Emal's Corner

By Russ Emal

The "Doc" finally had the report for me. The physical exam was finished but the verdict wasn't good. One can always hope for the best, But hope is sometimes not enough. Doc gave it to me straight. I hate it when professionals beat around the bush. Good news or bad, I just want it straight. "Well Russ", Doc said, "I know you were hoping for a better result to my exam, but I'm afraid the news isn't good. You need new struts for your car" Oh, did I fail to mention, "Doc", is also known as the "Car Doctor" in Anderson Valley. He is a top flight auto mechanic.

I live about three and one half miles up a very rough road. A road that annually eats many a cars suspension. So, when "Doc" gave me the news, it wasn't that much of a surprise. Annually, I spend lots of money to fix my car and about every other year I simply toss out my current ride and start over again with a car not yet digested by our hungry road. Even the "Car Doctor" is only so good. The need for new struts is the first sign to start looking in the want ads for my roads next victim.

I'm a full time college student. Very full time. I take twenty units at two schools so I have little time to work and produce any meaningful income. In this story, I'm the Poor Boy. While I am usually financially prepared for "Doc's" predictable verdicts, going to school has slowed my cash flow down to a trickle. This new expense came at a bad time and struts don't come cheap.

I started my search for them and the best price at the local K-Mart. I asked myself, "Who could be cheaper them K-Mart?" Well it was Sunday and K-Mart's Auto Department is closed on a Sunday. By the time I tried to call anyone else it was late. So I gave up on my search for the day but felt that K-Mart was where I would end up spending much of my mini accumulation of money.

Monday morning found me with a cup of coffee in one hand and a phone in the other. "Hello, K-Mart, give me the price of struts for my '86 Chevy Nova." As I waited for their computer search that always takes so long in an auto parts store, I wondered if I could save a bit of money by drinking my coffee without sugar. After about five minutes of listening to computer keyboard clicks the parts man asked, "Did you say that the struts was for a Chevy?" God! No wonder they always have stools at auto parts stores. This could take awhile. I again repeated much of the same information about my soon to die car. Info such as the year my car was made, its make and model, along with "Uh, front and back?" and, "Ya want 'em gas filled?" I got the amount the transaction would debit my shrunken savings account. About Three hundred dollars. Maybe, I'd be giving up both sugar and milk in my coffee.

About that time a friend came over and suggested trying Kragen. "There ads always say they sell for less then anyone else," my buddy says. I figured why not try. I headed to Ukiah in my bouncy car and paid Kragen a visit in person. The first thing I noticed was no chairs. I wondered if this would this mean fast service or sore legs. Again I went through the same questions as K-Mart gave me. I hadn't been grilled like this since my next door neighbor was busted for cultivation of pot and the C.O.M.E.T. troops thought I had the drying room at my house. "Yes, I want the gas filled struts," I told the parts guy, John. "Okay, we have them in stock and they are two hundred and twenty five dollars." Two hundred and twenty five dollars, that was seventy five dollars less then the price at K-Mart. "Is that for all four struts," I asked sounding a bit distrust? "Yep, all four," the smiling face said. Wow! "Wait a minute," John asked, "Aren't you a student at Mendo?" "Yes," I said. The subdued suspicion was again peeking its alert head back out. "Oh! Then the price will be a bit lower for you." Really! "Yea, for Mendo college students we lower the price a bit more." Cool! I was thinking maybe I could still have milk in my coffee. "For Mendo students the price is only one hundred and sixty five dollars." This guy had to be kidding, that's about half the K-Mart price. Make that next cup of coffee extra light.

So I brought the four struts to "Doc". No one is faster then the "Doctor" at doing his thing. So I sat back with a school book while he started wrenching. About the time I got comfortable and found where I left off last study session, the "Doctor" gave me some new info. "These are the wrong struts. Not only that, there not even struts. Their shock absorbers for a late sixty's Ford truck." Sure Kragen, good price but what am I going to do with shock absorbers for a Ford truck? More importantly, how much would the correct struts cost? Boy, I was mad and on my way back to Ukiah. Bounce, bounce, bounce.....

"Oh, we are very sorry," Kragen Man, John said, "Not only did you get the incorrect parts but, so did a guy who rebuilds antique trucks. You got his parts and he got yours. This rarely happens at Kragen. We are very careful getting things delivered properly and we know how this must have inconvenienced you." Sure I thought. "So, we are going to make things right. You both paid the right amount. But, we mixed up the orders and gave you the wrong parts. Not only will we exchange the parts, but we will deduct forty dollars from the bill for the cost to you and your mechanic due to our mistake." Was this guy was for real? Was he really going to make good for his mistake? I understand that mistakes can happen, but this time it looked like the Big Corp was accepting the blame and was fixing the problem at their expense. Man, how could I stay mad?

This approach to business is what all big companies should do. That is the difference between the treatment we receive from local, small, family business' and the big corporations that come into small towns. Small town, family owned businesses take care of their customers like they were neighbors. That's because they are our neighbors. We, as the buying public are drawn to the large companies because of their lower prices. But, we often suffer due to the lack of neighborliness a big corporation provides when its corporate offices are located elsewhere. But not this time. Poor Boy meets Big Corp and gets small town business treatment. Low price and good treatment. My kind of store.

"So," I asked, "how much for brake shoes for my Toyota pickup truck?" Big Corp says, "Well, normally thirteen ninety nine. But for a Mendocino College student, that will be only eight dollars and ninety nine cents." Great! Make that next cup of coffee EXTRA cream and sugar.

So, there is sort of a moral to this story. More like a couple of questions to ask yourself. The first one is "Where are you buying your next auto parts?" The second, "Do you have an active student body card?" To qualify for this discount, you must have one. Seven dollars for a whole year and big savings on auto parts. I'm not stupid! I've got mine and my car loves me for it. Well, it loves me till it hears I'm dumping it for a new model!

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Last Update: 10/13/96