May 30, 2024

Jamie Irvine’s Advice for New Parts Managers

Jamie Irvine’s Advice for New Parts Managers

A long time ago, in a Shop Owners Roundtable far, far away, Jamie Irvine of the Heavy Duty Parts Report and Heavy Duty Consulting Corporation was asked what advice he’d offer to a new parts manager.

It was towards the end of the webinar, so Jamie had to make do with sharing a few minutes’ worth of wisdom. But we were so intrigued by his answers—and the question itself—that we felt compelled to seek him out and follow up with a proper article. He very graciously sat down and talked to us for almost an hour, which means we have a ton of information to share with you (and probably a few spinoff blogs in the works). Yes, folks, this is a long one, so grab a cup of coffee and get ready to scroll.

Before we get into Jamie’s actual advice, though, let’s take a look at the state of the industry—and where his tips will fit into it.


First, we shall set the stage: the diesel repair field is loaded with Baby Boomers while Gen-X and millennials are underrepresented. “Our recruiting efforts have been very poor in comparison to other industries,” Jamie explains, which leads to a “huge fall-off after age 35.”

Let’s say three or four Boomer techs retire, each with 30, 40, or 50+ years of experience. A millennial of around 40 who has been on the counter ends up getting promoted to the parts management position, which sounds awesome…but this young parts manager, Jamie points out, is not necessarily a rising star. They’ve often gotten the job because there is no one else to put in that position.

In other words, they’ve won the attrition war.

“Just because you know how to be a parts person doesn’t mean you know how to manage a parts department,” he says. It’s two vastly different skill sets.

Now, don’t get us wrong: sometimes the awesome parts technician does have (or can develop!) the skills to become an awesome parts manager. But one isn’t always connected to the other. And conversely, just because you’re not an all-star parts person doesn’t mean you won’t be a great parts manager.

Quite the obvious, in fact. “In my experience, average parts people … have the skills to manage people who do that job, and manage their department.”

You can see it in other areas of the industry—a good tech does not always make a good service writer. Heck, you can see it outside the industry, too. A great athlete is not necessarily a great coach. And so on and so forth.

Like many newly promoted managers, the parts person has a) no idea how to manage people, and b) feels the need to be “everything to everyone” in an effort to prove themselves worthy of the new role. Match that up with a field suffering from an increasing knowledge drain as boomers retire and you’ve got a recipe for…well…chaos for now, but eventual disaster.

So! The scene is set. The parts manager is promoted. In the immortal words of Hamlet the Parrot, “WHAT DO?!”


Capture as much knowledge from older employees as you can and get it into the heads of younger people.

If your more experienced folks are okay with being captured on video, then record everything you possibly can from them. Start small: “What are the five or ten parts calls that we got this week that we had problems with?” (Bear in mind—the calls you didn’t have problems with are things the youngsters already know how to do.)

What you’re doing as you record these old-timers is building a training program. You can transcribe the dialogue and break it into bite-sized pieces.

The other strategy Jamie recommends is to track down the older parts people who care about legacy and want to mentor youngsters or newcomers. “That probably isn’t you as a new manager,” Jamie says, “but get a mentoring program going as soon as possible. It’s been my experience that these older guys, especially when they get into the last five years of their careers, have already made their money … they’re not trying to climb the ladder. They want an opportunity to help the next generation.”

(Jamie took care to note here that not every older tech wants to mentor. And look not every older tech should mentor. But do ask!)

The problem with building out a mentorship program is that these older parts people are often too dang busy to sit down with an eager young whipper-snapper. The instant they walk in, everyone is all over them for advice anyway, and they still have their actual job to do.

Maybe that means paying that person four hours a week to not be on the counter.

But…but Fullbay and Jamie, you might be saying, I can’t just rip these people away from their duties for four hours a week! They have things to do! Trucks to fix! Parts to find!

You and every other shop out there, my dude. Something all shop owners should take a look at is how systemizing their businesses can eliminate a lot of the smaller stuff that steals people away from their duties or otherwise leads to hiccups. People don’t need a ton of parts knowledge to learn how to process a warranty form or deliver a part or pick up cores. Your more experienced people don’t need to be doing all the repetitive work at this point—you can hand those tasks off to less experienced people and free up the veterans to do some mentoring.

We’re not blind to reality, by the way: such a setup sounds simple, but it takes time, energy, and money to achieve. Still, Jamie says, the effort is worth it: “The simplest things in business are always the most powerful, but just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s easy.”

As a new parts manager, you must decide what’s important.

You also need to get your company to back you on those things.


(Full disclosure: You can also create processes before you attempt to capture knowledge. In fact, it’s probably safer to do that. But capturing knowledge is, like, ultra-important, so we made it #1.)

So, you’re a newly promoted parts manager and you have six months to pick the brain of a retiring boomer, but the shop is in chaos and no one has a moment to refill their coffee, much less attempt to impart wisdom to the younger generations. Everyone is flying along by the seat of their pants. Everything gets done…but barely.

Now is the time to systemize.

A system ensures everyone is held to the same standard—and that everyone knows what needs to be done in order to complete this task or that one. Because everyone follows the steps laid out to complete each task, a lot of the wildcards that can pop up when everyone is just doing their own thing simply…disappear.

What you’re looking to systemize are your repeatable processes.

By that, we mean something you do all day long, over and over again. Document how you want it done. Lay it out step by step. Documenting a process this way, Jamie tells us, “pushes down the skill level required to get those jobs done.” Teach everyone how to complete those repeatable processes the way you want them completed. Bam! Everyone’s on the same page, and everyone will complete that task in the same way.

That means you can offload some of the less complex work to younger people, leaving your sages with more time to (you guessed it) pass on their wisdom to the next generation.

To be fair, any system you create may need refining and optimizing over time. Not everything is a grand slam out of the gate, and you may also have to revisit a working process over time as new tools and technology become available.

Speaking of…


Tech is a stepping stone in the road to systemizing an operation and running a more efficient parts department. Now, Jamie has seen and talked to a lot of parts people through the Heavy Duty Consulting Corporation and the Heavy Duty Parts Podcast. In general, he says, a lot of the older folks aren’t so hot on the new tech coming down the pipeline—they’re out in a few years, why bother with it? The younger folks, on the other hand, have grown up with tech and are all about new stuff.

“There’s an inflection point coming where so many of the old guard have retired and left,” says Jamie, “that those left—the Gen-X-ers—that take over the senior leadership roles are just gonna be like, ‘Batten down the hatches, we’re going with technology all the way!’”

Turning to new tech as it comes along isn’t just about finding a cool, shiny object. Heavy-duty technology should help your techs, your parts department, and your shop overall do better, more efficient work. If you’re doing better work, your customers have more uptime. If your customers have more uptime, they’re gonna come back and recommend you to their friends.

Now, if you’re moving up into parts management and want to bring more technology into your shop, start by asking yourself the following:

  • How do we implement technology in our parts identification system?
  • How do we leverage the best tools in the marketplace to approach processing parts orders?

We’ll beat our own drum for a sentence and point out that you could definitely use Fullbay to help bring your parts department (and your shop!) into the future (pssst, try our free demo and see for yourself). But while we think Fullbay is the trailer’s tractor, we also know there’s a lot of other tools and tech out there for the heavy-duty world to explore. And there’s a lot more coming down the pipeline in the next few years.

Figuring out what will work for your shop will be (wait for it) another process, and something you’ve got to discuss with shop leadership to get them behind you. Figuring out exactly how much time, money, and/or sanity a piece of tech will save you will go a long way in convincing the brass that they should invest. (And yes, we’re going to write a blog about this topic in the future. Stay tuned!)


A particularly important component of being a good parts manager is understanding what downtime means to your customer.

Look at it this way: What consequences do they face if you can’t get a part to them on time?

Say a customer authorizes an SO that requires a part at 10. You’re busy, so you don’t get the order processed until 11:30. By that time, you’ve missed the morning truck. Whatever, you go to lunch, come back at 1. Maybe the part arrives on the afternoon run. But now the tech can’t get started on the repair until 3:30. That truck isn’t fixed today, and it’s probably not running tomorrow.

And that’s involving a part that is easy to get!

It may not be a huge deal to you, but it can have a devastating impact on their day.


Obi-Wan Kenobi once advised Luke Skywalker, “Don’t give in to hate! That leads to the Dark Side!” If Obi-Wan was providing advice to repair shop owners and not Jedi Knights, he’d warn against giving in to overwhelm. For that too leads to the Dark Side. Or at least to the Warp, neither of which are good places for a diesel repair shop to exist.

A lot of new parts managers tend to look at the job they’ve accepted and all the work they need to do and feel the dark shadow of overwhelm draw over them. That’s all a lot of work. How will they get it done?!

Jamie has excellent counsel here: You work on a little piece at a time.

Seriously. Don’t try to do the whole thing all at once.

Break your work into chunks. How can you systemize one thing this week? How can you train or mentor your people to do one thing they didn’t know before?

Don’t focus on getting everything. Focus on getting one thing at a time. Your older techs are going to retire no matter what; even if you only ever manage to capture 30% of their knowledge, that’s still way, way better than no knowledge at all.

So when you’re a new parts manager building out your systems, look at how your parts department is processing orders and how you’re communicating with your customers. Even just phoning someone and telling them what’s up can maintain the trust in a relationship.

“As a parts person, you have control over your communication with customers,” Jamie explains. “When you become parts manager, you’re now dependent on your people to communicate effectively.”

That means getting out and talking to your customers, and finding out how your department is doing.

Here’s some questions you can ask:

  • Are your parts people communicating well?
  • Are parts getting delivered on time to your shop or customers?
  • Are there issues with follow-up and things of that nature?
  • What do your customers want from your parts department?

Ha, Fullbay, you might be saying, as if I can leave this counter for even a minute!

So talk to them without leaving the counter. =D

Ask the folks who call you, or the people who come into the shop.

“Don’t lose touch with what’s going on in the front lines,” Jamie advises. “Make sure you are the bridge between your workers in the field and leadership, and you’re communicating what’s going on in the real world to inform [leadership] for strategic decision-making.”

It’s an immensely impactful role (and a great leg up into senior leadership, if that’s how you ultimately want your career to go).


Okay. This has been a longer article, so for the sake of your brain, we’re gonna wrap it up (although honestly, we could probably write a whole series based on one interview with Jamie—the guy has an incredible wealth of knowledge he’s willing to share!). Here, in a nutshell, are four pieces of advice for a new parts manager who wants to make their mark and do good work:

  • You capture all that stored-up knowledge with training programs and put a mentoring system in place.
  • You systemize your operation.
  • You add technology to increase your productivity.
  • You combat overwhelm.

Seems easy, right?

(We know. It’s not that easy. When you’re already swamped with work and people all over your counter.)

“The simplest things in business are always the most powerful,” Jamie notes, “but just because they’re simple doesn’t mean it’s easy … as a manager, you have to decide what’s important.”

If you’ve finished this article, then we’re betting being a good parts manager is important to you. And you know what? That’s an incredible start. Take things in increments, acknowledge that you don’t know everything, and learn as you go. And hey, if you want to learn more from Jamie, head to the Heavy Duty Parts Podcast and be prepared to take notes.

Good luck—we’re all counting on you!

Suz Baldwin