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Quality Quest: The quandary of quality control

Written by Clint Wilson, Ideal Auto Wrecking, Chilliwack BC

When I first opened my business at the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed age of 27, I had big dreams about quality control. I remember telling my wife, “I’m going to have an entire work station with bright lights, polishers, waxes, wire brushes, sand paper, paint, primer, window cleaner, solvent, cot- ton rags, etc. etc. and not one of my parts is going to go out without being thoroughly inspected and detailed to the nines!” In theory, I still feel this way. And I do have a nice detailing station, which we use daily.

The reality of the situation however is that some times we all get busy or the yardman has an off day, or the delivery driver puts a suspension on top of a door glass or…well if you’re in the auto recycling business, I’m sure you know what I mean. But at the end of the day I still think that I—and many of my recycling friends—do a pretty good job at sending out a clean product.

Also I preach quality control like the gospel to anyone who will listen. (Sorry, BC guys, if I keep meetings running too long sometimes.) So you can imagine my chagrin when I began hearing from collision and insurance industry insiders that the high plateau of quality we once occupied has been dropping like a basement-bound elevator.

I confirmed this after I brought it up at a liaison meeting between BC recyclers and collision repair facility owners/managers just a few weeks before writing this article. After asking around and talking with my own brethren I found a theory that’s been forming as of late.

I truly believe that the current economic downturn is causing many of us to send out parts that we wouldn’t normally try to pass off on our worst enemies. Think about it: when the phones are ringing and the fur is flying, “Sorry this bumper cover has a little tear, I don’t think you’re going to like it, but I took the liberty of finding you one elsewhere. Would you like the yard’s number or shall I order it up for you?”

Which really is the way it should be, at least when dealing on insurance claims. But when things grind to a halt, payroll stays the same, the price of salvage is through the roof and we’re all fighting over the same meagre table scraps “let’s throw it at the wall and see if it sticks” starts looking like a pretty attractive answer.

Ninety-eight per cent of the people who have worked the counter in a recycling yard have been guilty of this at one time or another (and the other two per cent are liars). So what do we do about it? I hate to say it, but it’s pretty darn simple. Firstly we have to get out into our holding areas more often and look at the stuff we are shipping before it’s on the delivery truck. And for the parts that don’t pass your scrutiny? You all know that you can still sell them to rebuilders. If your sales are still hurting enough to want to try to pass less-than- perfect parts on to big quality collision facilities then you have to pick up the phone and represent your product accordingly.

If they were never going to use your parts in the first place then now is the time they’ll tell you, saving both of you costs and hassles. But stay truthful and you will at least keep the lines of communication open. I find that trying to talk them out of using a part some times works best. If they are basically begging you to send the door with three hours on it because it’s the last one in existence, what do you think the chances are they’ll return it? I sell many damaged parts to large chain shops, and most of the time they like what they are getting; many times I am getting them out of a jam and—more importantly—they are not getting a Gomer Pyle.

What’s a Gomer Pyle, you ask? Firstly you have to be old enough to remember the Jim Nabors character and his catch phrase. But you’ve all had one at one time or another. You order something from another recycler expecting a shining jewel and without warning a lump of coal with a turd stuck to it arrives at your door. “Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!” The term Gomer Pyle can also apply to a part that is returned to you without a phone call and usually sent collect freight just to rub a little salt into your wounds.

That’s it in a nutshell folks. Do what you can and sell what you can to ride out the current economic storm, but keep the Gomer Pyles to a minimum by looking at your parts with both eyes, polishing what can be polished, and picking up the phone to accurately represent what can’t be. Your customer appreciates it.

This article appeared in the January 2011 issue of Canadian Auto Recyclers magazine.