How a Vending Machine Helped a Shop Manage Its Inventory
When most folks think about vending machines, soda and candy bars are usually the first things that come to mind. You may be surprised to learn that vending machines have evolved—today you can buy headphones, order a burrito, or customize a pizza.
Recently we learned that employees could purchase a variety of items essential to their uniform from a vending machine, including black socks or a shaving kit. Access to these items provides exactly what the employee, needs when they need it. The same principle can be applied in the body shop environment.
Managing inventory—more specifically, eliminating excess inventory—is a challenge faced by many collision repair facilities. Utilizing Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) can help streamline the repair process, but does not ensure that technicians are maintaining a well-organized workspace, nor does it ensure products are used to their full useful life. Inventory and usage reports give managers visibility to activity in the past, but do not provide an opportunity to investigate an issue in real time.
Frank Mendoza, FM Automotive Collision Center Owner in Orlando, Florida, said that he relates to this struggle in his own shop.
“I wanted to give my technicians the tools they need to complete consistent repairs, but I was tired of seeing piles of inventory all over the shop,” he explained. “We have SOPs in place, but it is difficult to manage the organization of each technician’s area around the shop. Without constant supervision, they tend to order their favorite products in quantities determined by them, without regard for workflow or inventory levels.”
FM Automotive Collision Center was struggling to manage its out of control inventory. “Out of control inventory” refers to products that the technicians have on their workbenches and carts, excluding additional inventory stored away in cases or boxes in supply closets and tool cabinets.
With potentially thousands of dollars of inventory around the shop, and no means to track who had what or who was using what, Tarin Ocasio, FinishMaster Account Manager, faced a lofty challenge to provide security, manage inventory, and easily capture usage information by technician.
For Mendoza and his team, a vending machine was the perfect test solution.
Setting up a vending machine is a big change for this shop, and meant a new operating protocol for the technicians. You can probably count on one hand the number of body shops in Orlando with vending machines stocked with products like tape, plastic sheeting, and spreaders!
“The vending machine at FM Automotive Collision Center is the first we installed in the Orlando market,” said Ocasio. “I had to learn how to setup the system along with everyone else. It requires a lot of attention to detail and willingness to spend time setting up the system to maximize efficiency.”
Ocasio and Mendoza reviewed the shop’s 52-week order history, and used it as a baseline to determine which products would be stocked in the vending machine. Once the products were selected, Ocasio set parameters for minimum and maximum quantities to be stocked. All of the products were set up as an each, rather than a box or case.
“Setting up items as an 'each' meant my technicians could take one roll of tape or one spreader, managing materials they need to finish the jobs that day, rather than jobs for the next week or more,” said Mendoza. “The potential reduction in product waste and reduced usage was immediately obvious.”
However, even with the machine set up, Mendoza was still concerned about the technicians stocking their cart each morning to match the day’s tasks.
“The last thing I wanted was my technicians to be running back and forth across the shop grabbing items from the vending machine,” said Mendoza.
Ocasio and Mendoza both knew that the biggest obstacle in implementing the vending machine solution was onboarding the Technicians. Every associated product they took would be tracked by the machine’s usage report, opening them up to questions from the leadership team about their daily work and productivity.
“I wanted the guys to believe in the system and understand their life would be easier if they were managing one cart, rather than a cabinet full of product,” explained Ocasio.
Ocasio built a sample cart for each department to set the model for the shop. She sat down with the technicians and walked through each of their carts, and then showed them how to check out materials from the vending machine.
“Each technician has a unique login to the vending machine,” she said. “Once they know the day’s workload, they take inventory of their cart and go reload. If they are planning the day correctly, they should only have to go to the machine once.”
Beyond eliminating excess inventory and reducing waste, Ocasio also put parameters around product recommendations. For example, if a technician inputs double-sided tape, the vending machine asks if they also need adhesion promoter. Ocasio can modify the recommendations at any time, and add or replace products in about 15 minutes.
Every morning, two reports are automatically pushed to Ocasio and Mendoza—one reporting usage from the previous day by technician, and one detailing quantities below the minimum stock level. This helps Ocasio anticipate the shop’s need to restock inventory.
Reports can also be run on the fly through an iPad application if the shop wants to review products taken in real time. The reports from the machine, along with FinishMaster’s ability to place e-commerce orders from the field, makes it easy for Mendoza and Ocasio to place weekly stock orders.
There is no doubt this system requires attention to detail, a willingness to check the reports, and diligent follow up with technicians if usage is outside the set parameters. Ocasio has worked closely with FM Automotive to make sure the appropriate products are in stock and on hand. It has been a challenge for the technicians to adapt, but with the cart system, it has helped them understand this vending machine is the new Standard Operating Procedure.
The vending machine installed at FM Automotive Collision Center does not include a weight measuring system, which is available at an additional cost. Without this system, a technician could say they took one roll of tape, when they actually took two. Daily usage reports will help identify over use or pilfered items, but it is more difficult to pinpoint the culprit. A weight system automatically inputs the quantity the user took when items are removed from the machine.
Attention to detail is one hurdle Ocasio and Mendoza have learned to manage, but the cost-benefit analysis of this project is still under review. FinishMaster and FM Automotive Collision Center are still weighing the savings from reduction in inventory versus the cost of the vending machine.