Mitch Schneider: Then Why'd You Do It?

Mitch Schneider: Then Why’d You Do It?

I just returned from a business meeting that took me out of the shop for three days. Not a big trip, but certainly long enough to realize just how good the people you depend on are when you're gone or how they convince you never to leave again!

By Mitch Schneider
Contributing Editor

   I just returned from a business meeting that took me out of the shop for three days. Not a big trip, but certainly long enough to realize just how good the people you depend on are when you’re gone or how they convince you never to leave again!

In this case, it was the former: Everyone did well. It was well after noon when I arrived at LAX and by the time I got my car and hit the freeway I should have gone straight home from the airport. But, I’m not wired that way. Unless the shop was closed and it was too late to catch anyone there, everyone who knows me knows that I’d “stop by” just to make sure everything was OK.

The first thing I noticed was that it was quiet — too quiet, in fact. The next thing I noticed was the empty chair in the office and the absence of my lead drivability tech. Where were they? They were on their way back from downtown Los Angeles.

Why were they coming back from downtown LA? A vehicle that we had replaced a master cylinder on the day before was stranded there after the brakes had locked up. With me out of the office, the people I had left in the office had to decide what to do — send a tow truck the 50 or 60 miles into LA, or send the office manager and lead drivability tech. They chose the latter.

I make it a point never to challenge the decisions my employees make when I’m not there. There are many ways to the top of the mountain and the path that I would have chosen isn’t the only one. In fact, sometimes it isn’t even the best one. I’m more interested in results, and they did everything they could to keep a client and salvage an otherwise bad situation.

We inspected the vehicle after it arrived. The master cylinder on the vehicle seemed identical to its predecessor in every respect. In fact, we even went so far as to measure the travel of each piston. That’s when we noticed that the recess in the old master cylinder was slightly deeper than the recess on the new one — barely enough to notice unless you are really looking, but enough to cause a residual pressure build-up after the vehicle had been driven for awhile.

We called our supplier, alerted them to what was going on and requested a replacement. They didn’t have one and couldn’t get one quickly enough to satisfy us or a customer who had already been severely inconvenienced. We ordered another master from a second source, completed the job and submitted the failed master for both a credit and a labor claim.

Yesterday, our supplier called to inform me that even though the master he sent us was in a “familiar” box, it had been manufactured by a company that had gone out of business a couple of years before so there would be no warranty on the master other than a credit for the return. There just wasn’t anyone to get it from!

My response was simple: If you don’t have anyone to talk to, no one to warrant the part then why did you sell it to me? Why’d ya’ do it?

The reasoning was just as simple: Because, it was on the shelf. Because, someone needed it. And, because if it worked, it wouldn’t have made any difference.

But, it didn’t work and it did make a difference. I had a disappointed customer, the expense of sending two people on a 100-mile round trip to rescue a vehicle and a customer in a rental car.

What do you do?

I know what I have to do. I have to cover the rental. I have to pay my people. I had to replace the master and eat the labor. And, I’ll probably have to reconsider who I call for the next master, or at least stop and ask who made the part and whether or not they are still around.

What should the supplier do?

My first suggestion is don’t sell anything you can’t warranty and you can’t warranty parts manufactured by companies that no longer exist. My next suggestion is if you do sell it, recognize that you are accepting the risk and warrant it yourself!

If you aren’t prepared to accept that risk, be prepared for someone to ask: “Then, why’d you do it?”

Mitch Schneider co-owns and operates Schneider’s Automotive Service in Simi Valley, CA.

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