Never Relax Your Standards

Donny Seyfer

Donny Seyfer

I had a customer walk into the shop the day I began writing this column. He owned an older car, with lots of miles on it. He wasn’t one of our regular customers, but he wanted to get his car repaired “cheap” so he could “get another year out of it.”

Like most of you, that little voice in the back of my head was not so little anymore. It was screaming, “Run away!” Coincidentally, the mail came that same day with my latest edition of AutoInc. magazine that contained an article by Pete Rudloff. Pete wrote about helping customers understand the cost-per-mile of owning transportation. As I considered Pete’s words and some of what the not-so-little voice was saying, I thought I would share some of my related thoughts with you.

Regardless of your repair discipline, there is a dynamic that’s been around for several years and appears to be worth noticing. Average vehicle age is a decade. With the way things are built, it likely will get longer. Couple that with an average vehicle purchase price going north of $40,000, and it looks as if we’re in for more customers who have rolled six digits on their odometer more than once, and 30/60/90K maintenance is not common; it’s the exception.

Customers need different advice, and, man, could I use a crystal ball when a guy with a 277,000-mile F-150 asks, “Can you get it to last another year and make it pass emissions? Oh, and it’s not worth much, so what do you think it’s going to cost?” Or for my collision friends, “Can’t you just knock the dent out and get the color close?”
As craftsmen, those sorts of questions make us cringe. I wonder, though, can we afford to indulge in the double standard: “This car is old, so I will lower my quality,” and “This car is new, so I will bring all my talents to the table.”

That approach raises problems with customer expectations and confused employees. For example, what about the woman who drives a 15-year-old Honda and expects your best? Why shouldn’t she? Or what if you do cut-rate work on cars that are only expected to last another year or so, and your customers start to hear they can get it done cheap at your place?
It seems to me that this creates a misperception of the quality and reliability of your work that serves neither the shop nor the customer well.

I can’t answer those questions for your business model, but my sense is that when you work on vehicles for nice people who take care of their cars and expect the best from you, the benefits to you are lower warranty rates, satisfied and loyal customers and happier employees.

Every time I’ve relaxed my standards to try to “help someone out” by giving the work away, it has cost me considerably more than it would have by doing the job right.