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    Brainstorming Better Ways

    "Cost efficient" and "green" are two terms Rodney Watts knows well in his role as director of retail maintenance for Valero's 1,000 Corner Stores.

    Rodney Watts, director of retail maintenance for Valero's 1,000 corporately owned stores, spends much of his workday doing research -- in particular, seeking out ways his department can trim costs and developing projects to reduce environmental impact. The retail maintenance department consists of roughly 60 employees, including three supervisors, three managers, nine dispatchers and 45 technicians. The department is split into six geographic regions, each with a supervisor or manager.

    When stores have a maintenance issue, they call the dispatch center. The calls are then assigned to either a technician or third-party contractor in that region. There are two kinds of technicians: gas and refrigeration technicians, but both are expected to respond to general calls, such as changing locks and plumbing. Larger jobs, such as concrete repair and canopy damage, are outsourced.

    Each call is prioritized and responded to based on the safety risk and impact to the store. For calls deemed Priority 1, someone needs to be on site within four hours; Priority 2, within 12 hours; Priority 3, within 24 hours; and Priority 4, within 72 hours.

    At least 50 percent of the calls fall under Priority 1 and 2, according to Watts, who said his role is to "keep it all going safely, successfully and look for opportunities to make it better." He’s been with Valero for 10 years, joining the company in 1998 as maintenance manager of Valero's Houston refinery, and was promoted to his current position in early 2003.

    On the day CSNews visited Valero Retail headquarters in San Antonio, Watts was into day two of the annual Maintenance Management Meeting he holds with his supervisors and managers. The focus of this year’s meeting was cost efficiencies.

    "A lot of what we're doing in the meeting is bouncing ideas off each other. Every year, we talked about costs, but it didn’t dominate the meeting. This year, 80 percent of the agenda is focused on cost efficiencies," Watts noted.

    Right now, in terms of number of calls, it's a 50-50 split between in-house and outsource. Based on costs, however, the split is 75 percent outsource and 25 percent in-house.

    Watts is in the process of hiring more technicians with the intent of outsourcing less and thus, saving money.

    "We looked at how much we were outsourcing to contractors in certain markets and realized we could expand our number of technicians. The all-inclusive hourly rate we charge our stores is less than what the contractors charge," he explained.

    Each new hire is projected to save $40,000 annually vs. what a contractor would bill. If the savings are as estimated, Watts expects to continue hiring.

    During the maintenance meeting, several other cost-efficient ideas emerged, including:
    -- Expanding electronic invoicing
    -- Increasing the stock in vehicles to reduce number of trips needed to get parts
    -- More technician cross training
    -- Setting up addditional competing contractors in the same geographic region to get the best deals
    -- Looking to increase in-house emergency work

    All of the ideas generated at the meeting will get researched, according to Watts.

    Aside from cost efficiencies, his attention these days also is centered on green initiatives. There are stacks of folders on his desk of eco-friendly concepts and projects in various stages. "The thicker the folder, the more work I've done on it," he explained.

    Green is something Valero's corporate management is urging across the entire company, not just in the retail division. Environmental initiatives must benefit the environment, deliver a return on investment and have low overhead management.

    One green initiative the retail maintenance department is currently rolling out is ECM (electronically commutated motors). These brushless motors, which can be used in a variety of equipment, are more efficient than traditional motors and as a result, use less energy. They are being rolled out to stores in San Antonio.

    Watts foresees green being an ongoing, long-term focus. "Twenty years from now, the person sitting in this chair will have a stack of folders on green initiatives," he said.

    BIOGRAPHY:
    -- Employed with Valero since 1998.
    -- Started as maintenance manager of Valero’s Houston refinery in 1998.
    -- Graduated Lamar University with a mechanical engineering degree.
    -- Keeps calendar and task list up to date religiously.
    -- Skills required for his job: leadership, organization, project management and a strong sense of curiosity.

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