Quirky Service and Other Hazards of Shopping Local

 

My 2004 Subaru interior needed cleaning—badly. And since I was looking to start a new job where I would be driving my car, I needed to get it done soon. I did a quick Facebook search and found a local car detailing business. The reviews were glowing. But besides the votes of confidence, it was hard to get much in the way of crucial information from what the page offered. A bead on the location would have been helpful. I called the number and the proprietor said he charged $150. I would need to leave the car all of Monday. Later, when I had questions, a couple of my text queries went unanswered.

It was a pain dropping the vehicle off. Other detailing businesses I’d seen offered to come to you with their supplies. And it complicated things that the detailing business lacked clear signage. “Across the street from the Toyota dealership” wasn’t helping me. I pulled into a body shop that seemed close to the description of where I was to turn and asked the woman behind the desk whether anyone recognized the name of the business I was looking for. No, they’d never heard of it. Customers seated against the walls of the cramped pre-fab office regarded me with interest. I pulled back out onto the busy highway and finally found the establishment behind a car wash.

It would have been convenient to have the use of my car that day since I had a job interview. As it was, I had to arrange for someone to pick me up, drop me off at the prospective job site, pick me up again, and allow me to ride around in their car until my own vehicle was ready. When I got there anticipating the professional transformation—well, it was more like a home makeover. It was definitely vacuumed and a little scrubbed and shined up. Too shined up, in fact. I suspected that whoever had cleaned my car had whipped through it, making it definitely more acceptable for a work car. However, he had lavished polishing compound on the hard surfaces until they were oily to the touch. They were so greasy that they would have ruined my clothes when I brushed up against them. The back seat, for which I had requested special attention, had been cleaned, and was less grimy looking, but still obviously stained.

Feeling self-conscious, I went into the garage to ask for a rag to wipe off the polish. The owner emerged from the back, and a coworker whose head and shoulders appeared over a vehicle’s side stared at me as I fumbled with the words of my request. (This would have been an appropriate moment for the owner to cue the slack-jawed employee with, “Now Ruprecht, what do we say to the nice lady customers?” And then after some odd utterance, the guy would start banging hub caps and running in circles.) The owner acquiesced with the towel, and I spent some time rubbing down my interior and then running the dirty car through the car wash out front. I wonder now whether I should have given some kind of customer satisfaction feedback when I handed back the towel—but I felt foolish enough asking for the towel in the first place. I guessed, however, that the trucks and boats left with these guys got spiffed up beautifully. The rage of a truck-proud man gypped by his detailer must be spectacular.

Local business attracts regular fanfare and cheerleading—on Facebook, in-store displays, and elsewhere, we are given messages about the benefits of frequenting small, locally owned enterprises. But experiences like mine with the car detailer make me wonder whether there is a tendency of some long-time residents to be complacent about their regular customer stream and not feel the need to deliver much beyond their basic strengths. For example, I have gone to the same hairdresser in town for the last 13 years. I found her when I moved here, and she still trims my hair for under twenty dollars (I also tip her), and washing and styling for fun is free. She knows how to make a flattering cut, in the style one is looking for. In the last few years, she’s been busier, and it’s harder to get in. Then the phone frequently doesn’t get answered. I leave a message. No callback. A second message might not yield results, either. However, I’m not nearly ready to go somewhere else. I know which side of my curling iron is hot…. Or something like that.

My daughter got a job at a popular pizza joint last summer. I was concerned because the place was a seedy bar with “saloon” in its name. Inside, it’s dingy, and thousands of customers have carved their messages into the tables and walls. Nice. However, I ate there, and really it was more pizza establishment than bar. Turns out that despite few hints outside the weather-beaten building, and in spite of the designation “Saloon” and short swinging doors one would expect some gun-slinging cowpoke to come stumbling out of at any moment, the place churns out nearly 2,000 pizzas a day. Somehow—by word of mouth, or by some potent online presence—the anonymous grey building, like a giant magnet, silently draws in tourists from all over the US and beyond. The customers who manage to grope their way through the dim, sawdust-carpeted dining area to the ordering window find themselves able to also buy beer from a setup off to the side of the restaurant.

But beer is just a bonus for some. Most are really there for the delicious, chewy-crusted pizzas. The second-generation owner, with almost more business than she can handle, probably sees no need to renovate, provide adequate signage, or even let customers know that the back door is a legitimate entrance, too. Maybe if she did do that, even perhaps brighten it up and call it “Amy’s Family Restaurant,” the summer stampede would turn into a crush. Or maybe not. Maybe the ostensible casual neglect is part of the charm.

There are 7 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member
    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw
    @MattBalzer

    sawatdeeka: Maybe the ostensible casual neglect is part of the charm. 

    I would say so. One of my favorite places is a bar and grill in a 100+ year-old building. There’s been some renovations over the years but the age and such is what makes it interesting.

    There was a restaurant in my hometown that used to be a Pizza Hut and the new owners basically kept it as is, a bit dark and greasy. Then it changed hands again and got renovated completely. It was cleaner but not nearly as fun.

    • #1
  2. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    Yikes!  Sounds like an incompetent auto detailer charging far more than his level of competence is worth.

    This is part of our November series on the theme: “Service.” Thanks to all who signed up, filling all the days without excessive nagging.

    Not on the roster? Feel free to roll out a bonus post!

    • #2
  3. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    sawatdeeka: Feeling self-conscious, I went in the garage to ask for a rag to wipe off the polish.

    So, you didn’t just kick open the doors yelling, “Who dies first?”  Interesting.

    sawatdeeka: “Now Ruprecht, what do we say to the nice lady customers?”

    Oklahoma!!

    • #3
  4. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    A pizza joint and a car detailing shop are both businesses that rely on repeat business (as is a hairdresser, as you noted). Maybe the car detailer hasn’t grasped that fact yet. Or he already has enough business that he doesn’t need to be easy for a new customer to find, and/or he can dismiss the customer with the 2004 Subaru as a one time event unlikely to repeat. He may have assessed that you were unlikely to bring the car back for regular cleaning and detailing every month or 3 or 6, so it didn’t really matter how you felt. [Side note – polishing compound (or wax for that matter) does not leave an oily residue on the paint. I wonder if instead of polishing and waxing the paint, he just spread a lubricant substance on the surface to make the surface appear shiny for a short time only. Materials to help shine the vinyls of the interior can make the vinyl surface feel oily, but those should be wiped down before delivery to the customer. In college I did some private car detailing to earn spending money.]

    Some food establishments seem to relish in their unkempt appearance. BBQ joints in Texas for example. I had lunch today in a BBQ joint in a small town in central Texas based on reviews and recommendations. But there is no way I would have stopped if I were just driving by. There was a small core building surrounded by a mismatched collection of haphazard looking additions. 

    • #4
  5. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member
    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw
    @MattBalzer

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):
    Some food establishments seem to relish in their unkempt appearance. BBQ joints in Texas for example. I had lunch today in a BBQ joint in a small town in central Texas based on reviews and recommendations. But there is no way I would have stopped if I were just driving by. There was a small core building surrounded by a mismatched collection of haphazard looking additions. 

    From my understanding that’s what you want your BBQ joint to look like.

    • #5
  6. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    Side note – polishing compound (or wax for that matter) does not leave an oily residue on the paint. I wonder if instead of polishing and waxing the paint, he just spread a lubricant substance on the surface to make the surface appear shiny for a short time only. Materials to help shine the vinyls of the interior can make the vinyl surface feel oily, but those should be wiped down before delivery to the customer.

    @Full Size Tabby  It was polish on the inside surfaces of the car. I probably didn’t explain that well. The exterior he didn’t clean at all, despite there being a car wash that I think he owned as well. 

    • #6
  7. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Sounds like Armor All sprayed on.

    • #7

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.