By Dan Marinucci, Special to Tire Business
AKRON — Automotive service providers should heed the old contractor's axiom: Customers can get work that's good, cheap or fast, but they can't have all three.
Mind you, it is possible to get all three of those things. But experience indicates that the chances of doing so are slim to none. What's more, experience also supports the argument that people get exactly what they pay for — whether it's maintenance, repairs or other services consumers commonly purchase.
During my high-school and college years, I regularly worked in traditional, full-service service gas stations. However, I sometimes picked up additional work as a laborer with local contractors. Those were the fellows who argued that the customer can't have all three: Good, cheap and fast. I don't ever recall hearing that philosophy from anyone who owned and/or operated a successful auto service facility of any kind. In particular, I never heard this “all-three” theme from tire dealers and service shop operators that survived cutthroat competition for 20 to 25 years or more.
To the contrary, service providers who have earned long-term success and built solid reputations have emphasized quality work — that is, work done correctly the first time. This applied to everyone from masons and plumbers to electricians and carpenters. Surely it has been the hallmark of healthy, trustworthy auto service facilities.
Let's take this discussion another step further. Whether I was pulling wire, digging post holes or breaking old concrete, I observed the details of the job. I saw the same conditions I noticed in the auto repair bays. Namely, many repair jobs required more time and material than anyone expected. A combination of knowledge, skill and training reduced the number of unexpected problems — both among the contractors as well as the auto mechanics.
So from an early age, I observed firsthand that premier people in the skilled trades (automotive or non-automotive) recognized and respect the risk that repair jobs could require more than the customer expected. But they demonstrated tact, compassion and professionalism by explaining these issues to customers. Not only did they communicate well, they did so promptly and discussed potential options to their customers.
Although this was a lifetime ago, it seems, some conditions were stunningly familiar. For instance, aggressive service providers were bombarding the public with promises of service while you wait, one-hour turnaround, same-day installation and so forth. In essence, these businesses were promoting good, cheap and fast.
Like some modern service providers, these companies culled their share of work from the marketplace. But where are they, say, 25 to 35 years later?
Whenever a company purports to offer the mythical combination of good, fast and cheap, what is that outfit's track record for recruiting and retaining competent people? Furthermore, in an era of complex, sophisticated vehicles, is this kind of service provider the motorist's first call for “fixed right the first time?”
At this point, some critics may be preparing to burn me at the stake. But before they do, I urge readers to weigh some apparent contradictions in the phrase “good, fast and cheap.” For example, good work denotes quality parts and materials. Unless you robbed the delivery truck, quality parts are never the cheapest.
Fast work, meantime, demands the best tools and equipment — not to mention the most-skilled and knowledgeable professionals. Modern tools and equipment cost money. Competent technicians cost money. How can any business cover these costs — not to mention make a fair profit — when they sell services cheap?
Call me a heretic, but somehow, the mythical trinity of good, fast cheap doesn't add up for me. Does it work for you?
Dan Marinucci is a free-lance automotive service writer and former editor of two automotive service magazines who writes a regular auto service column for Tire Business. He can be reached via email at [email protected]. His previous columns are available at www.tirebusiness.com.