While #1 Cochran didn't eliminate the square footage from the project, the dealership group reallocated the space to fit Infiniti's service department on the site. Western Pennsylvania's hilly topography means many of #1 Cochran's dealership sites have limited usable space, Jennings said.
#1 Cochran's machines are made by Haenel Storage Systems, a German company with its U.S. headquarters in Pittsburgh. Another company installing electronic parts storage systems in dealerships is Kardex Remstar, a unit of Kardex Group of Switzerland.
The machines have benefits beyond saving square footage and construction costs, dealers and the machines' manufacturers said. The machines also:
- Enable space once used for parts storage to be reallocated for revenue-producing service bays or customer services such as car washes and lounges.
- Speed retrieval of parts, improving customer satisfaction and helping technicians complete jobs faster.
- Reduce personnel needs by automating parts retrieval.
- Help the dealership better control its parts inventory, reducing parts losses.
- Improve workplace safety by decreasing trips up and down stairs to fetch parts in multilevel departments.
Urban dealerships hemmed in on all sides are the most popular candidates for a machine, Haenel's marketing manager, David Schneider, wrote in an email. Haenel has installed more than 300 machines at 110-plus dealerships in the U.S. and Canada.
Dealerships stock the storage units with small, lightweight parts that tend to turn over quickly. Large, heavy parts are still stored on shelves. The machines connect to major dealership management system software, vendors said.
Kardex Remstar said the systems can increase productivity by up to two-thirds by eliminating wasted walking and searching time.
Managers at Zimbrick European, a Mercedes-Benz-Porsche-Audi dealership in Madison, Wis., that has installed the Kardex Remstar system, praised it in a video on the vendor's site, saying the machines helped the dealership reduce floor space 84 percent while increasing productivity 70 percent.
The system also saved two full-time positions that would have been necessary to deliver parts from a second-floor storage location, Jack Swoboda, the dealership's parts manager, said in the video.
In most cases, Haenel's Schneider said, the machines, which are custom made for each dealership, pay for themselves within a year or two.
For #1 Cochran, the cost has ranged from $120,000 to $150,000 per machine, Jennings said. In the case of one machine, #1 Cochran trimmed almost 1,800 square feet from the space originally prescribed by the manufacturer as part of its facility requirements. That equated to a savings of about $330,000. Even with the $125,000 cost of the machine and installation, #1 Cochran still saves at least $200,000 over what would have been necessary to meet the manufacturer's facility guidelines, Jennings said.
#1 Cochran has reduced parts floor space an average of 65 percent at the dealerships with the machines. It also has averaged a head count reduction of one full-time employee per store, he said.