Working in the parts business has brought me into contact with just about every type of person imaginable. I’ve had other public contact jobs as a delivery driver where expectations are known and the rules are simple: Do your job as best you can, don’t make promises you can’t keep, and be honest enough to admit a mistake.
These rules actually apply to every endeavor in life, but behind the parts counter we should add one more: “know your customer.” You get better at this rule with more experience, and it has a direct bearing on your sanity as well as the store’s bottom line.
American life has become so dependent on the automobile that many people view car ownership as a basic right, and to deny them of it for any reason is criminal behavior on your part.
One customer I had about 20 years ago was ready to put me behind bars. I sold him a sealed beam headlight for a Chevy and watched him try to change it in the parking lot. After realizing that a Phillips screwdriver wouldn’t work, he came back in and demanded to know why the manufacturers kept changing things. I told him I didn’t know but that the proper tool for the job was a T15 torx driver that only cost a few dollars. As I rang up the sale he accused me, everyone else in the parts business, and the OEMs of being in cahoots just so guys like him would have to keep buying new tools. The mistake I made here was not selling him the tool before he tried to change the headlight. He still would not have been pleased, but at least he would have been a little less frustrated.
Most people realize that any car will break down eventually and the best you can do is repair it as quickly and efficiently as possible. It’s this type of customer, on whether DIY or professional, that makes this job not only tolerable but also downright enjoyable sometimes. It can be worth more than the profit on the sale showing a customer how to find a paint code so they pick the right bottle of touch up, or showing customers how to remove their old wiper blades so they can install the ones you sold them.
Case in point: one rainy Saturday a woman came in about 20 minutes before closing and asked for a plug wire set for her Neon because it was arcing. I sold them to her but she was back in about five minutes with the new wires in one hand and all of the old wires in the other. “These don’t fit quite the same as the old ones. Could you come out and take a look for me?” she asked. Thinking I was about to get involved in trying to figure out what wire goes where I asked her if she knew what she had just done. “Oh, don’t worry,” she said, “it’s a distributorless ignition and everything is numbered.” Boy was I glad to hear that!
The point is that you have to deal with a lot of different customers with a lot of different levels of expertise, which is the main reason why you can’t be replaced by an electronic catalog. You wouldn’t have it any other way, would you?