The crew at Walnut Creek Honda averages eight years on the job, led by Parts Manager Lester Pamplona, far right.Walnut Creek Honda’s Parts Manager Lester Pamplona learned from his former mentor Tom Irvin, who retired in 2016.Wholesale Parts Manager Chris Ellington sells to mechanical and collision repair shops within a 20-mile radius.

All hands on deck

Healthy competition between Honda dealerships and DC access helps drive Walnut Creek Honda’s wholesale numbers

Walnut Creek, Calif.—By keeping fewer products on his shelves without compromising availability and delivery, Parts Manager Lester Pamplona is leveraging his 18 years at Walnut Creek Honda to serve two masters — his own service department and his wholesale customers.

Pamplona relies on Honda’s Distribution Center in French Camp, Calif., to fill in the gaps on his orders, which enables him to guarantee next-day service for his mechanical and collision customers. With a 95-percent fill rate, Walnut Creek Honda is hitting its numbers as he competes with all of the other Honda dealerships within a 20-mile radius.

Pamplona knows precisely what his sales numbers are every month, due to the copious recordkeeping Honda provides. “Everyone wants to have the best numbers and Honda tracks everything,” he said. “It’s beneficial for us to be able to compare what we’re doing with the other locations, because that way we can talk about how to be better. I have relationships with all of the other parts managers and we work well together. It helps to know that if I don’t have something and I want to get it quickly, I can often get it from another dealership without driving very far.”

 

Delivering sales, service

One of the ways that Pamplona is getting better is by turning his delivery drivers into sales reps, he said. “We had an outside sales company working for us, but I decided that we could do it ourselves. Our two drivers possess a lot of product knowledge and they’re very personable. I’m very happy with the way they build relationships and we can see it in our numbers. With an outside salesperson who calls on a lot of shops, they can’t visit them more than once or twice a month at the most. But, with my drivers they see these guys frequently and it works much better. They are now the faces of our franchise and represent our department well.”

Pamplona knows what a good delivery person has to do, because that was the position he held when he began working at Walnut Creek Honda. “I was a driver for my first 18 months and it was an excellent way to learn the business,” he said. “We train our drivers to be fast, efficient and courteous and they have to be detail oriented. While they don’t do cold calls, they aren’t afraid to talk to people either. They know that I started as a driver, so they can see that if they work hard and smart, they can definitely progress within this company.”

In an industry where it’s often difficult to find good people with parts experience, Pamplona is proud of the fact that he rarely loses an employee. “I have 10 people in my department and most of them have been here more than eight years on average. We have one gentleman who handles all of our shipping, receiving and logistics who has been with us for more 23 years. We pay them well and they know they’re part of a team rather than just another employee.”

 

Carrying the Honda flag

One way to keep his people engaged and empowered is through a training program that doesn’t just deal with SKUs and parts numbers. “American Honda comes here to us and our crew really appreciates it. Some of the things they teach us about are branding, the history of the company and new products. The majority of the training is now available online and everyone is required to take it.”

To keep his wholesale customers happy, Pamplona uses CCC One, a platform that allows him to match prices and is being used at every Honda Collision Center. Walnut Creek’s crew is already embracing it. “We know what is out there in the aftermarket, as well as with recycled and remanufactured parts, so this program is a big part of our wholesale business,” he said. “It gives us the opportunity to match prices and our conversion rate is high, especially with crash parts on the collision side and all of the electronic parts on the mechanical side. Years ago, it was a lot harder to match prices, but now the gap is much tighter and in some cases it comes down to one or two dollars.”

One thing that really helped Pamplona to move up the ladder was working as an assistant for Tom Irvin, who was the parts manager at the dealership for two decades. “I learned a lot from Tom. He always pushed customer service and set the expectations high. We get a lot of wholesale business because we do the extra things, like saving them money and getting them the right OEM information they need to fix these cars correctly with a strong warranty.”

Parts & People

Parts & People is published monthly by Automotive Counseling and Publishing Company, Inc., a Colorado corporation, P.O. Box 18731 Denver, CO 80203, 303-765-4664. President-Lance Buchner. Founded by Lance Buchner and Dave Lucia.