Article > Mitch’s World

Becoming a Hunter-Killer

By Mitch Schneider

Mitch Schneider
I dialed the 800 number, slowly and carefully. It was the third 800 number I had encountered on the Internet as I searched to find a new or reconditioned radiator for the pristine, almost perfect 1974 Mercedes 280SL sitting just outside the door that leads from the front counter into the shop.

I took a deep breath as the machine automatically switched my call to the same familiar recording I had just finished listening to twice before. As soon as I heard the name and the numbers it was clear I was three for three: three calls, all of which led me to the same 800 number, all tied back to the same company.

And, despite the fact that I was “assured” my needs would be met and my expectations exceeded, I was still frustrated and disappointed when I hung up the phone.

To make matters worse, I was quickly entering what my wife not so affectionately refers to as “Hunter/Killer Mode.” It’s that mental state where a man with a television remote and a mission to find the one program out of the 350 included in the cable package finds himself in as he “sits and clicks his brains out!” (This would be my wife’s description of the physical manifestations of the condition described above!)

This should be familiar to those of us who have either found ourselves searching for that elusive program or tasked with the responsibility of finding that elusive part. It’s especially familiar to those of us who refuse to accept defeat or who will not quit until we have emerged victorious from the quest.

The search for “280sl Mercedes” and “new radiator” took me to five more sites that looped me right back to the same 800 number, the same company and the same disappointment.

I found this experience particularly disappointing, frustrating and depressing for a number of reasons. It was disappointing because having eight numbers associated with eight different listings — listings meant to offer you the illusion of choice, is disingenuous and results in anything but a choice if they all take you right back to the same place. It was frustrating, because no matter where I tried to go, all roads led not to Rome, but to the same company I had called before I started my Internet search.

In the end, I found a radiator. In fact, I found two — one at the dealer and one that could be custom built to look the same, but outperform the original. I found it without consideration or regard for the time it took or the money it cost. I found it because the client expressed very clearly that he expected nothing less — nothing less from me; nothing less from our company; nothing less from our industry. I found it because I looked and continued to look until I was successful and I was successful because that is what we do and what we are expected to do.

In the end, it may be primal. It may even be a manifestation of a unique form of Compulsive/Obsessive Disorder found only in this industry. Or, it may just be plain annoying to the folks who must tolerate our tenacious quest for whatever it is we are searching for. But whatever it is, that quest for the “right” part (or, the right program), the correct component (or the perfect channel) is what drives this industry.

And, regardless of how neurotic those of us who have dedicated hours, perhaps even days to the process of ultimately finding whatever it was we were looking for may seem, we are the folks on both sides of the parts counter who keep this industry vital, viable and moving forward. We do all of this even in an economy such as the one we are currently enduring, by passionately, fanatically, compulsively, obsessively and single-mindedly pulling those parts through the distribution system.

Mitch Schneider co-owns and operates Schneider’s Automotive Service in Simi Valley, CA. Readers can contact him at
  Previous Comments
avatar   Proverb time   star   4/10/2010   10:13 AM

Teach man to fish, man sit in boat all day and get drunk.

avatar   tiny   star   2/19/2010   5:45 PM

here's a couple tips in dealing with the giant sequoia-like phone trees in this business, or any business for that matter.

1. buy local whenever possible. Unless you're in a small village or the middle of nowhere, there's probably a specialty shop close by with actual people working an actual phone. they tend to speak your language, too. most of the time.

2. Whenever you can't buy locally, act ignorant.

the phone tree will default to a customer service representative if you play dumb and just hit random buttons. listen to the menu, then hit "*" a few times, or hit "#" a few times, or even the trusty "0."

Shortly, the tree will speak, telling you they need to transfer you to a customer service specialist... that eliminates all sorts of waiting. Now, whether the knucklehead on the other end who finally picks up is worth his salt, well.. I can't help you there, because I assure you... it isn't me on the other end.

avatar   Dave Elliott   star   1/13/2010   11:18 AM

A professional story teller he said, as opposed to the amatuers you run into at work....ALL DAY LONG!

avatar   jim   star   12/24/2009   4:56 PM

I think it's more of a choice then a job. If you think about it, people do word finds for a reason. To look for somwthing. We do our job cause, A) we are good at it. B) we like finding hard to find items. C) We like to succeed in what we do. D) all the above. Me personaly, i love the thrill of a chace. Finding something someone else can't makes me feel like i've done something. In short. We do what we do for a reason.

avatar   Long Time Listener ...... First Time Caller   star   11/30/2009   10:38 AM

Hmmmmmm........ Never made the connection. Thank you Mr Obvious

avatar   no advance from oreillys   star   11/28/2009   5:30 PM

well sounds like a problem that can be fixed with ducktape and JB weld.

avatar   dave elliott   star   11/9/2009   8:19 PM

Mitch, it sounds like the problem lies in the ability of the "first call" to get a radiator. . Lo and behold that radiator for me is a factory order. Now I can send an e mail to my supplier, then I can check with Key Kool our of Nashville. (who also sells to my commercial customers, so how many are gonna purchase it from me?) But lets just say that my customer, like you, is counting on me to find it. Well I send the e mail, and there are none in the country from TPR. Amazing since this is "only" a 35 year old car. so now I call Key Kool. No I'm sorry they don't have it either. Guess what? I've just exhausted my resources for radiators. Yeah I could call Napa or Car Quest, but lets face it, you have accounts all over town and If I buy this radiator and try to make a dollar for my trouble on it, you're gonna be cryin the blues about how your parts guy won't let you make any money. Never mind that he's tried for an hour and a half to find this thing for you, saving you the time and effort of a few

avatar   O-O-O O really!?   star   11/1/2009   7:00 PM

i have been in this situation before and i have to say it's not worth my pay to put up with this wild goose chase.

avatar   Not Quite Dead Yet   star   10/29/2009   3:51 PM

Brian, the Iron Duke was always of particular interest to me, it's "twin" is what powers my old Pontiac, the Pontiac 301 short deck V8. Both designed at the same time, literally across the hall from each other, they share many parts in common (Even the heads interchange, but the 301 used siamesed intake ports). GMPP released 3 to 4 versions of the Super Duty head, nearly all still available through Scoggins-Dickey. At last look the cast iron was about $300 and aluminum was $550, the high-port aluminum was $1,100. If he was willing to drop a cam and lifters in the Duke, the cast iron SD head should also be in his price range.

avatar   Roger Redden   star   10/28/2009   6:41 PM

When I was about 22 years old, I got hired as a Purchasing Expediter for a paper mill. I was taken under the wing of the Vice President/Owner, and taught the rules of the trade in very short order. Our paper mill ran 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and had three paper machines, so it was a daunting task seeing that I was not to blame for a machine being down, because I had failed to have the parts on had we needed to fix it and get it up and running. I can proudly say that in the 7 years that I performed that task, I never failed them and still was able to buy the products, parts, and materials at the best possible price and delivery available from the dozens of vendors I worked with. It points to the same dedication all of us should share in dealing with our operation or serving the needs of our customers.

avatar   donna colle   star   10/27/2009   5:22 PM

federated auto parts has been around since 1929,long before the mass merchandising stores came along to use price as the reason to buy an auto part not service or quality

avatar   Brian B.   star   10/23/2009   3:06 PM

Life of Brian.. I found a whole slew of engine swaps and such for that Fiero but my customer just wanted to "bump up" the 2.5 because he could. I even found a swap to put the 3.8l 3800 series II supercharged setup in one. I did find the GM performance block but he has decided not to go that far. I thank you though for the help! Always appreciated here!

avatar   pedro   star   10/21/2009   3:21 PM

I fix car, i job you need

avatar   Kyle   star   10/20/2009   12:53 PM

I've lost all hope for customer service lines. I can find the same part number twice as fast using the internet available on my Blackberry. Mitch, since you have access to the internet, I recommend researching, bookmarking, and becoming a member of the many vehicle specific message boards on the internet. The members can point you to many vendors conventional researching won't find.

avatar   dave elliott   star   10/20/2009   10:38 AM

sounds like as life of brian said, the information is out there, it just needs to be gathered. someone who has a wad of dough and great research capabiilities could make some money with a subscription service. life of brian? you got the bucks? you certainly must have the connections!

avatar   Life of Brian   star   10/19/2009   5:16 PM

Brian, performance parts for a Duke? V8 Archie makes them in the form of a V8 swap kit, from old SBC 350s to brand new 427 LS7s. You could try finding a Super Duty Four block, but those are getting extremely rare these days. If you are that lucky, then you might be lucky enough to find the Cosworth DOHC head. IIRC the intake manifold is still available from GM Performance Parts. Some of the GMPP Super Duty heads are still available from Scoggins-Dickey.

avatar   Brian B.   star   10/17/2009   1:53 PM

I know how you feel Mitch. Somehow I wound up dealing with some guys who build race cars out of cars that should never be built that way. For instance, an 87 Pontiac Fiero with the good ole' Iron Duke 2.5l. took me about 2 hours of searching at work to find STOCK parts and about 30 minutes online to find hop up parts and even racing parts. Amazing that we carry the same part numbers and companies here at my store but not one catalog listed the aluminum timing gears, performance camshafts or even the weber carb setup I found for this thing. When I called our OWN tech support to find some of these things I had an issue much like Howard. Called the dedicated line to wind up with someone in India whose name I cannot pronounce to save my life and was told they don't make these things. Where has all the help gone? down to some 35 year old bearded guy playing World of Warcraft on a computer and updating information on another from his moms basement as he spills his bong on the server? there needs to be better servic

avatar   Mr. Parts Man   star   10/17/2009   12:53 PM

I are have wrench.

avatar   Ed   star   10/16/2009   2:47 PM

Fisher.. Federated? Never heard of them.. ;P

avatar   Mark Phillips   star   10/16/2009   8:18 AM

Hi everybody - we're going to add more space for comments... Dave makes a good point.. Many people have more to say, but our system currently cuts people off... Sorry about that!! We're working to get it changed! thanks... Mark, Editor guy

avatar   Kim   star   10/15/2009   3:10 PM

Wake up ED!!!!!Fisher Auto Parts and Federated Auto Parts based out of Staunton Virginia are both going strong and staying put!!!

avatar   dave elliott   star   10/15/2009   1:09 PM

Guys, do ya think we need more space for comments? this is the second of Howard's comments that have held my interest and then run out of space for the full thought to be completed. Howard, if you can, repost the rest of your thought, starting where it got cut off. I enjoy reading your stuff on here, it's a fair and balanced opinion it seems to me.

avatar   howard gregory   star   10/14/2009   12:10 PM

Well Mitch we all have to face the music of a new world economy. Less is more in the personnel department. How would you like it if you dialed the 800 number of the company you work for and get a person in India who has never seen a real Mercedes in person or knows what a radiator does? I have worked for 3 national brand auto part chains in the past ten years. Napa and Oreilly being two of them. The third shall remain nameless. While employed at the "third" I drove sales in the commercial department to a blistering level. Lots of shops and walk in customers wanted to deal with me, and i liked helping these people. One fine day I called customer service to find a trailer hitch only to have the phone answered by a Pakistani claiming to be named "Mike". The number that I called was not the factory assistance line it was the stores own help line once answered in Virginia. Now when I need something for a customer I should only have to tell the person on the other end what I need not explain to him that peop

avatar   SkyNet   star   10/12/2009   4:09 PM

Tracking John Conner's position... Tracking John Conner's position... Tracking John Conner's position... Tracking John Conner's position... Tracking John Conner's position... Position found Sending T-600

avatar   eric   star   10/12/2009   2:17 PM

I was wondering John, are you being sarcastic or are you being serious? I also have found myself in this mode. It shows a willingness not to quite until the job gets done. What ever your hand sets to do do it with all your might. Otherwise just go ahead and sit on the porch like an old defeated dog.

avatar   DAVE ELLIOTT   star   10/12/2009   10:23 AM

I have almost gotten to the point that I hate searching the internet. I hardly ever find what I need. Be it auto parts, song lyrics, or a Vicks Vapor Rub left nostril only inhaler. I must have some kind of brain lock that prohibits me from entering the key words to search for whatever I'm looking for (unless it's hot Filipino women) Sometimes I get lucky, (not with the women) and find the exact thing I'm looking for, but mostly I'm road kill on the information super highway

avatar   John Connor   star   10/11/2009   4:37 PM

Hunter-Killers are slaves of Skynet and must be put down.

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