Store pockets savings from paperless push
Paperless profits: Store saves by canceling print jobs
Sometimes simple changes can have an outsize impact.
Michael Alf, general manager at St. Charles Toyota, in Illinois, had a tough time getting his service center employees to stop printing every repair order. He pleaded, cajoled, pestered and offered training on the computer system. Nothing worked.
"A customer would say, 'Call me on my cell,' and they'd write it on the paper and it'd never go into the system," Alf said. "Then the original person would go out to lunch, and eventually the customer calls back and says, 'Why didn't you call me? I gave you my cell.' "
Frustrated, he moved the printer far from the service center. If employees wanted to use it, they had to go around a corner, up the stairs, through a door and into an office.
The trek was so inconvenient, technicians stopped using the printer almost immediately. The dealership went from printing an average of more than 100 repair orders per day to fewer than five.
Cancel print jobs
After service employees greatly reduced their use of the printer, tech-friendly General Manager Michael Alf says St. Charles Toyota saved $65,000 per year, eliminated time spent filing paperwork and enhanced customer privacy.
While ending customers' aggravation from misplaced phone numbers was one immediate benefit, the savings from reducing waste, eliminating the time spent filing paperwork and enhancing customer privacy were more profound. From such a simple change in 2011, Alf says, the dealership saved more than $65,000 per year.
Such changes are nothing new for this store in the western Chicago suburbs. Alf has pushed technology-based transitions for more than two decades.
After he graduated from Ohio State University in 1993, Alf joined the dealership, which had been recently purchased by his father. Immediately, he found problems with paper.
"We had the cards for every car, the upsheets, and if a salesman was selling a car, they'd grab six cards and set them on their desk," Alf said. "We'd spend all sorts of time looking for them, and they'd be sitting on someone's desk. That's when I said, 'We need something better.' "
Not only did the dealership switch to a customer relationship management system that used Apple Newton personal digital assistants, but Alf wrote the software for the setup.
Later, the store switched to PalmPilots to conduct business, and then to Apple iPads when they were introduced in 2010. Since then, the service center and sales staff have used iPads.
"We don't have worksheets or anything like that," said Alf, whose dealership sold 1,284 new and 914 used vehicles in 2018. "The full deal is done straight on the iPad. We don't leave the desk at any time. We don't go back to a manager. We can change the terms and mileage right there on the iPad. And the best part is that no customer data hits paper."
Although St. Charles Toyota gives significant attention to the devices service and front-end employees use, it gives equal attention to the employees themselves. In 2013, the dealership shifted its retail employees to salaries from commission-based sales.
Roughly a year later, all employees transitioned to a four-day workweek. That has simplified scheduling — each front-end employee works three 9 a.m.-to-9 p.m. shifts during the week plus Saturdays. The change has helped the dealership reduce turnover.
"That's probably our biggest perk," Alf said. "I'd have a complete revolt on my hands if we ever went back."
Alf recruits sales workers from Best Buy, Gap and other retailers. That has helped him develop a consumer-friendly staff, one that can reap the efficiencies of new technology while perhaps being an example for those who haven't made the transition.
"We were finding pushback from the old guard that was out there," Alf said. "They wanted to revert back to paper, and they would struggle with the technology. So we found bringing in someone with no experience whatsoever, they didn't know any other way, and they said, 'Oh, this is fine.' Now they go someplace else, and they're like, 'They don't use iPads or anything.' When they talk at training meetings, they're amazed that no one else has this."
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