Mitch's World: Behind the Magic Curtain...

Mitch’s World: Behind the Magic Curtain…

Like small children called before an angry adult, they stand and cower, afraid, and rightfully so. Dwarfed by their surroundings, surroundings guaranteed by design to produce that very effect, they look at each other as sparks dance between the two pillars and that voice resonates across the great hall shattering the silence... "Do not arouse the wrath of the great and powerful Oz. I said, 'Come back tomorrow.'"

Like small children called before an angry adult, they stand and cower, afraid, and rightfully so. Dwarfed by their surroundings, surroundings guaranteed by design to produce that very effect, they look at each other as sparks dance between the two pillars and that voice resonates across the great hall shattering the silence…

“Do not arouse the wrath of the great and powerful Oz. I said, ‘Come back tomorrow.’”

Indeed, that is exactly what they have been told! But, they are frustrated and exhausted and that is a dangerous combination when you have had your fill of wizards and impossible challenges. They were given tasks, dangerous and impossible tasks, and they had accomplished them all. Now, all they wanted was what they had been promised by the wizard himself.

Nevertheless, this was “Oz, The Great and Powerful” they were confronting and great care was to be exercised lest the consequence of such reckless and irresponsible behavior result in more than just loud and angry rhetoric.

The only creature that remained unbowed and unafraid was that small dog and it was that small dog that pulled back the curtain to reveal a very ordinary man at the controls, a very ordinary man flipping switches and furiously jerking banks of multi-colored levers.

I can’t tell you when I was first introduced to Dorothy, Toto, Scarecrow, Tin Man or the Cowardly Lion. I can tell you it was a very long time ago when I was “little.”

I can’t tell you how terrified I was when the Wicked Witch of the West first appeared or what it felt like to hear the witch’s guards chant, “Oh – Eeee – Oh! Oh – oh!” as they marched across the screen for the first time.

I can tell you that I didn’t get much sleep that night. I couldn’t. I was too busy looking out my bedroom window, waiting for an endless squadron of flying monkeys to fill the sky as they flew across the face of the moon.

I’m older now, not so easily frightened anymore, not so easily impressed.

There are times, however — more times than I care to recall these days — when I would like nothing more than to click my heels together and get the hell out of Dodge!

Oz doesn’t always glitter as brightly as it once did and if there is a “Great or Grand Wizard” in charge of this industry of ours, he sure doesn’t seem all that great — at least, not to me.  

It’s been a rough couple of weeks and I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t beginning to feel at least a little like Dorothy and her stalwart band of heroes must have felt as they were given one impossible task after another.

Like Dorothy, I took the wizard at his word. I did what he told me to do. I more than met the challenges placed before me and accomplished each of the tasks I was given to accomplish. I worked hard. I learned my craft. I got certified. I came in early and left late. I rarely left a client stranded. I sacrificed and went without.

I didn’t work for praise and I didn’t work just for the money — there was little money and less praise.

I did it selfishly, all for the satisfaction and pure joy of the doing. And, God help me, I’d probably do it all over again! But, I am weary and find myself tiring of the responsibility more quickly and more easily every day.

It isn’t the work; the work is what I love most about our industry. “Work is prayer” if you put your heart and soul into what you do; and I’ve been “praying” ever since I realized how lucky I was to be able to do what I love.

It isn’t the people; the people are wonderful! Or, at least, the majority of them are, both the clients and the majority of my colleagues. The majority of my customers are us. They work hard, try not to hurt anyone intentionally and want nothing more or less than to get from one place to another as quickly, efficiently and as safely as possible.

Most of them aren’t looking to get something for nothing. They just want to receive full value for what they spend.

Most shop owners work hard, probably harder than they have to at bringing the best they can to work with them every day. They are fair to a fault, fair with everyone, but themselves!

If it isn’t the people and it isn’t the work, what is it then?

It’s the industry that drives me nuts. It’s the companies that won’t warrant their defects; the companies who think it is “good enough” to push a part across the counter and call it even. It’s the companies who “buy cheap and sell dear,” riding on brand names and reputations quickly losing their value.

The same companies whose reputations and brand names were built when quality wasn’t something you talked about — it was something you experienced, built in at the factory, maintained by a competent and professional field force, and included with the box before it left the plant and found its way to your shop or mine.

I’m tired of warehouses and jobbers who change lines like some people change underwear: some too often, some not often enough. I’m tired of them making those changes for all the wrong reasons instead of all the right ones: a quarter-point here, a half there.

I’m frustrated with companies who refuse to process cores, credits and returns in a timely and professional manner and in so doing essentially cripple cash flow and kidnap valuable working capital.

And, I’m growing more and more impatient with a repair community that is too patient! I am frustrated with my brothers and sisters, frustrated with you for tolerating it all so well!

I’ve lost my way to the well from which that patience flows…I can no longer find it. I’m no longer interested in looking!
I’m especially tired of the people who do what I do wringing their hands in despair and whining in disbelief when they remain unable or unwilling to do anything more than complain.  

Did that last statement raise your blood pressure a point or two? If it didn’t, it probably should have.  

What Am I Missing Here?
We installed a rebuilt hydro-boost on a Mustang in ­December. It came back leaking from a seam in the housing in April, five months later.

No problem! Here’s another one…The two-hour “R&R?” “Come on, Mitch! You know there’s no labor on a failure like this (or, any other parts failure!)…”

The replacement part came with the push rod missing. Someone either robbed it from the box and returned it or it was left off at the factory. Either way, it wasn’t where it was supposed to be. The third one was incorrect altogether!
Improvise. Adapt. Overcome! We took the push rod from the leaking “return defective” and installed it on the second replacement.

Oil filters loosen for no apparent reason. Radiator seams come apart. “New” parts fail prematurely or are damaged, or are defective out of the box. Parts that are promised at 10:00 a.m. appear at 4:30 p.m. or don’t appear at all, and, when asked, the person you are speaking with just shrugs his shoulders in a: “Well, this is the way it’s always been. What did you expect?” kind of gesture and leaves it at that.

One of my suppliers is “sitting” on more than $1,000 in cores, credits and returns. They go back so far he can’t “find” them. It’s been so long I can’t find them either…And, whether he realizes it or not, we’re about to misplace something else: his phone number!

Things like this happen every day…to all of us, to each of us. And, no one does anything about it!

Tin Man wanted a heart. There are few people in business I know with more heart than the majority of independent repair community professionals I have been privileged to meet and work with. They give more of themselves more often than they probably should and yet they do it freely, unselfishly, every day.

Scarecrow wanted a brain. Think about the technological potpourri you and I have had to deal with since the mid-’60s: electronic ignition, active suspension, computerized engine controls, comprehensive emission systems, hybrids, alternative fuels, high-pressure common rail electronically controlled diesel injection…a brain? Give me a break!

Name another industry forced to confront as much technology as quickly. And, yet, we’re still here and the passenger car and light truck fleets are still running!

The Lion yearned for courage. I’m not sure there are more courageous individuals anywhere than the professionals you are likely to encounter in the automotive service industry. They come to work every day knowing exactly what to expect and that isn’t much. They face a demanding, yet uneducated motoring public.

They work with manufacturers and distributors, some of whom demonstrate little or no understanding or concern. And, they work in an industry that has a poor public image and worse self-esteem. Rodney Dangerfield got more respect and he made a career of not getting any!

The only one with the courage, the heart and wisdom to uncloak the wizard was the dog.

The truth of the matter is simple, Dorothy couldn’t go home until she realized it was up to her, that she had the power to go home all along.

We won’t be able to head for home until we recognize who we are and what we contribute…and, then, internalize it!

We won’t be able to go home until we find the wisdom to identify what it is we want, need and expect from this industry…and then demand it!

We won’t be able to go home until we develop the courage to do something about our situation. And, we won’t have a home to go to unless or until we make this industry into everything it needs to be to sustain us and enrich our lives.

Until then, you and I will be forced to endure the Wicked Witch, the Palace Guards and the Flying Monkeys. Until then, you and I are doomed to exist solely at the whim of the person behind the magic curtain whoever that person might be and whatever they demand of us.

The power to go home was Dorothy’s all along.

The power to make a home of this industry is ours — it always has been! 

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