hands at the site to get the work done. This was a tricky experience center project and I only had these resources for this week. If it wasn’t done on time, a whole chain of scheduled projects would be impacted.

The supply run has become an expected part of most jobs. To make sure I wasn’t being regional in my view, I reached out to Graham Kirkpatrick on the U.K. He is AV News Support Professional of 2020 and I respect his expertise. Graham confirmed my estimate — about 50% of installations require parts to be purchased locally or expedited to site to get the job done. It is not just me — this is a worldwide problem.

It is a bad habit. If a job site is missing the needed parts business is impacted in three ways:

  • Cost
  • Time
  • Customer Satisfaction

Cost

Successful integrators foster relationships with high-quality, low-cost suppliers. These relationships include customer service. Integrators want the ability to get materials quickly and be first in line when there is an inventory problem. Those relationships form a backbone of profitability for the business, allowing us to give our customers the best solutions.

Buying parts locally slashes that profitability. Costs can be 50% to 500% higher when purchased at consumer outlets. The quality of these products are often much lower as well.

Not all parts are available locally. Some parts must be ordered from a supplier, and the overnight shipping costs are so high they take my breath away. And who can forget that fan favorite: deliver next day by 9:00 AM. That’s double the extravagant cost of regular overnight shipping.

Time

It is considered a small thing to have one person run to the store for parts. However, many jobs are fully halted if one person is away. There are two people onsite for a reason. If one person is gone the other is rendered useless, sometimes by regulation. Both people on a two person install may go, leaving the site with no AV installers to be found. A parts run takes no less than half a day. Two techs half a day equals a day of labor lost. The cost of a person driving to Best Buy is hundreds of dollars of lost productivity.

Very few jobs estimate enough labor hours, let alone extra hours. This results in long days for the resources. Long days will affect morale. If this becomes the culture of your company, to grind the workers with long days to make up for a lack of planning earlier there is likely increased turnover — another hidden cost.

The productivity lost for items which must be shipped is real too. I’ve had to release teams a half day early because nothing can be done until a part arrives. They will come back in the morning and have no work to do but wait for the delivery. I’ll be tracking the shipment on the delivery website and more than once I’ve sent the team home for the day with no work done at all because the package didn’t make it that day even though it was scheduled to arrive.

Customer Satisfaction

This unpreparedness is so common that many customers have gotten used to it. Customers can see when there is a sudden stop in work, and they can’t be pleased to discover that parts were missed. When the workers are off-site for a half a day, they notice. They notice frantic questions about when and if a package has arrived.

They also notice when a job gets done on time and without drama. Staying on schedule and being the calm voice in a project is a good reason to choose you for more business.

What Can Be Done?

I’ve estimated that almost 50% of jobs miss some equipment that must be secured after the install work starts. AV installs are performed with incomplete or incorrect information. It is unreasonable to think that we can fully eliminate this need. But the frequency can be greatly reduced by taking some steps.

First line of defense is for the designer and the installer to review the line drawings before the install. A half-hour meeting to review the drawings can identify questions. Keep the team’s eyes on what might come up. Are we sure about the length of the cable path? An HDMI extender might be needed because that cable path meanders more than expected. Now is the time to order it.

Install techs have kit bags that could survive a moon landing. Make the time to restock the kit with the full complement before going out. More than once I’ve said goodbye to a tech on a job site as he says, “I usually have that cable in my kit.”

There is another step I propose that I’ve never seen implemented: In the book “The Challenger Sale,” authors Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson tell the story of how supply house Granger did an audit for their customers to reveal what parts were commonly needed last minute. Last minute panicked parts purchases added up. Granger provided a service to their customers by identifying these expensive orders and right-sizing their orders.

Integrators can do this for themselves. Ask your purchasing for a list of what was overnighted in the last 6 months. Anything that occurs twice, keep in stock. A $100 item that costs $100 to expedite should be held in the stockroom.

The Win

It is easy to keep doing what has always been done. But the steps to increase profit and time to billing are waiting to be taken. Putting the effort in to save time and money gives your business an advantage. When the customers need to move, having all the pieces in place to complete the work puts your business in an enviable position.