Friday, June 15, 2012

Our Best

There can be a big difference between "We do what's best for you" and "We do the best we can with what we have."

As a small shop in a rural resort area with huge seasonal variation in population and cash flow, we have had to be very resourceful. With a clientele that runs the range from a Forbes-listed billionaire to food stamp recipients (a category that nearly includes us), we have to be ready to fix Cervelos, Colnagos, and other gems of carbon, titanium, aluminum or exquisitely crafted steel and 50-pound boat anchors from Wal Mart. Just yesterday I had to construct a Hayes disc brake bleed kit from objects lying around the work shop. Stuff like that is fun.

When times were good it was easier to keep a bit of variety in stock for repair parts. Now we have narrowed things to the point of almost-inefficiency. Couple this with the "it's good enough" mentality of the procurement division and you end up giving a 76-year-old lady a 117-inch top gear because you refuse to order a more appropriate cassette. Bafflingly, this is a customer who has already said money is no object: that rare wealthy person who respects not only our skill and judgment but our labor rate and does not chisel. This is a person who deserves to be catered to.

I spend more time than I should, trying to negotiate these ethical and commercial minefields to the satisfaction of all parties. I outfitted her other bike when she rode from Massachusetts to Florida a couple of years ago. We didn't cut corners then. If we're going to cut them now we owe the customer the explanation that we are not the business we were then. When upper management's favorite saying is "desperate times call for desperate measures" the customer can no longer safely assume that everything will be done to the highest standard. Even if the customer has said the budget is virtually unlimited to get the desired result, we're going to slap in whatever we happen to have. So then I have to decide whether to do best I can with what I'm allowed to use or refuse to have my fingerprints on it at all because I don't want to have to explain the choice of parts.

Ironically, this class warfare is being carried out by a shop owned by people who vote with the top one percent every time. For decades I've watched their grudging gratitude and suppressed resentment toward the big wallets who come through here in the summer. They like the ones who trickle willingly and bitch about the ones who chisel relentlessly but they view the situation as the unalterable way of the world. They buy into the notion that if they were worth more they would have more. They believe they are inferior, so they accept less. But they're not happy about it.

I always try to do the best I can for the bike. The owner benefits from my obsession with mechanical function. I might throw in more freebies for someone who isn't a jerk, but sometimes I take pity on a neglected bike and do stuff even for someone who is oblivious or ungrateful. It may keep them out on the road instead of back in here pissing me off.


RANTWICK said...

Ug. That sounds truly shitty. Good luck doing your best navigating those murky waters.

Janice in GA said...

Oh man, hard lines. :(

People lately sure have a tendency to work against their best interests, don't they??

cafiend said...

I have watched the political mindset and its inevitable result evolve right in front of me for 23 years now. No matter what happens to the rest of us, the always-happy millionaires and billionaires keep showing up for their summer vacations in their lavish lakeside estates, but their trickle, even when temporarily lavish, will not keep us operating. But then why should we expect to prosper when we deal in something as unpopular as bicycling? Only a minority in any economic sector wants to pedal around soaking up public disdain from fellow road users.

The ethical question about customer trust and our response to it takes many forms. We never compromise safety except when a customer insists that we do so. Even then we make copious notes and draw a line we won't cross. But well short of danger are other judgment calls each technician can answer with more or less concern for the bike's long-term needs versus the shop's short-term need for income.