Supply Side Economics

I recently received an email from a reader and I’m posting it so that you, the consumer can see the thought process in the shop owner’s mind. It’s long but here goes, I’ll comment at the end.

Greetings Elayne, I have been enjoying your blog right up till I read your reply to this question about customers bringing their own parts to be installed. I also am a woman who along with my husband own and operate our own auto repair business in a suburb of Chicago for 12 years. I have to disagree with you and tell you why.
First, part of a shop’s profit comes from selling parts. We purchase parts from our vendors at a wholesale rate, then we mark them up when we sell them to the customer. This has been working well for us because we choose NOT to be “greedy” and mark up our prices at an appropriate percentage in accordance to the demographics of our target market. Walmart does it, Target does it, NAPA, Auto Zone and Advance Auto all do this. So should independent repair shops. As my husband likes to question the customers that ask this of him, “Do you bring your own eggs to the restaurant for breakfast?” No, of course not.
Secondly, more often than not, the part the customer wants to bring in may not cure the problem they are experiencing. So if the shop installs the part and the customer is not happy, I certainly would not tell them to bring it back and get it repaired at no charge. A proper diagnosis must be conducted in order to pinpoint the exact cause and what it will take to correct the condition. I have to pay my mechanics to take the time to diagnose it, so the cost of the diagnosis needs to be passed on to the customer. If you want this shop to fix it, you must allow us to discover the cause and find the right part at the lowest price. Saves everyone time and money.
Finally, we did run into this problem when we installed customer provided parts. The customer comes back, the part is not working right (used, probably), so we have to take the part out, give it to the customer, the customer runs back to the parts store or junk yard they got it from, try to get another, run back to us, and all of this takes so much time and keeps our bay at a standstill. Not at all conducive to getting the daily workload in and out. Or, here’s the other scenario: the part is working fine (or so the customer thinks) so it must have been the way we installed it. Cant be their fault, it is always someone else’s fault. Now you have an unhappy customer with a comeback. Fixing it for free on a comeback, if it was NOT our part, simply does not not instill confidence in customers. Trying to tell the customer at this point it was not our labor that is the problem, it is the piece of crap part they insisted be installed into their car is the problem. The customer does not believe us, and leaves, and we lost future business.
For these reasons, we do not install ANY part the customer brings in because we are a NAPA Auto Care center and we have to offer our customers a warranty on parts and labor. It is certainly not because we are “greedy”, it just does not make good business sense.

While I do appreciate her thoughts (and YAY another woman) now I’d like to disagree with a bunch of what she says. I get that it’s easier for all involved to just install the correct part the first time but anyone in this business knows full well that this doesn’t happen all the time anyway. I send parts back and forth constantly because they are wrong, the are broken, they are missing pieces, they are ineffectively rebuilt or they are cheap. So it’s part of the business and while yes it sucks, it just is the way it goes. It actually works in my favor when a customer brings their own part in because I make it very clear ahead of time that if we discover it’s wrong or it’s too cheap or it fails and I have to take that part out again it will be at THEIR EXPENSE, NOT MINE. I also don’t have to warranty the part so again even if it fails a few weeks from now, it’s at THEIR EXPENSE, NOT MINE.

The part about the customer diagnosing their own repair and showing up with their own part is valid as well. I will discuss with the customer, ‘who diagnosed the problem’? and the possibility that it wont fix anything. If the part is wrong and fixes nothing it WILL BE AT THEIR EXPENSE to fix it properly. I also the get the part about being in the middle of a job with a wrong part and now we’re stuck. Yes, this sucks but again, we deal with this constantly. I also make it clear ahead of time that if this scenario happens, they will have to pay for the time that my lift is out of use. This isn’t great for anyone, but I would rather give them the opportunity to try to get a used part if they can and I often help obtain them and/or sometimes find the parts for them. To just say NO is ridiculous.

I also get the whole, “everyone charges” so why shouldn’t I? This is a very common way to operate in this industry, but I don’t like to just do what everyone else does. I’m trying to up the game a little and make going to the auto repair shop a better experience, so that doesn’t fly with me.

I understand that these garages make money off these parts but there are ways for you to still make money, raise your hourly rate for anyone who brings their own parts is one way (I don’t do that but it’s one way around it). 90% of customers have zero interest in this anyway, they want to find an honest mechanic and pay the bill when they pick up their car, PERIOD. But to deny the few who want to be involved, is just…. well, greedy. Sorry.

Bottom line is that I find the whole thing really insulting and disingenuous. These garages are hiding behind all the things said in the letter when, in fact, all of those things can be settled by having a simple conversation. I haven’t had any problem when I’m clear and up front about the whole thing, which makes for happy loyal customers.

Questions: dontgetwrenched@gmail.com (if I didn’t scare you off)

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