Show me the service Featured

9:47am EDT July 22, 2002

Shortly after I bought my first car, my father gave me a set of socket wrenches.

If there is anything that will demonstrate how important quality is, it’s hand tools. I’ve purchased cheap tools and they’re just that — cheap. After changing many, many water pumps, hoses, starters, belts and mufflers, I still have most of the pieces to my original set.

I’ve replaced a couple that were lost, but the store where the tools were purchased has replaced the one socket that I managed to crack during all of those years and the ratchet wrench that broke when I dropped it. That’s why I buy most of my tools there. I’m not sure about whether I’ll buy any more tires there, though.

A while back, I was headed north on Route 8 toward Butler when I ran over a sewer grate and blew a rear tire. After the AAA man changed the flat, I continued on to Butler and stopped at a store of the same name where I buy my tools. Yes, the salesman said, he had four new tires that would fit, and it would take about an hour and a half to install them.

After I paid for my tires and retrieved my vehicle, I noticed that the wheel where the flat had been was missing the hub cover. I opened the rear door and sure enough, the cover was there. So were my jack, the wrench and the spare, simply tossed into the rear of the van.

I would have been satisfied to be on my way with a little peace of mind because I had new treads at each corner, but when I saw that the spare hadn’t been remounted and the jack wasn’t stored away, I felt, well, a little unappreciated.

It wasn’t that I couldn’t do it myself; heck, it only took a couple of minutes to snap on the hub cover, store the tire and mount the jack. But I guess that was what sort of got me. I’d spent a couple of hundred bucks, and the garage didn’t bother to take a few minutes to put the finishing touches on the job.

About a week later, I noticed that they had neglected to replace the valve caps. Now I was really annoyed. The salesman had been helpful and courteous, and the new tires were fine, but the experience nonetheless ended on a sour note.

There are a lot of places to buy tires, I thought. I’d think twice before I’d go back to that store — or that chain — for tires.

When I worked in the food business, we were always preoccupied with price. Most of us just assumed that if our prices were the lowest, people would flock to our stores. But when customers were surveyed to determine what really motivated them to shop at a particular store, some interesting things surfaced.

Customers said they valued attributes such as clean stores and high-quality meat and produce above low prices. Pricing, in fact, ranked pretty low on most shoppers’ lists. Customer courtesy ranked consistently high on surveys, often first or second.

That was quite a few years ago, but I would suspect that it hasn’t changed much. When you feel that you’re noticed and appreciated as a customer, you tend to want to patronize an establishment.

Contrast my experience at the big chain store with what I usually encounter when I take my car to my regular garage for repair or inspection. The owner offers me a ride when I drop off the car. I get a neat, readable bill for the work that was performed. The mechanic puts a paper floor mat on the driver’s side so that he doesn’t dirty my carpets.

He thanks me for my business. I don’t know if he’s the cheapest place in town, but I do know that he does good work, finishes when he says he will and makes me feel like he appreciates my business, even if it’s only for state inspection. Oh, and by the way, he pointed out last time I was there that I was going to be needing tires soon, and he didn’t even try to sell me any.

I wish he had. Both of us would have been happier.

Ray Marano, associate editor of SBN, likely will wear out his new set of tires in search of better service. And a new set of valve caps. Can you help him? Reach him at rmarano@sbnnet.com.