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Impress and Repair

   Shortly after opening my shop I was wondering to myself if I had done 
the right thing.   When no one knows you are here to repair cars and you 
have no reputation behind you it’s extremely hard to generate work unless 
you can do things cheaper or better  than the next guy.   Well, at least 
that was my original approach to generating more shop business.   But 
what I really learned is quality is the number one factor… the heck with 
the price.  Doing a job quickly, efficiently and with some degree of price 
control can be a huge factor in retaining customers.  Of course don’t 
forget, the price of the job is always a factor, and you can lose a job 
as fast as you get the job because of the price.  Still, to me, quality 
is the real key.  

   Then there’s always the buffalo them with the bull approach…. Call it a 
sales technique, a gimmick, or whatever term you prefer… that is, till the 
quality becomes the issue.  So, if you know you have the quality, and the
 experience but you’re having trouble getting your point across… try a 
little razzle dazzle… and see if that makes an impression., nothing like a 
good trick to impress someone.   

   Then again, trying to keep the price down was my main issue.  But the other, probably more important factor was making an impression on customers that would last a lifetime and would make them feel comfortable about coming back for more repairs.  How you do that may vary from customer to customer, some customers  like an amazing quick diagnostic, others just want to watch someone else figure something, to them that’s impressive enough.  A lot of the times, it’s that “razzle – dazzle” something that makes their eyes light up.   I don’t think you can plan these razzle-dazzle impressive feats of technical know-how, they just happen.

    I had one of those razzle-dazzle days at the shop, it happen something like this; With the rain coming down and the wind whipping everything in sight I wasn’t expecting any work for the day.  The phone rang; it was a new customer that I had never met before.  He had a problem with his brake lights on his old Cadillac.  Anxious for any work, I told him that I could get to it today if he could bring it in.   

    “Not a problem, I’ll have it there in a jiffy sonny, I lives about a block away,” said the new customer.

    I was sitting in the office that afternoon, just watching the buckets and buckets of rain come down, I didn’t think anyone was going to be brave enough to drive in this stuff, or so I thought, wouldn’t you know it,  here comes that Cadillac.  He pulls right up to the garage door, blocking the sidewalk with his car, jumps out with it still running and scrambles into the office to get out of the rain.  It’s not like he pulled it entirely into the shop, no, only far enough to get the hood and windshield in out of the rain.   The rest of the car was still outside being pelted by the thunder storm.   The noise was overwhelming, beating down on anything outside.   The rain was so strong it was running rivers down the streets, the rain gutters were gushing, the skies were dark with rain clouds, and the wind was howling.  Not a day to spend outside for sure.  

“How ya doin’,” my now half soaked customer said.

“Just fine, are you the guy with the brake light problems?” I asked.

“Yep, I left it runnin’ for ya, didn’t know wheres ya wanted ta put it.”

    “I’ll take it from here; have a seat in the lobby I’ll let you know what I find wrong with it.”
Not wanting to ask why he parked where he did, I really just needed the work, any work.   I was glad I had something to do, even if I had to get wet doing it.  I took one look at the sky and then at the car, realizing I’m not going to dodge rain drops and it’s not going to let up, the fact is….I’m going to get wet …  gotta go for it….     I ran straight for the driver’s door, lifted the handle… oh, no…..  It’s locked.   

    The wind was pulling at my shirt and the rain was making it hard to see, but I had to try the other doors.  I ran around checking all of them… LOCKED.   Soaked to the bone, barley able to see a foot in front of me… I made the dash to the lobby door.  My now drying customer had been watching this whole thing from just inside the door.  I nearly had to push him over just to get the door open and get in out of the rain.

    “Don’t ya thinks ya should pull it in out of the rain first there, sonny?” said my ever so helpful customer.

    Drenched, cold, and waiting for my hearing to come back to normal after the tremendous pounding rain … I thought I heard this guy say… “Pull it in out of the rain” oh please…. I don’t need any help looking stupid; I’m pretty good at that all by myself. 
I could tell I’m going to regret asking this, but …

“Sir, you locked the car doors, I can’t get into the car.”

“Yep, always lock it, why ya just never know these days.  With the way these crooks are … why … just about makes yur head spin… I keeps it locked, and they can’t get in… smart way of doin it I recon.” 

 “Do you have a spare key on you?”

“Yep, sure do….  In the glove box, keeps it there just in case I needs it.”

    I’m not asking any more questions, I’m going to get this guys car in the shop, fix his brake lights and then I’m going home…. Get some dry clothes, and think about what I got myself into.  I might even sit down and think about this career choice I’ve made.  Maybe look in the paper for any job openings.  Perhaps, go back to school, get a degree in meteorology.  Wishful thinking…this ain’t helping… I better get back to work.

    After a little searching through my tool box drawers I came up with my “slim-jim”, now for those of you that don’t know what that is… well, it’s a thin piece of metal with a small notch at one end, which when placed between the glass and the door you can… with a little effort … sometimes, not every time… get a car door unlocked.  (Your results may vary)
With the pouring rain and me already drenched I figured there was no choice but to brave the onslaught of water coming from the sky and just go for it… 

“Yur goin’ to get wet sonny…,” my now dry, full of  answers customer told me, “Why, yous going to be out there for awhile, I’ve tried that myself and it’s hard to do.”

    Without another word, and not even a glance at him I ran for the barely visible drivers’ door…. Slipped the “slim-jim” passed the door trim and down the window slot, with one tug the door unlocked; I jumped into the drivers’ seat and drove the car into the shop.
    As I pulled the car in the shop the unbearable noise from the rain started to dissipate as the car came through the doorway.  Ah, the quiet, Ah yes, time to just sit, take a moment…. And let this rain water drain off of me onto this guys upholstery.   I’m beat, I’m spent, and I’ve already had enough… I hope the rest of my day goes easier.

    The actual brake light problem was nothing, a broken wire at the base of the steering column.   Fixed it and sent the Cadillac owner back out into the pouring rain.
You know, I’ve used a “slim-jim” on many, many cars, new and old.   But, I’ve never, ever had one that I just walked out there and stuck it in, gave it one yank and the dang thing worked the first time.  Not to mention doing this whole process while it was pouring down like cats and dogs… 

    At least there is one thing that came out of this whole ordeal.  My new found customer/friend was totally impressed.  Every time he has a car problem or any of his friends do, he comes by to see me.   I’m just thankful he doesn’t leave it running with the doors locked anymore.

    As I’ve said before, automotive repair is like living on a teeter-totter…. One side is genius and the other is an idiot… your job is trying to keep the thing in balance and not sway from one side or the other too much.  I may have been lucky enough to live on the “genius” side of that see saw even though only an idiot would go out in the down pour and unlock a car door.   Hey, I needed the work.    But don’t you worry… I’ll make it back to the other side of that see-saw soon enough.