Let's Make A Deal: Let's Not...

Let’s Make A Deal: Let’s Not…

The last few months have been challenging. My guess is they were challenging for you, as well. The next few are likely to prove equally as challenging, if not more so.

You don’t have to be a Nobel Prize Laureate in economics to understand what’s going on. People like us — people on the ground, people dealing with “the economy” head-on — generally have a sense when an earthquake is coming long before the ground begins to shake.

If you are a “recovering” pessimist as I am, there is a part of you that knows with absolute certainty the ground is always shaking, and that the periods of relative calm and stability in between quakes are just an illusion!

If you’re a practicing optimist as I am desperately trying to become, you are doing whatever you can to position yourself for success knowing that it’s headed your way even when it appears to be hiding.

We’ve done well over the last few years, which is something that is really a little difficult to explain considering the countless distractions that life, family, business, the economy and my involvement in the industry have presented. If not for a growing respect and a much deeper understanding of things like hope, discipline, desire and determination, I’m sure we would have been lost a long time ago.

If not for the small, still echo of my father’s voice constantly reverberating in my head with questions like: “Why are you doing this? Do we really need it? What is it going to do for us that we can’t or aren’t already doing without it? How will it help? Do we need to do it now?” I’m sure I would have done things I shouldn’t have done; bought stuff we don’t really need; spent money we don’t really have; to help people who haven’t come in yet with problems that haven’t yet materialized!

Hope and desire can provide you with the quiet strength at the end of the day each of us needs to do it all again tomorrow, knowing exactly what will be waiting for us when we arrive at the shop the next morning. Discipline and determination can provide you with the intensity and restraint necessary to make the hard decisions each of us is forced to make every day, particularly during difficult and challenging times like these.

Each is critically important, especially during “hard” times, times when compromise seems infinitely easier than remaining true to the principles and values that have helped you find your way to where you are. All four played a special role the other day when one of our customers decided current economic conditions might justify a game of: “Let’s Make A Deal!”

It started a couple of weeks ago with a very cryptic phone call on a very busy Friday afternoon: “Hi, this is Mrs. X. We’ve been in before with our other cars…

My daughter tried to avoid hitting a dog in the road last night and tapped the curb with her right front wheel. We’ve had it looked at, but we don’t think the people we took it to really know what they’re doing! They’re telling us the car needs a lot of stuff we’re not sure it really needs.

Can you take a look at it and tell us what we’re really going to need to fix it?”

How many calls like this have you received? Calls that always seem to come late on a Friday evening, or on the afternoon just before a holiday or holiday weekend? How many calls where you didn’t recognize the name or the voice or maybe even the vehicle?

How many calls like this have you answered with a: “We won’t be able to actually work on the vehicle for you today, no matter what it’s going to need. But, if you bring it down in the next half-hour or so, we should be able to get it up in the air and take a look at it just so we know what we’re up against…” relatively certain you would never see the vehicle because the people you were just talking would somehow manage to get lost somewhere between the other end of the phone and your shop.

As it happens, we weren’t that lucky! The vehicle did show up, albeit late.

It was a 2009 compact that still had that “new car” scent and almost no mileage on it.

We put the vehicle up in the air and it became immediately apparent this vehicle had done lots more than just “tap the curb” with the right front wheel. Someone had put aftermarket wheels and tires on this little car and drifted it into a curb at a fairly high rate of speed. It was hard to tell whether the obvious bend in the wheel caused by the impact was more of a problem than the missing surface of the rim scoured away by contact with the curb. It was also hard to decide which wheel was in worse shape: the right front or the right rear.

Both wheels were bent and both tires had taken a serious “hit.” The bend in the right-side lower control arm was obvious, as was the bend in the right front strut, where it mounts to the knuckle. The right-side outer tie rod end was bent, the stabilizer bar was “pushed” over to one side and common sense and experience dictated there was more extensive damage hiding just out of sight.

“Slammed?” maybe.

“Tapped?” I don’t think so.

The “mom” asked us to call with a preliminary estimate before going any further. I knew we would have to go further in order to get an estimate we could live with, and I knew that wasn’t going to happen right now. I also knew the only place to source parts for this vehicle was going to be the dealer.

I called and asked the most obvious question: “Are you sure you don’t want to report this to your insurance company? I think this is going to be a lot more than you seem to think it is.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Well, to start off, you’re going to need two tires; two wheels; a right-side lower control arm; a right front strut; an outer tie rod end; maybe a stabilizer bar and link kit; perhaps a steering gear and that’s what we were able to see without taking a long and hard look.

“We’re going to have to go deeper in order to check the steering knuckle, the front and back bearings, and a number of other components. It’s apparent this is going to be quite extensive and costly, and most people would pass this over to their insurance company rather than bear the brunt of this kind of expense themselves. It’s something you might want to consider.”

“We’ll think about it and let you know,” she replied.

It was one of those rare times you actually felt good about walking away from a job. The problem was the job didn’t walk away from us…at least, not quite yet.

The vehicle came back again for a more complete inspection. The closer we looked, the more we found. I wrote up what I believed would be a “worst case” estimate that included a number of items that could have been damaged, but not enough to affect safety or performance over the life of the vehicle, separated the estimate into two parts and e-mailed it to “dad.” That’s when the fun began!

The first call accused us of finding “too much.” I told him that we could find only what was there and what was there was obvious. I also explained that some of the items on the estimate could not be condemned until their condition was confirmed after we were involved in the repair.

He told me he’d get back to me and get back to me he did! He returned my e-mail with a note. Here, in part, is what he had to say (You are surely going to love this!):

“Mitch, As you know times are difficult, with the economy being as it is. With that said, would you be willing to complete each individual item for the numbers that I have added in the parenthesis below (underscore is mine, not his)?

If everything needs to be done, for example…the total would come to $1,850 (discounted amount) plus tax. Should there be additional work, other than what is on this line item estimate, we will discuss those when they come up.

Let me know what you think, and I appreciate your understanding and willingness to work with us on this issue.”

His “parenthetical discount” amounted to 15% off on the first item, 18% on the second, 17% on the third, 13% on the fourth, 14.5% on the fifth, and so on. All in all, it amounted to a 20% discount on the entire estimate — Not bad if you can get it!

The attempt was predicated on the belief that desperate times result in desperate measures. And, that’s because the economy is depressed and we might be “weakened” or at least “weaker,” now would be a great time to take advantage and play “Let’s Make A Deal!” And, it might — if we were “weakened” or “weaker” than we are — and, by “weakened” or “weaker,” I don’t mean just financially.

Because of concepts like hope and desire, and character traits like discipline and determination, it was a lot easier to back away from something that might otherwise have looked more attractive than it might actually be. I took a moment, composed myself and then composed this response:

“At first, I was going to make ‘light’ of your suggestion and the suggested ‘adjustments’ as indicated on our estimate. But, as you mentioned, times are difficult and there is nothing funny about unscheduled, unbudgeted automotive repairs, especially expensive ones.

“The ‘adjustments’ you propose seem to be based upon the belief that there is more margin built into the estimate than what is actually there. These are all parts secured from local dealerships that have never been known for their aggressive pricing policies. We generally work with a 20% margin on factory parts, sometimes, only 15%. Our techs are all certified, the shop is fully insured and we offer our employees above-average benefits for our industry.

“Realistically, none of this means a thing to you other than the simple fact that I wouldn’t be comfortable discounting this or any other repair just to create ‘busy’ work for the shop. As it happens, we are busy…Busy enough to remain focused on the work already in the shop that is estimated fairly and reflects the quality of workmanship, warranty, parts and the 30 years we’ve been in the community.”

And then I suggested that he look for a body shop willing to do the work at a “negotiated” price.

When times are tough and conditions challenging, when customers sense it might be a good time to play “Let’s Make A Deal,” concepts like hope and desire, character traits like discipline and determination, and the physical realities of time in the community, technical expertise, quality workmanship, commitment, desire, caring and warranty just may give you the strength and courage it takes to say, “Let’s not!”

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