From left: Joe Tuha, body shop manager; Brian Noeth, parts manager; Justin Heutel, fixed operations manager; Doug Sucher, service manager, conduct numerous inter-department meetings to ensure the dealership is optimizing service and operations.Body Technician Matt Shearer (left) and Body Shop Manager Joe Tuha discuss repairs for a Ford F-150. Body Technician John White repairs a plastic bumper using the Polyvance Nitro Fuzer Welding System.Technician Steve McGregor performs a liftgate repair on a 2019 Ford Explorer. Parts Countermen Gary Ray (left) and John O’Sullivan man the phones for Sunset Ford’s parts department.

Team spirit stands tall at Sunset

Sunset Ford prides itself on inter-department communication to service its wholesale and repair customers

Sunset Hills, Mo.—Brian Noeth has worked at dealerships where friction between departments wasn’t uncommon, which, unsurprisingly, often resulted in poorer overall store performance. Fortunately, he says that’s not the case for the team at Sunset Ford, and as parts manager, he’s built up his department’s revenues in a company culture that fosters team play.

“Brian left us for a while to gain some managerial experience and came back after our longtime manager retired,” Fixed Operations Manager Justin Heutel said. “He took our already successful wholesale business to the next level.

“It all comes down to our team communications and the fact that we are —  and will always be — a family-owned business. We have weekly manager meetings and monthly tech and service meetings to make sure we all stay on the same page. I’m a fifth-generation part of this business, and we know how business works and how to take care of our loyal customers.”

Joe Tuha, who has been Sunset Ford’s body shop manager for 10 years and worked previously at a corporate-owned facility, said he can attest to the need for open communications and dialogue between departments.

“This dealership has been family-owned for over 100 years, which means we can discuss issues and successes together with a more personal feel than that of a group working in a corporate-owned dealership.”

Sunset Ford features a 20,000-square-foot parts department with $750,000 in inventory and staffs 11 employees, five of whom are wholesale specialists. “My wholesale guys are very good at building relationships with customers and can provide personalized service with direct phone lines to each specialist,” Noeth said.

The body shop is like any of Sunset Ford’s biggest wholesale customers, and Tuha and Noeth make sure they do whatever it takes to help each other throughout the entire repair process, Noeth said.

“Joe can give me a 40-line parts list and, ultimately, there will be one or two parts that can hold up a job. It’s critical that we keep each other in the loop so we’re not tying up bays and slowing down progress.”

He added that they offer six delivery routes daily. Twice a day they deliver north to south from Godfrey, Ill., to Festus, Mo., and west to east from Wentzville, Mo., to Troy, Ill. Hot-shot delivery is available within a 25-mile radius.

As a Certified Parts Wholesale Dealer Tier 2 dealership, Sunset Ford can also offer its customers the opportunity to join the Professional Service Network where they can earn discounts, take advantage of rebates, and attend Ford training opportunities. Inventory is ever-evolving depending on market trends.

“We have really done a good job at being proactive in the diesel market here lately by meeting parts needs with additional inventory,” said Noeth, who added that they also price-match OEM parts with aftermarket.

 

Service departments invest and adapt

The body shop has recently added Goliath portable estimating carts, conducts pre- and post-scans on every vehicle and performs a complete inspection report, and they implemented Body Shop Booster.

“Body Shop Booster puts us one step ahead of other shops,” Tuha said. “We can provide an initial estimate to a customer via text message and communicate with them throughout the entire estimating process before they even bring the vehicle in. We have seen very positive results as consumer smartphone usage increases.”   

Tuha’s department is staffed with two painters and three body technicians, and have also recently switched to Spies Hecker paint, which they source from FinishMaster.

Service Manager Doug Sucher attributes the success of the service department to communication as well. “If the body shop has any technical concerns, it is communicated and that vehicle is brought to us for necessary mechanical repairs. Our technicians are all equipped to handle whatever is brought in.”

Due to a recent increase in Ford recalls, however, the service department became strained, so a nightshift was added. “The amount of recalls coming on a daily basis was taking away our ability to work on customer’s normal maintenance and general repairs,” Sucher said. “The added shift has really helped, though night staffing has been challenging because of the odd hours, but offering a pay raise for those hours has helped.”

Heutel added, “The difference between us and the other guys is our passion for providing personal service to all of our customers.

“It’s just who we are.” 

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.