Paul Butler | Little car, big service

Paul Butler

We have a little car that we love very much, although the one aspect of owning this little car that we’ve liked least up until recently has been the constant cost of repairs. For a little car it has eaten up a large amount of “fix-it” dollars.

Until recently, we’d taken this little car to the little car dealership, but a while ago it closed down completely. Some blame COVID-19, but I am fast coming to the conclusion you can’t blame everything on this pesky pandemic. I think the little car dealership closed because they just weren’t doing right by the customer.

The thing about the golden rule is, if you don’t follow it through as a principle, it’ll soon turn to sawdust in your mouth. Every time we went to the little car dealership, they always found something of significance that needed repair. They consoled us with the good news that what needed to be done was covered under the warranty and so it wouldn’t cost us a penny. I’m no economic major but I realized two monetary concepts pretty quickly — firstly, someone is paying for the repair, if not us, and secondly, there’s a lot being billed back to the manufacturer for a car that surely shouldn’t need so much work done at just 2 or 3 years old?

We weren’t surprised to see the little car dealership close and, when we Googled the closest other little car dealership, we just couldn’t muster up the excitement to drive to Calabasas or Universal City. We love living local, so we wanted to spend local in the city we love — Santa Clarita.

We’d often been told that, to have work done on the little car, we needed to use little-car-trained-mechanics who had little-car-only tools. We’d also heard that another dealership in town was kind of a relation to the little car, so we decided to give them a try. The other dealership was very plush and even had free doughnuts. They had my car all day. I never received a call for a status update, so I checked in with less than an hour to go before closing time to find out it was done and ready. They’d promised to give it a wash but they clearly hadn’t. The glossy receptionist was too cool to smile or even look me in the eye. The only words we exchanged through our masks were, “credit card” and “here you go.” I vowed never to return.

The following morning, I was sharing my car gripes with my office mate — Big T. Without missing a beat, he suggested “my guy,” who he went to local high school with and had been using for more than 30 years. His shop wasn’t in a swanky area and they didn’t have free doughnuts, but Big T said they’d do right by me.

Recently, I had need to have some more work done on the little car, so I figured I’d give Big T’s recommendation a try. The first thing that blew me away was that they debunked the myth that I’d fallen for — that work on the little car had to be conducted by a little car dealership and employees of the little car dealership with special little car tools.

Kevin is what the locals call a “straight-shooter” and, although he didn’t have free doughnuts, his smile was very genuine and he evidently appreciated my business. He called me two or three times during the day and updated me on what they were doing. When I picked the car up, he explained in ways even I could understand what they had to fix and why. He treated me in a way he would like to have been treated. It was golden — so much so, I didn’t resent giving him one single dollar of the invoice value.

The workplace lessons I learned were simple and timeless — focus on providing superb service and not be concerned with all the fancy frills. Talk straight. Be honest. Do what you say you’re going to do. 

Simple service wins the day, and they’ve won my business moving forward, regardless of the car I drive.

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