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?
By Joe Marconi
As I walked in the customer waiting room, I witnessed a customer yelling at one of my service advisors. Being a professional, she kept silent and let the man vent. He was complaining that the brakes we just installed were squealing and that this was unacceptable and wanted an answer to WHY this happened.
I stood back for a minute and usually do not get into the middle. It is better to let the advisor handle the situation. But this was different. As is voice increased in volume, my patience diminished.
Finally, I stepped in, and with my voice raised a few decibels, said, "Sir, why do you feel the need to yell. We are talking about a brake squeal. This is not a problem. A problem is when you are laying in a hospital bed with tubes down your throat and hooked up to life support. Put things into perspective. Just let me know when I can look at the brakes."
His entire mood changed. He said, "Yes, I guess you are right. I will check my schedule and get back to you."
I don't know if he will come back or not. But, in this situation, it was more important to let my service advisor feel that I had her back.