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Your Letters Can Help Us All Realize Our Intrinsic Value
In the March issue of Engine Builder, I suggested that, when you have a spare minute, you contact us here at the magazine to tell us how business is, offer an editorial suggestion, pose a question or give us a shop tip that helps you maintain your profitability.
By Doug Kaufman
Since that time, I’ve made a number of new contacts via email and good old fashioned telephone calls that will most likely lead to great articles in future issues of this magazine. We’ve also heard positive feedback about the magazine (and, frankly, about the fiber and strength of the people in this industry) as well as some not-so-gentle reminders that, despite what our mothers say, we are not perfect.
It’s great to be able to share your comments with the rest of the readership when we can, because I think each of you has something to offer the others, which can only make us all stronger.
Chris Young, from Air Skipper Inc., in Camino, CA, suggests that emulating other industries can be a sound business move...if you choose that industry carefully.
“Steve Rich of Sterling Bearing in Missouri, in the May 2010 issue of Engine Builder, has a good point about adding the incidental charges in a rebuild to the invoice of an unsuspecting customer. Please be advised, however, that his comparison of our industry to the “airline flight rates” is a disaster for us waiting to happen.
“Airlines are almost always going under government protection of their debt, downsizing, going broke, etc. Customers routinely reject the latest marketing gimmick the airlines foist on them.
“I hope to shout that my neighboring competitor (if I had one) compares himself, his shop, his services and his quality to the airlines if he did so then I would be happy as a pig in slop. Anyone who wants their business to falter and be made up of smoke and mirrors should continue to model themselves after the airlines.
“Granted, Steve’s point is good, as far as it goes. A more accurate and meaningful thing to tell the customer is something along the lines that “Your cost is approximately 68% taxes, 1.5 % profit, 19% legal fees, 8% insurance, and the like.” Yes, admittedly, this stretches the numerical comprehension of many customers, but I would recommend that after educating them along these lines, we say “...but we do this all the time and you will be very satisfied with the product we give you and we guarantee it.
“Anyway, please continue to tell all my competitors to emulate the airlines. Whatever an airline does customer service-wise, we should do the opposite of!”
Chris makes a valid point. “Airline customer service” ranks right up there with “jumbo shrimp” and “paid volunteer” in the oxymoron category. But Steve’s original theory that absorbing those incidental costs is business suicide is also valid, of course. How do YOU handle the situation in your shop? If you have a method of getting the job without giving away the farm, let us know...unless, like Chris, you’re happier if your competition doesn’t know the secrets to success!
Another note came from reader John Johnson, who definitely took a trip in the Wayback Machine.
“I just reread your article written, I believe, in 2001 on small engine repair. Great article. It may even be more pertinent now than back then.
“I have done small engine repairs for a number of years but it always took a back seat to my logging business and heavy truck repairs. However, my grandson has been racing go-karts for three years and I have taken to this with increased interest.
“I am now 63 years old and it’s time to wrestle something a little smaller than a 3406 Cat motor. Besides, this is really exciting and interesting. You get to work with young minds and youthful enthusiasm. What more could an old geezer ask for?
“My machine work has started to cost a little bit and I really want to do more research and development.” His plan, John says, is to open a small engine machine shop, utilize local retired machinists and rejuvenate his enthusiasm in this industry. He says he’s currently researching what his equipment needs are because his and his coworkers’ experience has been in the heavy industrial segments.
Opening a new business in this economic climate? Madness! Or is it? It will be challenging, certainly, but if the market is there, why not take advantage of it? John’s experience is that he can’t get the work he needs done anywhere else. Chances are, neither can the people his grandson is competing against. In that case, the customers may be flocking to his door as soon as he can show that his new small engine performance skills are as good as his old heavy-duty truck engine skills.
The caution that Chris makes still holds true, of course, and is good advice for all of us. Don’t be tempted to compete on price alone or be held hostage by price shoppers just to get a job.
The experience and professionalism you bring to the table are valuable, marketable traits. Don’t sell yourself short.