By David Glenn Cox
I am approaching the end of my business career, and I can’t wait to end it. Modern American business has become moribund with rules made somewhere else by someone who has never done the job themselves in the first place. With computer generated manifestos filled with non-sense with absolutely zero interest in their customers or their employees. I was hired by an auto parts company back before dirt was a new idea to drive a delivery truck. My job was to deliver parts and not wreck the truck. I was young and noticed a lot of older guys worked there. Men with gray hair who owned their own homes. Clearly, I could make a living doing this.
I was hired at minimum wage and filled out a one-page application with a photocopy of my driver’s license. After a month, I was given a traditional fifty-cent per hour raise. My hours were 8 to 5 Monday Through Friday and four hours on Saturday. I was a full-fledged counter man. I watched the older guys who knew how to make wheel cylinder kits we didn’t have in stock out of two kits we did. Get the customer going and reorder the parts and write that down in the margin of your catalog for next time. The goal was to make it easy for the customer to do business with you. You were the path of least resistance. If there was a part anywhere in the store you can have it. I’ll rob a gasket from a gasket set and send you on your way and reorder it the same day.
Accommodation works wonders; it showed the customer that you were not only knowledgeable but willing to go out of your way to earn his business. I was promoted to the companies Industrial Department selling and rebuilding Industrial engines. I had this mechanic who couldn’t manage to get to work on time. Today the answer is simple, warn him once and then fire him. But Eddie was the best damn mechanic in town. He was great with the customers and worked miracles when he was there. We used to have a saying, “If Eddie couldn’t fix it, it was broke.” He made his real money in his driveway turning wrenches at night and only worked for me for the insurance on his wife and three kids. We really couldn’t afford anyone of Eddie’s caliber, but we had this accommodation and sometimes Eddie was late.
Often my customers would call and ask about parts that we didn’t carry. I made sure if I didn’t have it, I knew who did. I’d provide a telephone number and a contact name. After a few years, I had contacts for anything you might ever need. I was training my customers to call me first. If I didn’t have the part, I’d have the answer. “I’d say here is the guys name and number or if you like, I’ll just get him to drop ship it and I’ll bill you.” I offered; I gave the customer options. The customer was in charge. I didn’t tell them this was the hoop you had to jump through to do to get the part. My customers respected me because I treated them as adults and wasn’t just trying to sell product. So, when I’d say, you ought to stock one of those they’d say, okay send me one.
I kept call notes in spiral notebooks and dated the covers. “Yes, I bought a camshaft from you last June and I need another one.” Okay, what was your company name? I’ll call you back in ten minutes. Today, everything that I’ve just described to you will get you fired.
After 2010 and the economic emergency, I was forced to take a job with Green Auto Parts. That’s close enough. But you never open packages, you tell the customer that you’ll order one and he can have it tomorrow. Did you really need to put that water pump on today, when you could take a nice bus to work? “Gee, you’re inconvenienced, and we don’t care, because if he takes that gasket out of that set. The computer won’t allow him to bill the part because the computer says you don’t have one. So, you have to bill it out as miscellaneous which won’t tell the computer to reorder one. Nine dollars’ worth of trouble for a dollar fifty sale. Not trouble for the customer, trouble for the employee. The message sent to the employee is don’t rock the boat, because we don’t value your effort anyway. At Green, employees could turn water into wine in the parking lot, but you’re not getting a raise. Just to insult you, we might give you ten cents an hour. A Tractor Supply store opened across the street and I lost half my highly trained staff over twenty-five cents an hour. The message was chiseled in stone, WE DON’T VALUE YOU! My biggest task was to juggle people, so everyone got the time off they requested but never got the hours they needed to make a decent living. The message sent was clear, this is a dead-end job and so nobody in the store knows anything about anything that they weren’t told by someone who has never actually done it themselves. That’s why when you ask for wiper blades, they ask, “two-wheel or four-wheel drive?”
Someone in Missouri thought it was a good idea for my weekend employees in Ohio to work twelve hours shifts. This rule came from up on high and the fact that the positions became unstaffable was no reason to complain to management. Now Green had a cardinal rule, even if you’re shot or having chest pains you are not allowed to sit down. Twelve hours on your feet and not a chair or stool is available outside of the managers office. Corporate has determined that tired employees weary after long hours on their feet are superior to employees who rest occasionally. The reason is simple, Corporate thinks they’re all lazy bums only there to steal from them and ride the clock.
I opened a branch location for company that manufactured concrete trucks, my territory were the states adjoining Colorado. In places like Wyoming and Montana concrete companies shut down in winter. The company required me to make twenty sales calls per day into places that were closed four months a year. No answers and messages didn’t count. So, I’m making thirty and forty sales calls per day while living in a major metropolitan area. Ignoring $20 million dollars’ worth of business within ten miles of the front door. But the rule! Make those calls to Alaska in January and ask, “How’s business?” The companies answer was to do both and make more hours.
After a year I was given an assistant, remember the twenty-call rule? Well, now it was forty calls, 2×20 into the same territory, same wintertime. They had trained my assistant at the home office and after two weeks of training chose Friday of the last day to give him nearly two hours of training on managing the operating system. A computer system designed for manufacturing and not for sales. So, if it says we have those in inventory better call and make sure. History? Usage? It’s manufacturing system, it doesn’t know anything about sales.
I live in a dry climate and was given the gift of a humidifier but was told the element wears out and needs to be replaced occasionally. The brand name is a well-known drug store chain and there on the store shelf was my humidifier. But no elements and no place on the shelf for elements. They can make nine cents more selling Bubblious Bubble gum or a two-liter bottle of Coke. But what message are they sending me as a customer? When I’m looking for a simple multi-vitamin and there are 400 varieties on the shelf all in identically colored bottles, “Genius, pure genius! I bet I can make a display so complicated that no one ever buys vitamins from us again, but doesn’t it look nice? I think I’ll get those vitamins next time. The message: Do not try doing business with us, it will only lead to aggravation.
We don’t care and we don’t care if you don’t care that we don’t care. Call our friendly helpful customer service department in India. They’ll set you straight.