Political correctness is fashionable today, but is not and should not be an end unto itself for tire dealers. Although some politically correct (``PC'') concepts overlap important customer relations concerns, owners and managers must keep the entire image-building task in focus-not just elements of it that seem trendy today.
Many owners, managers and technicians I meet are buzzing over the fact that some aftermarket suppliers will no longer feature women on their calendars. Instead of concentrating on the business' overall image, these fellows are distracted by a lone element of PC doctrine.
Longtime readers know I repeatedly emphasize that automotive service shops must cater to women because they constitute the largest percentage of customers.
It's good business sense and an overlooked point among many service personnel. I espoused this long before the popular expression ``PC'' entered our lexicon.
I just question whether calendars depicting women in various types of swimwear are as big of an issue as the PC police tell us they are. Debates over calendars are the least of some service shops' image problems with customers of either gender.
Since entering the auto repair trade in the 1960s, I've been in countless service shops around the country. The overwhelming majority of girlie calendars adorning toolboxes, locker rooms and service bays show models in bikinis and bathing suits. A handful of calendars are the genre that leave virtually nothing to the imagination.
However, I say these common calendars amount to a difference of degree, not kind. I invite any dealer to compare a typical calendar his techs receive from tool or parts suppliers to current underwear, lingerie and perfume ads peppering the women's magazines out in his customer lounge. Mind you, these are popular women's magazines supposedly targeted at women. Now tell me what's dirty or distasteful!
If we take alleged girlie calendars from service bays, then surely we must strip ``legitimized'' smut from all popular magazines. Otherwise, we should purge these publications from all hairdressing salons, airline and railroad magazine bins and every ladies' lounge in every public building in America. Less aggressive action would only reinforce our shallowness, prudishness and two-facedness.
I've discussed the calendar issue with real women in the real world-degreed and non-degreed women, childless ones and working moms. Their reactions to calendars ranged from mere amusement to annoyance to downright contempt.
But in the same breath, they also wondered if removing a calendar ensures their vehicle gets fixed properly the first time. They asked if removing calendars automatically removes the grease from the steering wheel or door panels of their cars.
They also stressed that personal appearance (well-groomed) and good manners (friendly greeting, good eye contact) weighed more in their evaluation of a shop than a swimsuit calendar on a toolbox.
Prioritize image problems
Workers were heatedly debating the calendar issue when I arrived at one shop. Meanwhile, the waiting lounge needed a thorough cleaning, repainting and new furniture.
When the company's courtesy vehicle screeched to a halt outside, a haze of blue smoke wafted in. Rust holes in the body, an oil-burning engine and tattered seats made this old pickup a decidedly discourteous vehicle.
The waiting room and shuttle vehicle are major, uncorrected eyesores affecting all existing and prospective customers. Yet staffers are fighting over a calendar that only an occasional customer sees!
In another case of PC-induced narrow-mindedness, some technicians at an association meeting argued about putting girlie calendars in the washroom. (Rule No.1: If a customer complains about a calendar, the calendar ought to come down.)
But a closer listening revealed the real issue was a tightwad owner who forced his techs and all customers-male and female-to use the same washroom! Using a common washroom is disrespectful to both techs and customers. The workers' washroom always gets dirtier because they get dirty doing their job.
Just as customers deserve a pristine washroom, techs deserve the privacy of their own washroom when they're covered with grease. What's more, a calendar in their washroom is their business and no one else's.
True, the wrong calendar in the wrong place is bad public relations for any service shop. But while the PC police scream over calendars, substantially more important image problems go unsolved. Dealers: prioritize image-improvement projects, then act accordingly.