I’m sitting in my office paying bills, and a woman walks in from the street. She’s dressed in one of those ‘Little House On The Prairie’ dresses with sandals, and her graying hair is tied back in a ponytail. I figure her age for somewhere between late forties to middle fifties, medium weight and height. I’ll call her Birken Stock. Birken has one of those huge smiles that seldom leaves her face.
“Hi, can I help you?” I ask, as she looks around the office, and checks out my family pictures and certificates on the wall.
“Yes, I’d like to make an appointment to have my 02’ Honda Accord serviced. I see you graduated from Cal State Hayward.”
“Yea, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away,” I reply jokingly. “What kind of service did you have in mind, just a general oil and filter change, or something more?”
“I’m coming up on 60,000 miles, and in the maintenance manual there are a lot more things to be checked at 60,000. I’d like to get some idea what the service would cost me.”
“Sure,” I already have my notebook computer open, so I get into my repair and estimator software. In a few moments I’m able to give her a price.
The smile disappears.
“Tha…that’s almost as much as the dealer charges,” Ms. Stock gasps.
“Actually, it’s nearly a hundred dollars less,” I correct her, because I keep up on these things; “but many times I am as expensive as the dealership, just not on this particular service, although I do everything they do.”
“Can I pay by installments?”
“No, but I take all major credit cards,” I reply, adding my little joke about offering credit, “I have a deal with the money lenders: I don’t lend money, and they don’t fix cars.”
“Do you have loaner cars?” Birken asks, and the smile is nowhere to be seen.
“No,” I answer. It’s a fair question.
“Let me guess,” Ms. Stock says caustically, “you have a deal with the car renters: you don’t rent cars, and they don’t fix them, right?”
“Yea, something like that,” I laugh appreciatively as Birken volleys my little joke back at me.
“When I drop off the car, can I get a ride home? I live in
“No, I’m sorry, but I’m too small time for any of the perks you can get at the dealer or larger repair garages. This is a one man shop, so when I’m out of the shop, the shop’s closed. On the other hand, I am able to offer lower prices because my overhead is lower.”
“You certainly don’t offer much in the way of personal service,” Birken sighs.
“Only on the vehicles,” I quip. “Although I have customers from all the surrounding cities, I’m mostly a neighborhood repair shop. Many of my customers can actually walk home from here. Do you still want the appointment?”
“Can I have one of your cards? I’ll call you when I decide. My neighbor recommended your shop to me. She said you were good, but not very personable.”
I laughed again, and nodded. Fair enough. In this business, it’s better to be good than personable. Besides, I’m a little personable. I hand her a card.
“Thanks,” Birken says, turning to go out the door, and then stops. “I’m curious. Why didn’t you go into teaching with your English degree?”
“I actually got the degree as a backup in case I hurt myself on the job. I like fixing cars and trucks. The technology’s constantly changing, so it’s never boring. I always figured teaching would be boring.”
“I’m a teacher,” Birken smiles, and walks out.
Oh boy, I just slid a couple more notches on the personable scale. :)