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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Shadow and Substance

“Look at this,” a medium height, dark haired woman in her forties ordered, as I greeted her at the big shop door when she walked in off the street.

I took the advertisement postcard from her, and quickly read through the ad for oil, filter, and lube. It listed the total as $19.99. I smiled, thinking maybe I ought to start taking my car over to them for service, since I can barely pay for the oil and filter at that price.

“Well?” She urges, seeing me grin in appreciation. She folds her arms across her chest expectantly.

I admit I’m not the greatest expert on body language, but I’ve been around the block a few times. This lady’s attitude seemed a little too much of a rebuke, considering I’d never laid eyes on her before. I handed her back the card, if for no other reason than to get her out of the Nurse Ratchet posture.

“Great price,” I comment agreeably.

“Can you match it?” Ms. Ratchet asks pointedly. “I only live six blocks from your shop, and it would be nice to get my car serviced here, but I don’t want to be ripped off.”

I suppressed the laughter; and other annoying, haughty, mechanic type mannerisms, my time in this business has made me susceptible to.

“The simple answer to your question is no,” I answer with the truth in a proper subservient tone, “not even close.”

“Why not?”

“Ma’am, you’ve read thousands of store ads in your adult life,” I try to reason amiably. “It’s called a loss-leader service to get you and your car in the door. I don’t do advertising like that. I’ve never offered sales on anything I do here. My price for lube, oil, and filter service starts at over double that.”

“Oh, so they’re the crooks for offering a bargain,” Ratchet counters animatedly shifting on her feet and leaning forward with flyer in hand.

“I didn’t call anyone a crook. Loss-leader advertising is perfectly legal. I just don’t…”

“I’d like to talk with your manager. Is he in today?” Ratchet cuts me off.

Okay, she nailed me with that one. I’ve been working my place alone for so long, Ratchet throws me off balance with an obvious customer ploy I haven’t heard since I worked at K-Mart garage back in the early seventies. I almost told her to wait a second while I went to get him, walked in the office, and walked back out in my manager persona. Too obvious.

“This is a one-man shop, Ma’am,” I curb the anti-social behavior.

“I know how this works,” Ratchet says knowingly. “I bet your manager doesn’t know you’re turning away business.”

Well, this is getting interesting. I look at the clock. Nope, I don’t have time to cultivate this relationship. I gesture for Ratchet to wait a moment. Quickly walking into the office and grabbing a business card, I return and present it to her, pointing at my name in the upper right hand corner with proprietor next to it.

“That’s me, the proprietor,” I tell her in good humor, wondering if she’ll make me show my driver’s license. “I’ve worked here since 1976, and owned it since 1983.”

“Sorry,” Ratchet says apologetically. “I’m used to getting the shuffle at repair shops.”

“No problem, but I really don’t give discounts of any kind. On the other hand, I don’t leave oil filters loose or strip pan plugs when I do a lube, oil, and filter. I also check belts, hoses, tires, and lights with the service. If I find something, I’ll note it on your invoice with a price for fixing it, and let you know if I think it’s a safety concern.”

“So do these guys,” Ratchet points out, again waving the flyer with a smile.

“Yep, it’s very possible the only extra thing you get from me is the charge.”

“You are closer,” Ratchet laughs at my unwillingness to barter, holding up my card as she walks out. “Maybe I’ll give you a call.”

Be still my heart. Hey, I can’t curb internal sarcasm.

“Anytime Ma’am, thanks for stopping by,” I say out loud. Thanks for coming by, I’m thinking. By interacting with me so entertainingly, you’ve been entered into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You've just crossed over into... Bernard’s Blog. I know, I know… a cheap Rod Serling rip-off. My bad. :)


Jordan Summers said...

Okay Rod *cough* I mean Bernard. *ggg*

BernardL said...

Glad you stopped in for a laugh, Summer... I mean Jordan. :)

whydibuy said...

Oil changes, Now there is a subject for psychologists.

I have a neighbor, a dentist, who faithfully went to the 17.99 oil change shops. He asks me to look at his front end since the car was making a squealing sound on turns. I look and notice that the tie rods appear to be bone dry. I don’t think they have been greased in years.

After greasing up the car, I examine the oil. Black as tar. I tell the dentist its time for a change and he tells me he just went 10 days ago.


And he proudly states that he goes to this 17.99 place for the great deal. I ask him with oil and a filter being about 19.00, how does this place stay in business? Here is where the psychology comes in. In his mind, they must get oil at .50 qt or filters for 1.00. And I ask him even if they could get those supply prices, which they don’t, can a business with employees really survive making 14.00 per car? Would that even cover the days wages much less the overhead? I ask him if he could run his practice with 20.00 cleanings ( his fees; 110.00 ) Of course there he cites all the costs that go with the practice. Not possible to survive on 20.00 but he has a selective blind spot for other businesses overhead. As they say, a man sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest. He, like a lot of people seem to want to believe those numbers are reality.
And then I show him his oil compared to mine also recently changed. Mine is Crystal clear, with a hint of yellow.

I then flatly state my suspicions that this oil change place, aside from never lubing the car also never gives new oil. They recycle old oil back into folks cars if they bothered to change it at all. It’s the only way they have a chance to stay profitable. There is no other way to last but to scam the old oil. But try convincing the dentist that hes being scammed. Good luck to ya.

BernardL said...

In this area the Jiffy Lubes and places like them actually do the oil and filter changes for that kind of price. They buy in big time bulk. Granted, they don't make much per car but they do a lot of them. In loss-leader specials, they try to sell wipers, drive belts, air filters, cabin air filters, and fluid flushes, etc. They're not crooks out here in my neck of the woods, whydibuy. They do the service. It's not always done by a mechanic, but they've tightened up their standards a little over the years. I can't compete with them though, and I don't try. :) Thanks for commenting.

whydibuy said...

I can't speak for Jiffy Lube but when I toiled for Walmart auto, I seen local guys like yourself come in and clean out our inventory of certain oils. Talking to them, it seemed that they got a better price from Walmart than they could get from the local wholesale distributor for oil. I know my view is anecdotal and anecdotal examples are not to be trusted, but I would bet significant money the oil in the dentist vehicle was not new.

BernardL said...

'I seen local guys like yourself come in and clean out our inventory of certain oils.'

Yep, I do that myself on oils like Valvoline Max Trans oil and the new ATF 4. I use only Motorcraft Synthetic Blend oil and AC Delco oil filters from my distributor for the engine oil changes though. I didn't mean to infer your anecdotal story wasn't true. It's only that I haven't seen the same thing happening around here from the oil changer chains. They're more apt to leave an oil plug loose or leave the oil out all together by mistake. I always tell my customers who use me for major repairs and diagnostics to check their oil level before leaving a bargain oil change place and check for fresh oil under the car when they get home.