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 [email protected]