One Penny at a Time
One year I thought I’d try something to drum up some new business. I’ll try a cash discount for large jobs. Maybe this will bring in those new customers. It sounded like a good idea at the time, but as they say, “The best laid plans of mice and men….” certainly got involved on this little adventure.
The cash discount was going to run for a month, just to see if it was going to work. All expectations looked promising. Jobs from a few weeks earlier had been contacted and informed of the new promotion to see if they’d like to reschedule that big job they were putting off. Almost all of them set an appointment before the promotion deadline. Soon, the shop was bustling with new activity and jobs were getting stacked up waiting for an open service bay. Unfortunately, as usual, there’s always one sourpuss who has to ruin all the fun for everyone else.
Mr. Gripey came to the shop for an engine swap. He was your typical bargain hunter/never going to be a regular/always had a complaint type customer. As he put it, “I’m going to be your number 1 customer, if you can get me done on time.” I assured Mr. Gripey that everyone is our number 1 customer here and we would do everything we could to get him done, within reason, in a timely manner.
It was just another Ford Ranger V6 engine swap. Nothing different from any other V6 Ranger we’ve done. That is except for Mr. Gripey, of course. His periodic snooping and interrogating questioning of the mechanic (and his mentor) about the job was relentless. It never fails, you get a snoopy-arrogant person barging in on the work the outcome is the same. It spells d-i-s-a-s-t-e-r every time something like this happens. I was prepared for the inevitable and personally took on the job of double checking every part, every fastener, and every existing blemish on the vehicle just to be sure there was nothing Mr. Gripey could question once the job was completed.
The engine slipped back in place without a hitch, and every nut and bolt was torqued down to specs. Everything was going as planned, except for one small detail. The promised date of delivery. Because of the work load and the arrival of the replacement engine, we missed his scheduled time of departure from the service bay by one whole day. This was all the fodder Mr. Gripey needed to begin his wrath of expletives and insults as to how awful we’ve made the entire experience. Was I surprised? No, not at all. Now he wanted an even bigger discount than what the promotion had offered. I offered my condolences and gave a bit more off the top of the cost of the job. That wasn’t good enough. He wanted it for free now. Of course, that’s not going to happen. Now, he has decided to refuse to pay for the job.
Several days passed between unanswered phone calls and messages left for Mr. Gripey to return for his vehicle. The daily reconnoitering of the service bay when his truck was being serviced came to an end too. The mechanic and his apprentice mentor were relieved to move onto the next project. Me, I was still stuck with the task of collecting the balance on the job. Which, is usually a rather pleasant experience filled with smiles and thank yous followed by a check, credit card, or cash. But, not this time.
A week has gone by and Mr. Gripey hasn’t made an entrance yet. Time for one more phone call, but this time with a little added incentive. Mr. Gripey is going to be informed about storage charges for keeping his little pickup behind locked doors and that the charges would keep adding up until he showed up. He was given a grace period until the end of the week, and if we didn’t hear from him by then… the storage charges would start from the day of this phone call.
It’s no surprise, Mr. Gripey managed to show up at the shop that very afternoon. “I’m here to pay my bill and get my truck out of your $&^#*!!! shop,” he said, in a very disgruntled manner. I gave him the total and said, “That’ll be cash, sir.” I wasn’t about to give this guy a chance to walk out with the keys with anything less than a paid in full with good ol' “American currency” and a completed repair singed off. Mr. Gripey turned around and went out to his car and returned with three large bank bags. He tossed the bags onto the counter and said, “Here ya go. Count it if you feel like it.” The bags were full of good old American currency alright, all of it … … … entirely pennies.
“I’ll take my truck now. If you don’t mind,” Mr. Gripey said. I looked at the pile of coins starting to pour slowly out of the split open bag and looked back up at Mr. Gripey, “Uhm, sir, this is legal tender alright, but this is no way to pay your bill. But, in your case I’ll accept the payment only after it has been fully counted,” I said to him, trying to stare down his angry gaze, “So, just have a seat and I’ll get this counted and when it has been counted I’ll gladly hand the keys over to you.” Mr. Gripey hadn’t planned his little caper out as well as he had thought. He thought I was just going to hand the keys over and I’d be stuck with several hours of counting pennies while he was long gone with a smirk on his face thinking he just pulled a fast one on a repair shop. The fact is, he wasn't getting the keys until I had every last penny was counted.
With some help from the crew, we sat in the front office counting each and every penny one after another. And no, I wasn’t about to give the guy the satisfaction of taking the bags to the bank and have them counted. I wanted him to sit there waiting the hours it took to have it all hand counted. It was by far the best bonding time I had with the crew. As we counted we talked about jobs in the shop, what was coming up next, tools, where we wanted to be in the next few years, our families, kids, and pastimes.
Indirectly, Mr. Gripey did us all a huge favor by allowing us all to have a few hours of time together away from the wrenches. We kept at it until we finished and never once did we remain quiet or stop for breaks. By the time the last penny was counted we were all tired of stacking pennies. We could finally get up from our chore and get Mr. Gripey out the door with his truck and warranty paper work. His warranty has expired a long time ago and if it was no surprise, he never did come back for even an oil change.
I’ve been paid with all kinds of things over the years. From a stack of Susan B Anthony coins to a case of beer. But, this was the first time anyone paid for an entire job with sacks full of pennies. Just for the record, if there is a next time… I’m not counting all those pennies again. I’ll let the bank to do it and make the guy come back the next day. Just don’t tell Mr. Gripey that. He still may need another lesson or two on how to act civil at a repair shop. Even if it is one penny at a time.