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Old Sarge - We should remember our vets, and not just on the 11th of Nov.


Gonzo

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Old Sarge

I met this great man through his son, who happened to be the driver of that Chevy van from the furniture store that was my very first customer. Sarge isn’t his real name, but that’s what I called him. He was a retired Marine Corps cook. I met him one day when he came in with a sick Cadillac.

The old Cadillac hardly had any power at all; just as slow and lazy as a snail. I was only in business for a few months, and didn’t know anybody. I didn’t have any work to speak of, so even though it wasn’t an electrical problem (as he originally thought), I jumped right in and found the problem. It was a clogged catalytic converter. Unbelievably, it wasn’t even welded in place. I could take off the clamps,

and remove it without much hassle.

Back then I didn’t have a lift to put the car in the air, so I had to do the whole job on the ground. Well, old Sarge just sat there and watched me do the whole thing. I think he was a little suspicious of this skinny little white kid who was hacking away at his car, but he patiently waited, being the good man he was. We got to talking about things, and it wasn’t long before he found out that I was also in Marine Corps. Now we had some common ground. We were buds for life, always cutting up with each other.

One hot August afternoon Sarge brought in one of his other cars to get some work done. I had the back door to the shop open, and Sarge steps outside for a little fresh air. I thought I could hear the guy crying or mumbling something, couldn’t tell which it was. I stuck my head around the corner, “Sarge, ah …. you ok, buddy?” I asked. tp.gif

He proceeded to tell me how the house he grew up in was close by, before it became a shopping center. He talked about his dad and family, and how he hunted rabbits right where we were standing. It was during the Depression. Hard times, and things were scarce in those days. How his dad hid a pig in a pit, not too far from here. Where they kept the corn mash for making moon shine. I sat and listened to this hardened Marine tell me his life’s story that day, from his first car to how he ended up in the Corps. I didn’t answer the phone, or go up front to see if anyone came in. I just sat out there in that August heat, drenched in sweat, listening to this fella tell me his life story.

I’ll never forget that afternoon. I’ll also never forget how every time he came to my shop over the next 25 years he would sneak up on me, and yell in a drill instructor voice, “TEN HUT!” I would snap to attention just like a good Marine should. Sometimes, just to get a rise out of Sarge I would purposely hit my head on the hood of the car I was working on. He got a kick out of it every time.

Sarge passed away a couple years back. I still think about him now and then. I hope he’s up there hunting rabbits, or something. Maybe he’s guarding the gates like every Marine hopes to be doing when their time comes. Or, he could be just waiting there to try and surprise me with one more “TEN HUT” when I show up.

Sarge, I miss having you around the shop.


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If you've read my book or have been following my articles you've already read this story. It's one of my favorites as well as a dear friend in this story.

 

This story is more than just about a veteran, but more of how people interact with our professional lives we live. Even though, professional, we are there to provide a service but you're also creating life long friendships with that person on the other side of the counter.

 

There are so many different levels of these customer/friends that it's hard to pin down or categorize them, but you can bet you'll have more than a few. For those who are just starting out in the business, just wait... you'll see what I mean, and for those who have been around as long as I have... you already know.

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  • 6 months later...

For Memorial Day, a time to remember all the men and women that gave their lives for our country. I would like to include all those who have served and were injured or incapacitated from their encounters during their years of service. Old Sarge was one of those guys.

 

Semper Fi

 

A hand salute to all that gave all they could to keep our country proud and free.

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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

         5 comments
      I recently spoke with a friend of mine who owns a large general repair shop in the Midwest. His father founded the business in 1975. He was telling me that although he’s busy, he’s also very frustrated. When I probed him more about his frustrations, he said that it’s hard to find qualified technicians. My friend employs four technicians and is looking to hire two more. I then asked him, “How long does a technician last working for you.” He looked puzzled and replied, “I never really thought about that, but I can tell that except for one tech, most technicians don’t last working for me longer than a few years.”
      Judging from personal experience as a shop owner and from what I know about the auto repair industry, I can tell you that other than a few exceptions, the turnover rate for technicians in our industry is too high. This makes me think, do we have a technician shortage or a retention problem? Have we done the best we can over the decades to provide great pay plans, benefits packages, great work environments, and the right culture to ensure that the techs we have stay with us?
      Finding and hiring qualified automotive technicians is not a new phenomenon. This problem has been around for as long as I can remember. While we do need to attract people to our industry and provide the necessary training and mentorship, we also need to focus on retention. Having a revolving door and needing to hire techs every few years or so costs your company money. Big money! And that revolving door may be a sign of an even bigger issue: poor leadership, and poor employee management skills.
      Here’s one more thing to consider, for the most part, technicians don’t leave one job to start a new career, they leave one shop as a technician to become a technician at another shop. The reasons why they leave can be debated, but there is one fact that we cannot deny, people don’t quit the company they work for, they usually leave because of the boss or manager they work for.
      Put yourselves in the shoes of your employees. Do you have a workplace that communicates, “We appreciate you and want you to stay!”
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