Article > Mitch’s World

Do You Ask What Your Customer Wants, Needs?

By Mitch Schneider

I’m not one of those people who likes unlimited choice.
Mitch Schneider
I’m not one of those people who likes unlimited choice. I think that started about a million years ago when our family was in the service station business in Santa Monica. Back then, one of my favorite “restaurants” was a tiny, and, I mean tiny — as in six-stool shack — next door to a small, independent market on Pico Boulevard, called Walt’s.

You could order whatever you wanted for breakfast or lunch at Walt’s, as long as it could be made with a hamburger bun; white, wheat or rye bread; hash browns or home fries; eggs; ground steak (hamburger patties); sausage patty; ham or bacon; American cheese, lettuce or tomato.

It was easy: Walk in, sit down, decide on a combination of the nine to 12 possible ingredients available and then build a selection — hamburger patty and eggs; bacon, lettuce and tomato; ham sandwich, grilled cheese. You get the idea.
At last count, I was visited by at least five different vendors last week, at least three of whom are looking to break into our “First, Second, Third Call” rotation. Each brought a universe of possibilities with them, and more choices than anyone should ever have to be confronted with. All I had to do was pick one from Column A, two from Column B, etc.
Each promised the lowest possible prices, something I found interesting considering it seems foolish, if not impossible, for all of them to be the lowest-priced parts provider. And not one of them had anything to say about service or availability until I broached the subject.

Not one of them asked about our business, what our buying habits are, what brands we liked or disliked, what kind of volume we were doing with our current suppliers, what we like or didn’t like about the way they do business, what kinds of cars or trucks we were working on, whether or not we were current with our suppliers. Nothing.

Each let us know quickly and clearly what we had to do to “qualify” for their particular program. However, not one asked what we were looking for. It was as if our sole purpose was to help them increase same-store sales.

They had choices for me — too many choices. And each vendor had a slightly different product mix. But the ultimate choice someone like me has to make is whether or not I want to sit at their counter and order anything. What they didn’t seem to understand was that this was all about whether and, not necessarily what! And the answer isn’t always the size of the menu. Sometimes, less is more especially if it’s better. Sometimes it’s the food quality, preparation and presentation that makes the choice for you.

I liked Walt’s. There may have been limited choices, but what he did have was exceptional — the highest possible quality with everything “cooked to order.” And “cooked to order” meant that Walt had to ask us what we wanted and how we wanted it prepared, and then listen when it was our turn to talk.

I liked Walt’s because although the choices were limited, I never felt like I was missing out on anything.

Walt always made me feel like I could get whatever I wanted when I sat down on one of his six stools. And, whatever I got was perfect because he made it his business to know what I wanted, needed and expected from him.
Walt listened and then acted upon the information he received. Do you?

Mitch Schneider co-owns and operates Schneider’s Automotive Service in Simi Valley, CA. Readers can contact him at

  Previous Comments
avatar   SASQUATCH   star   6/16/2010   10:59 AM

It is like Tiny put it, "we need to sell ourselves." Most companies have sales reps to go to the shops and sell their business, but what are they pushing. I have the honor of working with a rep who is,in my opinion, one of the very best in his line of work. He will go to the shop and say his "how are you" and he then asks the customer what we can do to be better for them. He sells the company and the programs yes, but, he sells the people and the service first. I am shamed to admit i left the parts biz to work for a certain tire company that rhymes with liar-bone, and the one important thing i learned from them is that people buy from people. Don't look at your customer like a paycheck, look at them like a person...

avatar   Mike S.   star   6/14/2010   5:16 PM

Too many questions, too many question!!!!!! LOL

I have always followed: "give the customer what he wants, not what he/she is asking for".

Live it.

Learn it.

Know it.

They're coming to take me away ha ha ho ho he he to the funny farm I go!!!!!!!!!!!!

avatar   Will   star   6/14/2010   10:22 AM

The way I see it, It's all about what's in stock and how much it is. Exhaust all resources before saying no. At your competitors? Let the shop decide. They know you will mark it up but get approval before hand. At a salvage company (Everdrive)? Let them decide what they want to do. On the shelf cheaper elsewhere? Price match if possible but don't cut your throat doing it. We're all here to make money. We may not be able to get everyhing but we can try our best. Having shop owners mad isn't good for business.

avatar   tiny   star   6/12/2010   5:55 PM

this particular topic throws back to things i've posted here often about communication. If we as parts people want to expand our business, we have to sell ourselves.

Were I in commercial sales, my goal would be to sell that shop my service. Every store has parts, every store has price matching, every store has a shipping warehouse with "overnight" delivery availability, so why am i different? The answer to that question is.. none of them have me. what can i do for you to help your business run more smoothly? can i maintain your filter and battery consignment? can I actually do it, or will i simply give you lip service? can i periodically check in with you to assure your needs are met, or will i simply call you every couple of months to see if things are good? Can i guarantee that my delivery driver will get to you as quickly and as safely as possible, or will i say "we will get there as soon as we can?"

More to the point, will i tell you that i will spend some time shopping around for you for that rare part so you don't have to, since you have other things in your shop that need attending, or will i tell you "sorry hoss, I don't have it and can't get it."?

I think these are the things that make or break a shop's parts line. Shops go with convenience. whatever they can get to lighten their workload is where they shop. They may not all be that way, but every one I've dealt with is. mechanics are busy. they want streamlined efficiency. Give them that, and we're golden.

On the other hand, mechanics can be a frustrating breed. They've called a particular pair of pliers "dikes" for decades, but you, the counterperson know them only as linesman's pliers. hmm... How do we solve this? That mechanic will get frustrated knowing the pliers are hanging right there on the shelf, but you tell him you don't have them because you don't know what they're called...

the bottom line is that there's

avatar   Brad   star   6/11/2010   8:50 PM

You don't sell the steak, but the sizzle. We all got steaks to sell, but who presents the most appealing package gets the sell! I work for the "green mafia" and I'm proud I do! We preach things such as the hi-5, the "culture" etc... it really makes a difference. Your customer is the big deal....the only deal...and you better treat them as though they are the only thing that matters! At the end of the day they are the only thing that does matter! I have used other parts stores but I will only use us because of customer relations. Not because of a dicount or loyalty but because we truly are that nice to customers. To make a long story short, customers service and perception is the "magic potion".... nothing else. That is why the "green mafia" will be the dominant supplier in our industry....we are coming!!!!!! Up to the challenge? I am, and believe me, I love a good challenge!

avatar   Howard Gregory   star   6/11/2010   3:31 PM

Mitch you really hit the nail on the head. Lowest price, prettiest boxes don't mean anything if you can't get it or have it and can't serve the customer. Being in a relativley mall market here in southern VA it's sometimes hard to remember that the main thing is the service. Everybody elses truck can move just as fast as mine the seven stoplight metropolis is only so big. But knowing that when the number one shop calls and says " I want some dye" means he wants part number tp9770-0108. Now it took twelve years of me working for three different chains to know that. The customers that walk in sometimes don't know what they are looking for, but the shops I deal with don't really know how to tell you how they want it. Maybe there are too many choices in the world today. I was at the red and black store for 5 years before the green mafia moved to town closer to the number one. Number one went to green mafia only because they were .8 miles closer. Price didn't matter flashy trucks with the hat on top didn't matter either. I made the move to the green mafia a year after they were opened. Number one still called the red and black team on occasion to help my number or when the green mafia didn't have the part. To this day I still wonder what it really takes because the green mafia is a great company to work for however there are only so many ways you can sell the same stuff. And .8 miles is not really all that much closer. And the easiset way to make a shop here mad is to go to an outside supplier and resell it to them with profit added. So whatever it is that is takes to make it in this business is the magic potion that I would love to have.

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