Playing its part: how Mazda gets spare parts to its dealers within hours

Shipping nearly 5000 components to 130 Mazda outlets is a task and a half. Ensuring those parts are with the correct dealer within 16 hours of being ordered makes it even more of a challenge. David Elphick, Mazda UK’s parts and accessories sales manager, explains how it happens.

“Parts play a huge role in customer satisfaction. If your car goes wrong or needs a new component, it’s an inconvenience if it’s off the road for a couple of days. Our parts distribution operation has been set up to minimise the amount of time our owners have to wait for their cars to be repaired. It sounds much simpler than it really is.

Our hub

“The whole process begins when a dealer needs a part it doesn’t already have in stock. By ordering it on our eparts systems, a request is generated at Mazda’s warehouse in Crick, Northants. Technically this really belongs to our partner XPO Logistics, one of the world’s largest delivery companies. But we have a dedicated area in the warehouse measuring 50,000 square metres – that’s the size of seven professional football pitches.

Every day approximately 130 of Mazda’s 150 UK dealers need parts. We stock 15,000 components at Crick. That’s 92 per cent of the parts our dealerships need. Assuming we receive the order by 4.30pm on Day One, we can have the part delivered by 8am on Day Two.

If you imagine Crick as the hub, there are eight spokes radiating from it where parts are delivered before they go to dealerships. These are: Belfast in Northern Ireland; Motherwell in North Lanarkshire Scotland; Rochester Kent; Hounslow west London; Gloucester’ Leigh in Greater Manchester; Wakefield, West Yorkshire; and Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. Once they’ve been unloaded at these depots, local delivery drivers take them to Mazda dealers for the early hours of the morning. Each dealership has a secure area which our delivery driver has the key to so they can leave the parts safely.

David Elphick surrounded by the day's in-bound parts ready to be carefully stored

David Elphick surrounded by the day’s in-bound parts ready to be carefully stored

Picking and packing is an art

“Every part is labelled with its own number and bar code. We have eight pickers who have a list of the parts that are needed and which dealership needs them. They find the part, then move them to one of eight areas within the warehouse that correspond with the ‘spokes’. In these areas there are boxes or cages on wheels for individual dealerships. The pickers use supermarket-style bar code scanners to ensure they get the right part. Importantly, when they scan something out, our system registers it so that a replacement can be ordered from Mazda Motor Europe’s central distribution centre at Willebroek, near Antwerp in Belgium.

Our pickers find on average 170 parts per person per hour and many have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the warehouse. Each day, £160,000 worth of spares leaves Crick in the shape of 4857 parts through 2310 orders.

Packing is an art you get through experience. It’s no exaggeration to say every part must be handled like a flat-screen TV. But you try packing an exhaust or a bumper in a way that it can be moved hundreds of miles without being damaged. It really is a skill.

Storing parts is a nightmare

“One of XPO’s other clients is Coca Cola. I look at its rows of drinks fridges, all rectangular and stacked neatly, and feel a pang of envy. The parts we store vary from tiny washers to windscreens, complete engines to exhausts, bolts to bumpers and pretty much everything in between. Nothing is a uniform shape. Bumpers are massive and quite floppy. Exhausts look like they’ve been modelled on a random section of the London Underground map. And larger pieces like bonnets are susceptible to damage if not treated gently.

The warehouse is a recreation of Willebroek. There’s one area for all the smaller parts, another for larger components and one section called the bee’s nest because it’s all tubes for long thin parts such as windscreen wipers and door trim.

Appropriately called the bee's nest, this is where long thin parts live

Appropriately called the bee’s nest, this is where long thin parts live

Shortening lead times

“If you think Crick is a complex operation, it’s nothing compared to Willebroek. It stores £50 million worth of stock for 21 countries in Europe. That’s 80,000 part numbers and in total 250,000 different components. If we don’t have a specific part in Crick, they’ll probably have it in Willebroek and we’ll be able to get it to a dealer for first thing on Day Three.

We’re constantly trying to shorten the lead time for deliveries because we know it’s important for our customers to have their car back on the road as soon as possible and to do that our dealers must get parts as quickly as possible.

It’s an old saying that you can’t sell what you haven’t got and we want our dealers to sell our customers genuine Mazda parts. For the customer this makes sense because genuine Mazda parts fitted by an authorised repairer are covered for two years or 36,000 miles, whichever occurs first. But some motor factors do have an incredibly rapid turnaround time. That said, our service certainly offers what I consider to be unique flexibility: dealers can order anything from a single washer to a £7000 engine. And they’ll receive either the next day.”

Everything from engines to single washers are stored in the Distribution Centre

Everything from engines to single washers are stored in the Distribution Centre