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    Brainstorming Better Ways

    "Cost efficient" and "green" are two terms Rodney Watts known 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, and then the calls are assigned to either a technician or third-party contractor in that region. 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, said Watts.

    On the day CSNews visited Valero Retail headquarters, 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've 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, outsourcing consumes 75 percent of the expenses.

    Watts is in the process of hiring more technicians -- each is projected to save $40,000 annually vs. what a contractor would bill.

    During the maintenance meeting, several other cost-efficient ideas emerged, including:

    -- Expanding electronic invoicing
    -- Increasing the stock in vehicles to reduce the number of trips needed for parts
    -- More technician cross training
    -- Setting up additional competing contractors in the same region to get the best deals
    -- Looking to increase in-house emergency work.

    Watts' attention these days also is centered on green initiatives, with stacks of folders on his desk with eco-friendly concepts and projects in various stages.

    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.

    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 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."

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