When hot weather hits your region, do you tend to find yourself scrambling to get the parts and equipment you need? There may be no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to managing inventory, but HVAC contractors consistently working to improve ordering and restocking protocols are generally rewarded with far fewer headaches during their busy seasons.

Inventory Practices

Down in Florida, Matthew Kuntz said his company preps for busy times before the hot weather hits. Kuntz is vice president of Jupiter Tequesta Air Conditioning, Plumbing & Electric, which has 55 employees and operates out of Jupiter, Florida.

“We forecast what is needed based on the season and floor plan all equipment, so we always have what we need,” he said. “When we run low, we restock so the supplier is not scrambling and we are not scrambling.”

And of course, Kuntz said, the company pays close attention to the weather. “We watch the weather, and demand service follows the temperature,” he said, noting that keeping tabs on the weather helps not only with stocking but also with staffing.

“When we see a trend of hot weather, we make sure all techs are on board for longer days,” he said. Plus, Kuntz explained that his company’s installation and inventory managers will also run calls if necessary during the busy seasons. “We rarely use those two, but they came from the field and are always ready if a client is in need.”

According to Brian McDonald, general manager, Outer Banks Heating & Cooling, Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, inventory management and organization relies on proper administration of the company’s 25 employees. One recent addition was hired to specifically manage inventory and process warranty claims. Although it has been too soon to evaluate the new hire’s impact, McDonald is optimistic the new position will benefit the company.

Before hiring the new employee, McDonald explained there were two people at Outer Banks responsible for a range of warehouse ordering, warranty processing, and information technology (IT) duties.

“When we had someone with industry experience on the distributor side apply for a job, it seemed to be a logical step to bring him on as a warehouse manager/warranty administrator,” McDonald said. “That way he could do the ordering, parts and supplies check-in, and the warranty processing. This also allows the other two staff members to do their other tasks more effectively.”

And letting your employees be as effective as possible is what it’s all about, according to Fred H. Kobie, president of Kobie Kooling, Fort Myers, Florida. “We have a ‘turn’ system for our in-house supplies that allow our sales reps to re-order based on a stock number,” he said. “The supplier comes into our facility and checks our on-hand supply of parts and materials. …[Based on the stock number] They automatically know when to re-order without asking us.”

Kobie continued: “Equipment and component ordering is done from the service call by the technician. They use their iPads or phones to locate the parts through different apps, then call in the order and verify a delivery date or location.”

To further increase efficiency, he said: “Often, there is a team member passing by the local supply house who can stop to pick up parts that have been called in. And we have a young employee who also acts as a runner to do the same. The runner is routinely returning warranty parts to the supply houses and can kill two birds with one stone by securing the order, and even delivering it to the job to avoid a second trip back.”

Better Space

As contractors encourage employees to be more efficient, it typically follows in their inventory practices. But, it’s not only the people that matter — the space they’re working in and from matters, too.

McDonald is aware of this, and that’s why he is excited that Outer Banks Heating & Cooling has started construction on a new building that will help the company with its inventory practices.

“We had been working out of two different buildings for the last couple of years, and it was not very effective,” McDonald said. Describing their setup, he said, “Our main building is 6,200 square feet, and the accessory building was 3,000 square feet but was located down the block and around the corner.”

However, he said, “We were finally able to procure a large enough piece of property last year for our needs and zoning — which is next to impossible on the Outer Banks. It just happened to be behind our 3,000-square-foot building, which we had demolished to provide a secondary means of access to the new property. So, now we’re in the process of building a 14,400-square-foot facility that should be completed in late September or October.”

Upon moving into the new building, McDonald said his company will have a much better inventory management capability.

“Being able to design the parts storage area and warehouse areas from scratch, for the way we operate today, will be a big improvement over how they were designed when we built and moved into our current facility back in 2001,” he said. “For example, who knew in 2001 that we would have to stock seven X-13 replacement motors and seven X-13 replacement modules for one manufacturer’s entry-level air handler, and another seven for each of their deluxe air handlers?”

Plus, McDonald added, “We’ll also be upgrading to a bar code parts tracking system, both for the warehouse and the trucks, that integrates with our flat rate program and inventory database.”

An Innovative Approach

Kobie also shared an innovative approach his company has taken during the busy season to alleviate inventory issues as well as service and staffing problems. Kobie Kooling offers a pre-purchase option with an offseason install.

“We have implemented a program to continually teach our customers how to get informed and create their next air conditioner so when it does come time to replace it, they know exactly what they want and from whom,” Kobie said. “We even allow a pre-purchase option to secure summertime promotions and allow for an offseason install.”

According to Kobie, “Hot consumers tend to make hasty decisions.”

Instead of using that to his advantage to force sales, Kobie has turned it around. His program allows customers more time to make their purchase decisions, and simultaneously reduces the strain on inventory levels and service staffing during the busy season.

“It fills some of our offseason labor requirements and allows people to get fixed quickly in the hot summer without paying the repair bill,” he said. “The temporary repair can be repeated a few times — such as a minor Freon leak — until the install date, but we are always ready for the one that fails completely and has to be done sooner.”

Publication date: 8/18/2014 

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