Concours Louisville

In the name of elegance

There are the normal problems you and I face trying to find the right part at the right price, problems exacerbated by the distribution centers that close the last half of December. Not to mention our employees’, our suppliers’, and our own brains seem to shut down for just about the same period of time. And there are the problems that come naturally when you try to push 20 percent more work out of an environment `comfortable’ with present production. All these realities contribute to the kind of physical and emotional exhaustion you probably know all too well.

psBy the time Christmas Eve rolls around I make Scrooge look like a party animal! I don’t want to answer the telephone. I don’t want to smile and say `Happy Holidays’. And I don’t want to be surrounded by throngs of people pushing, shoving, bumping, or in some other way invading my private space. All I want is to be left alone, slowly reducing speed so nothing breaks as I quietly come to a complete stop.

After that, I face the same kinds of `Honey, do …’ tasks most of us confront.

This morning, it was “Honey, please fix the shower handle in our bathroom. It’s broken again.” In the past, I’ve been absolutely brilliant when it comes to avoiding work around the house. Especially, when experiencing a complete and total meltdown. However, the shower handle is in our bathroom and there was no way to ignore it when my wife realized she couldn’t shut the water off! All of these realities forced me to leave the comfort and security of the couch and the remote control. Although, I have to tell you, my first plan of attack was to simply move the shower handle from the other bathroom into ours thus eliminating the source of my irritation. It was a good plan, even though it wouldn’t have worked for very long with a college-age daughter home for the Winter Break and marching back and forth to use our shower.

I broke down, removed the broken shower handle from the valve and headed off to the store. Sometimes, I think things happen to help teach us understanding and compassion for our customers. I know all I could think about as I drove to the store was the pressure some of our customers must feel as their husbands or wives push them to bring their car or truck in for service. Fixing the broken handle was something I had to do; it wasn’t something I wanted to do. There were other things much higher on my list of things-to-do, things like taking a nap! Recognizing that, I found myself feeling much better about fixing the broken shower valve.

I pulled into the parking lot of a local plumbing supply store and went inside to purchase the valve. I took the plastic valve out of my pocket, laid it on the counter, explained the problem and asked if there was a metal replacement handle less likely to fail as often. The young man behind the counter was pleasant and helpful. He walked over to a rack and immediately pulled a shiny chrome handle down and guaranteed that my problems were over. I smiled, purchased two of the handles, one for each bathroom and went home to install them. All I could think about as I opened the door to the shower was going `toes up’ on the couch again in order to resume my quest for the perfect, albeit, mindless diversion.

The handle did not fit. The inside diameter was too small to fit over the part of the lever assembly that changes the water temperature. I was not happy. Although, it was reassuring to note that ours is not the only industry in which getting the right part to the right person is an adventure. I got back into the car and headed for the plumbing supply store … again. I was frustrated. The store I had picked is a local merchant and not one of those giant building-supply super-stores. I like supporting local merchants in the community because that’s what we are and because I like to think the overall quality of service is better somehow. I like to think you are more likely to find someone with a pulse, someone capable of helping you or answering your questions in that kind of an environment. And, I like to think the extra value that comes from someone with a brain more than compensates for the slightly higher prices you are likely to pay.

The same young man came over to help me again. I explained the problem as he tried one shiny new chrome handle after another on the various mixing valve levers he took down for comparison purposes. None of them worked. Finally, a voice from the bowels of the stock room boomed out explaining that the chrome handle would only work with the companion chrome mixing valve lever. Plastic handles and metal levers were not interchangeable. I was on the verge of asking why not, when I remembered just how frustrating questions like that can be when asked across my service counter. Instead, I kept one metal handle for our shower, purchased a matching metal mix-it lever, returned one metal handle, and purchased a new plastic valve handle for the guest bathroom.

I was frustrated. I’d wasted a lot of time, precious time I planned to spend doing absolutely nothing. `Nothing time’ is extremely valuable time. I don’t get much of it. Consequently, I carefully guard what little I see. I suppose that’s why I almost lost it when the cashier made a joke out of my inconvenience. “How many more times before you “get it right?” she asked. “As many times as it takes to get it right!” I replied However, that wasn’t the question she should be concerned with. I explained that I had chosen to patronize their store instead of the mass marketer across the street to insure I would get the right kind of help: help that would result in only one trip to the store and not a series of trips. That objective had already been defeated.

Then I asked her why I should patronize their store if there was no difference in the quality of service between the mass-marketer across the street and them? Without extraordinary service, where was the value?

At that point, this customer relations fiasco took a strange turn. The young man who had helped me earlier asked if I had ever thought about a situation like this from the other guy’s perspective. I replied “I have. Have you?” He said he had. My next question was equally simple and yet he had no answer for me. “If you have, why didn’t you help me by asking the right questions or offering the right advice before I made my purchase and left the store?” At that point, the manager felt compelled to join the confusion. He wanted to know what the big deal was and when I told him, he didn’t seem to get it either.

All I wanted was to know why they would let me leave the store knowing there was a high probability I’d be back? None of them could answer the question, they couldn’t see where they might be wrong. After all, they gave me what I asked for … a metal handle. It wasn’t their fault it wouldn’t work.

They were right, it wasn’t. And I wasn’t willing to argue about it. I had more important things to do … things like, nothing. I went home, installed the handles, levers and valves and resumed my place on the couch. But, instead of doing nothing I found myself reflecting on what had just transpired. There were too many parallels with things that happen in our industry every day, too many reasons we have the public image and lack of respect we suffer, for me to feel comfortable. There are too many times the motorist gets what they ask for and not what they need; tune-ups that won’t cure a rough idle caused by a bad valve, and transmission services that won’t fix worn out overdrive clutch packs. And, yet, they are sold because that’s what was requested.

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