Building a Canoe
Have you ever noticed when you’re relaxing at home, or at work trying to accomplish something, sooner or later somebody comes along and asks, “So, whatcha doin’?” It happens to me all the time. Around my house though, there’s a typical answer you’ll get if you ask such a question, and that’s, “I’m building a canoe.” Meaning, “It’s not all that important what I was doing. Thanks for caring, but I’d like to get back to what I was doing.” It’s a running joke at my house. Nobody takes it seriously. It seems at my house, no matter what the situation is, somebody is building a canoe somewhere. Now at the shop, well, I’m not sure anyone would understand “building a canoe”, and it definitely wouldn’t be appropriate. But, I’ve certainly had my fair share of chances to shout it out from time to time.
Take the typical phone call that asks, “If you’re not real busy right now, I’ve only got a couple of questions I’d like to ask.” Not a problem, nothing is as important as helping the next person in line. Go ahead and ask, but if the questions seem to be from the far side of the lake I might start answering with nautical terms or what size oars I’m carving out. By then, you’ll know I’m probably not following your line of questions too closely.
Let’s face it, I’m just a mechanic. According to some, I’m supposed to have more in common with a Neanderthal than a rocket scientist. Figuratively speaking of course. But, at the same time, I’m supposed to have the solution for any type of problem at a moment’s notice, and know exactly the cost of each and every part from each and every manufacturer cataloged in my brain, and if I can’t answer their question with the answer they expected I must either be a Neanderthal, or I’ve spent way too much time building canoes and not on my chosen profession.
It goes back to the old school of thought that it doesn’t take a lot of brain cells to do this job. I’m not sure where that comes from, or how it ever got started. But, if you’ve watched a few old TV shows from the 50’s and 60’s it’s pretty clear that the portrayal of a mechanic is almost always one of a dopy guy with a greasy rag hanging out of his pocket who couldn’t hold an intelligent conversation with anything beyond a boat oar. That perception has gotta change, these days it takes a highly trained, technically savvy mechanic to diagnose and repair the modern car.
Like many professional mechanics, I don’t spend my time under the hood of a car to answer questions. I’m there to do my job, and that’s fix the car. But, there are those occasions when one of those rubberneckers is leaning over the fender and you know at some point they’re going to ask, “Whatcha doing now?” I seriously want to break out into a long dissertation of how I’ve been building this canoe. It’s probably best I don’t paddle in that direction, as I’d have to explain the canoe thing.
Being so involved in your work is one thing. Being asked questions while you’re working is another. Sometimes it’s not a problem, while other times it throws you so far off you’ve got to regroup your thoughts and start all over again. I’ve often wondered how a psychologist would interpret some of the things I hear at the shop. Maybe I really don’t want know, maybe I’m the crazy one and everyone else is just building their own canoes.
A perfect example was a hot afternoon with several jobs going all at once. The shop was buzzing and everybody was super busy when this guy came to the service counter. “Ya got a second? OK, OK, like… I changed the starter, the battery, and the ignition switch. Then, I changed the window switch, all the relays, and the fuel pump. I was told it could be the power steering pump, so I changed that too, and while I was at it, me and a buddy replaced the heater core. So, so, how much do ya charge to look at my car?”
For me, I prefer the logical approach to answering customer’s questions. That is to answer each and every one of their concerns correctly and professionally. But in this case, which end of the canoe are we talking about? I’m not quite sure what I was really asked. There I am just paddling along (working out in the shop), doing my thing, and when I pull up to the shore line (run up to the service counter) somebody starts telling me about what parts they changed on their car and not necessarily problems I’m capable of solving. Do I ask this guy, “I take it the car doesn’t start?” or do I answer the only question that I actually heard? Is there more than one canoe involved in this story, or have I been paddling on the wrong lake all this time?
By now, I should have a whole fleet of canoes. But, I never ever seem to finish the first one, before I’m swept downstream on another adventure. There’s always another job, another phone call, and another, “Hey, do ya got a second to answer some questions?” Which usually leads to another canoe.
Working on cars, and all this high tech razzle dazzle stuff can be a trying effort, but it’s what mechanics do every day. It’s one of those jobs that seems easy, but in reality, it’s not. It’s something that not everyone is cut out for. It has its rewards as well as its down sides. But for the most part it’s a great career choice and if you’re like me, finding and fixing the problems is what it’s all about. However, I wouldn’t mind building canoes as a career choice either. It’s another one of those jobs where working with your hands is the only way of getting things accomplished, and I’m definitely a hands on type of guy.
We all could use a little more time to just float along and enjoy the gentle current and scenery. You know, take in the big picture for a change, and realize none of us really have it that bad after all. Maybe a little less of that rush-rush and hurry up-stay-on schedule in our lives. Mechanic or canoe builder, every trade has their issues. But, when the day is done, and we have that moment to sit back and forget about the shop or that next car we’ve got to work on, it’s the perfect time to day dream about a leisurely float down a lazy river. So, as you’re sitting there in your easy chair, smiling, taking in that imaginary scenery and somebody comes along and asks, “Whatcha doin’?” just tell them… “I’m building a canoe.” It’ll be our little secret.
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For the past 18 months I have noticed that the overwhelming advice for shop owners is to get the customer in ASAP. If they want an oil change NOW you accommodate them. I have been using this method for the past year and for the most part it has been a miss for me and I will explain...
In my shop we work on a high ARO and smaller car count. We are also mostly appointment based. This has worked well for us because we can spend quality time on an inspection and repairs to provide the best service. The thing we do best that has generated high dollars is our ability to properly inspect and sell the inspection list which many times can be thousands of dollars in additional work. What has been a problem for us is the waiter oil changes and the people that want NOW NOW NOW. Generally these are people who want nothing more than an oil change. They want to wait around for their oil change and have little time to spend if additional work is necessary. The probability of that customer leaving and coming back to get the estimate work done is rather low. The highest percentage we have for selling work is absolutely when customer drop off their vehicles and can authorize work from the comfort of their home or work. The NOW customer and the waiter oil change become more of a waste of time than an opportunity. Have we generated some good clients from the now customers? Yes. The percentage however is low compared to all the NOW and waiter customers we serve.
What I am working on now is explaining our value for every possible NOW customer and oil change. We explain to them we provide an oil SERVICE and don't perform oil changes. We explain and sell the value of our inspection, people, and culture. We do the best we can to convey why we are very different from any other shop and why they are making the right choice in bringing their vehicle to us. If after all this is explained and the customer is still insistent on NOW and waiting then we say NO and we are better off for it.
Our business model may be slightly different than yours but I'd love to hear your thoughts. Have you found trouble with selling to NOW and waiter customers?
Saw this elsewhere and asked permission to share the video. The shop really made the mistake with the customer here - in the same respect if the shop didn't do what they said that's a big mistake!
I removed some names to protect the folks involved.
A few months ago I was needing head gaskets put on my Excursion (yes, 6.0 diesel). I had been driving it with them blown for a few months, it ran fine, just built too much pressure in the system (17-20psi). It never really got oil in the coolant, but it did push some out of the reservoir at times. Anyways, I needed headgaskets/studs.
I was referred to a guy up in Madison by Snappy named Jerome, I talked with him a few times on the phone as I am very particular about my Excursion and I HATE paying a mechanic to do anything on it. Local guy near me is a Ford guru (trucks unlimited) that seems to know his stuff, but I just don't really like him (cocky, and gets mad when asked to diagnose a problem but not fix it, to further go into detail on that I got him to scan my Excursion with his snap-on scanner, offered to pay him to scan it, he said no, but gets mad when I want to fix the issue myself--injectors)
Anyways, so works for himself, low overhead, which makes the price cheaper to repair. He quoted me $3k for the below:
Taking heads to be checked/machined at machine shop
Headgaskets (ford OEM)
some various little seals and other stuff (which I question if he actually replaced--turbo drain line and such)
Anyways, I SPECIFICALLY told him I wanted the heads taken to a machine shop to be checked for cracks, and machined if need be. He said OK.
My mistake, I didn't get anything in writing before taking him the Excursion...
Anyways, he said 3-day turnaround, I took it on Monday afternoon. He was nice enough to let me come up while the body was off to do some minor stuff to it (I replaced brakelines with SS lines, replaced the radiator with a Mishimoto, and replaced the water pump with a BP Diesel one). All this was done when he was not even working on it, so I wasn't in his way. Anyways, as of Thursday he still hadn't taken the heads off, but said he took them to be machined on Thursday evening and would pick them up from Greensboro (he led me to believe they would be machined at a shop in Greensboro) Friday morning. I went up Friday morning, when I was leaving I called to see if he wanted me to pick them up--he said he was 'there' so he had already picked them up (why drive 30+ minutes to Greensboro and not KNOW they were done?--he didn't actually say he went to Greensboro though). So anyways, I got there, felt like he was lying about having the heads checked, so I took pictures of the heads (they had just been scuffed with a scotch brite wheel, they had NOT been machined). This is where it gets uglyI asked him again where he took them, he then changed his story and said such and such, gave me some long drawn out story about how the guy at A1 had a new machine and he wanted to see it in action... I went out at lunch to go to Orielly's, I stopped by machine shop just because I felt he was lying to me, the guy at shop said he hadn't touched a set of 6.0 heads in 6+ months. I needed to take the Excursion to the beach (left on the following Monday), so I didn't even mention I knew he had lied about this, because honestly, I didn't want him working on it KNOWING I knew he was lying about doing a proper job. He told me Friday it would be done Saturday by 2pm. As of Saturday at 7pm I had not heard from him, so I decided to go up to the shop (granted, it is an hour away from my house), he called me back about 8pm and said it would be Sunday or late that night, I told him to come fix it that evening and I'd take it home Saturday night. He had told me on the phone a couple things that he was held up on, one was he couldn't figure out the Oil cooler lines, but surprise surprise, the oil cooler lines were hooked up properly when he showed up (I was at the shop waiting on him).
Anyways, I helped him finish everything, bleed brakes, body bolts, etc. We got it running about 11pm or so, took it on a test drive, came back, tweaked the exhaust (was rubbing) and buttoned up a couple other things.
Then came the time to pay.... I started videoing with my phone discreetly, got him to write up everything on a bill, then I blew the news that I knew he had lied, of course he denied it. I ended up paying him $2k instead of $3k, I honestly feel I gave him too much and I should not have paid for anything more than just parts, BUT I also feel he is a good mechanic and was just trying to take a shortcut. He had said before he'd offer a 1-year warranty, at that point I knew I wouldn't bring it back to him regardless, he was cussing, coming up with lies to cover himself, etc. He was not happy, nor was I.
I had originally decided not to post this, but after talking with him again today (2+ months after he had done the work) and seeing he is not even willing to try and make it right and fess up to his screw up, I feel it needs to be said. If you take something to him, WATCH HIM LIKE A HAWK. I think he is a good mechanic but will cut corners that should NOT be cut (if these heads are cracked I just wasted $2k, but it might take awhile to show up). Some heads I might agree they might not need to be checked, but NOT a ford 6.0 head.
Anyways, I found a coolant leak today, it was dripping off the backside of the passenger side head so I thought it was the gasket (I had a pressure tester on it and it was dripping pretty bad). I called, he called me back a little later (not knowing it was me), in the time after I first called him to the time he called me back, I found it was actually part of the EGR delete system that was leaking. I tell him on the phone who I was, that I thought the gaskets were leaking but I found he was off the hook (granted, I knew he'd not stand behind his work, but I wanted to give him a chance). He didn't want to hear anything (even when I said he was off the hook), told me I hadn't paid in full so there was no warranty, cussed a few times, and hung up.
ADD ON: Well he just called me again while I have been typing this, said I need to pay the remainder of the bill or he will take me to court (I am not real worried as I never signed any work order, so if he writes one up and signs my name it will be forging my name).
Moral of the story: Get a work order stating ALL work to be done, and most of all, DON'T trust mechanics unless you know them well! If you want to watch the videos and see if you agree he was lying feel free: (there are a couple out of order)
There's multiple videos.
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So, earlier today I was on Ratchet and Wrench Magazine and I ran across this article which I found to be very interesting. (or maybe a mistake?)
What I"m talking about is this: The article states that the shop does 700 vehicles a month with a annual revenue of $550,000. That brings the ARO to about $65.48. Is it a completely different business model than what I'm (or most of us) are striving for? I mean, it doesn't look like a quick lube, but it's the home of the $10 oil change. And in my experience (and I believe in all of yours) doing something like a $10 oil change only brings in the "bottom feeders."
Now please don't get me wrong - I am by no means dissing this shop, I do not know them or their business.
But it seems that everything that I've ever learned on ASO goes against how this guy is surviving?
I just found this article interesting and thought it would start a good discussion.
Hope you all are having a great day!