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Computers Aren’t Always Best


I applaud Jon Owens for wanting to rid the world of the scourge of paper catalogs (“Let’s Make A Deal, December 2007). They are cumbersome and time consuming, and are also one of the things that actually differentiate me from the other guys. I detest them as they only help in look-up 10 to 15 percent of the time and that is usually when the retailers send the customer to me. What makes me, an old-school dinosaur independent, better than them is I learned to do research 38 years ago at the feet of two masters and still apply that ability today though usually with a buyers guide or specification guide. I abhor catalogs but find them a necessary evil. The customer comes in after he has already been to all the retailers plus the other independents in town, holding a bearing cup and cone with no rollers and a seal that most of the time is in shreds and if I have my calipers and specification book he will leave happy. All of my competitors send the customer to me when they give up. I couldn’t make it without that 10 to 15 percent.


I feel I must also inform you that all my counter terminals are Internet capable with the fastest DSL service and every manufacturer that has catalog online is a favorite. But I still can’t get everything we need there. I haven’t had a traditional catalog rack in almost 10 years. Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t have to drag a paper catalog out.

One of my countermen had the catalogs out the other day and after about five minutes I came out of the office and asked if he could use some help. I knew he was desperate. The customer had been to the other five stores in town looking for a water pump for a 4-cylinder Ford marine engine and none were able to help. They couldn’t find it in the computer or the paper catalog. When I told my man to get in the computer and look it up for a ‘68 Nova 4-cylinder, the customer objected and said the engine had Ford on it. I replied as diplomatically as possible that I couldn’t help what the engine said, that was a GM pump laying on my counter, we identified it after the lookup from the online photo, had to order it and the customer was very happy to get it the next day. How is modern technology going to overcome this type of challenge? All of the computer smarts and paper catalog expertise in the world can’t solve all issues.


I agree that we need to phase out paper catalogs. I also shudder at being unable to be better than the other guys if we all share the identical technology. That’s why I train my people to use the old tools, just in case.

Lee Greene-Owner
Greene’s Auto Parts
Winder, Ga.

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