Lessons From Hardware, Auto Parts Stores
By DARRYL MANZER.
Published in The Signal, 3-27-2005.
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I'm employed again. I got a job at one of those "big box" home-improvement stores a couple of miles from the house. I won't name the brand but will state that there isn't any orange paint on the sign outside.* * *
My first customer service job was at Jerry's Chevron at the corner of Bouquet and Soledad Canyon roads. No self-serve pumps then. Jerry wanted us to run to the pumps as soon as we heard the bell ring. We had to smile and say "please" and "thank you." We had to wash windows and check tire pressures without being asked. The only time we didn't check the oil was when the customer said not to, as we started to raise the car hood.
The application and interview process were far more comprehensive than I had expected. Once I was selected to interview with human resources, I didn't know I had at least two other interviews to go. I also had a drug test. I'm glad they didn't look for caffeine. It would have been off the scale.
In all of the interviews, customer service questions were the most often asked. I had expected more "knowledge" questions concerning mechanical, plumbing and electrical subjects. But they didn't care about those questions so much. They really wanted to know how I would treat and interact with customers.
To answer those questions, I had some great role models from right in the Santa Clarita Valley, such as Mrs. Haskell, who wrapped the small Christmas gifts I bought for my parents every year. I loved going into Newhall Hardware just to watch her wrap the gifts. She made them look like Santa should take lessons.
No matter how small the gift I bought, Mrs. Haskell made sure it was the best-looking gift I placed under the tree. Every customer was treated that way. You walked in Newhall Hardware and you became the most important person in the room. Age didn't matter. You were a customer.
Some customers at Jerry's got better service. High school classmates, especially girls, were among those. There was also the anonymous lady who drove into the station on a very hot summer day. She was in a convertible. The top was down and likewise, her top was down er, off. Talk about service. Each one of us teenage boys must have washed her windshield twice, checked her tires, oil and coolant.
Her trip may have been delayed a few more minutes, but she was one customer who deserved the very best service we could give. She asked directions to state Route 126 and Santa Barbara. It took three of us to answer. She drove away, breaking the hearts of at least four of us SCV boys. Funny. I didn't mention that particular customer in any of my recent job interviews.
I also worked for Darryl Koback at Newhall Auto Parts. Now, that was fun. I delivered parts all over the SCV and at least once a day drove to "the Valley" to pick up parts at the main warehouse. Mr. Koback explained that I was the face of Newhall Auto Parts to the customers to whom I took parts, and I was expected to be his personal representative to those customers.
I learned a lot about customer service there, too. Every customer was our best customer whenever they called or walked through the door. Until they got the part they needed, we stuck with them without interruption. Service was No. 1. Period.
* * *
So now I'm working at the big-box store. Every day we get reminded about customer service. I was taken aside to the manager's office just yesterday. He said he was amazed at how well I served the customers.
"After all your years of civil service and engineering, you've taken to retail sales like a duck to water," he said. "You must have read our manual and applied every word of it in your work".
My rejoinder must have puzzled him. I said: "I learned it from Mrs. Haskell, Jerry, and Darryl Koback out west in Newhall.
It is a nice manual with pretty colors and good information, but it takes far too many pages to say, "Service, with courtesy, is what the customers expect and need. Give them that type of service and you can sell them anything in the store."
Darryl, Jerry, and Mrs. Haskell taught me that. Thanks.
Darryl Manzer lived in the Santa Clarita Valley oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s as a teenager. He now lives in Virginia.