February 1953 Radio-Electronics
[Table of Contents]
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
See articles from Radio-Electronics,
published 1930-1988. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
Note the byline in this 1953 Radio-Electronics magazine article - Juliette Drut (she's on the cover). Not often were articles in electronics trade magazines penned by a dame or damsel back in the day. For that matter, it's still pretty rare today... hmmm... but I digress. If you thumb through any electronics magazines from the middle of the last century, you find that the pages are filled with advertisements offering electronics courses to train prospects in the field of television and radio repair, with promises of a potential to make big money. Both institutional and home-study courses abounded. The costs never appeared, but hey, with the money a fellow would be making soon, surely the price would be inconsequential. Interestingly, in those same issues would be articles such as this one addressing the reality of electronics servicing and how frustrating it can be when dealing with customers. A lot of people were real scumbags and tried to welch on store-issued credit, or would refuse to pay a technician for an in-home service call if he took longer than the owner thought he should have taken, or replaced too many parts. Sure, there were plenty of unscrupulous repairmen who padded bills, but that was more the exception than the rule. BTW, the $95 per week "living wage" paid to Ms. Drut's servicemen in 1953 is the equivalent of $900 per week ($46,800/yr) in 2018 money - not bad, really, for a service technician. She also included health care coverage, making it an even better deal.
TV Service Can Be Successful
Good employee and customer relations plus good business practices are the secrets of this New York service shop.
By Juliette Drut*
An efficient television service company depends on three things: good organization, good men, and good parts. Since TV service deals primarily with labor and parts, there is no reason why we can't earn a decent profit in this business. But if we continually cut our own prices with ruthless competition, we wind up with incompetent labor, poor organization, and inferior parts. The TV service operator has it in his power to keep profit at a decent level, give excellent service, and use only the best of materials. Unfortunately - as in the old radio repair days - he is not doing this, but by cut-throat methods is preparing his own downfall and is being branded liar, thief, and cheat.
When I started my own company, I was determined to forget this kind of competition and try through honest service to give the consumer what I considered decent workmanship. By giving the customer prompt, honest, and efficient service and by charging enough to permit me to do so, I have been able to build up a business based on profit and good will.
Mrs. Drut and her secretary engaged in part of the day's work.
A large map of the area helps in planning daily itineraries.
A Day at Rondel
The day begins at Rondel TV at 8:30 am. Our shop foreman, who is an engineer, holds class with the men and discusses new chassis, new modifications, and new phases in TV, as well as anything else that the men want to know. There is also a question-and-answer period. These informal classes last about a half-hour and we arrange work schedules so that every man can attend at least three times a week. In this way our men miss nothing. They are well informed and equipped to do a better job.
Because we are open 24 hours a day, our men are rotated during the week. Some start at 9 am, others at noon, and others at 3 pm. This enables my company to service sets right up to 11 at night. Although the office closes at 6 pm, we have a telephone-answering service that picks up our telephone wires after the office closes. Then I call the answering service every hour for messages, and dispatch the calls to our men in the field. Calls received late in the evening are held until morning.
When the men finish their work, they bring in their reports and their used parts. The reports are carefully checked by me, and if there is any additional work to be done, such as an antenna call or a follow-up on a part, we get in touch with the customer and make a new appointment. This makes the customer feel we are "on the ball."
The chassis that come to the shop are placed on the section of shelves marked "For Repair." When a benchman places a set on the bench, he must check it over very carefully. Then he gives the office his estimate on the shop repair. The customer is called and told what we think is needed in parts and what, approximately, the price will be. When we get consent to go ahead with the repair, we begin work immediately. We fix not only the trouble that the set came in for, but anything else that we may anticipate or suspect.
The completed set is then given a heat run. I try to see to it that there are very few callbacks, because the callback is the greatest threat to your profit. The heat run enables our men to watch the set carefully and make sure that nothing else shows up.
When our shop foreman is satisfied with the performance of the set, it is placed on the section of the shelves marked "Completed." The office calls the customer, makes an appointment for delivery, and the set is then returned with a bill that has the complete breakdown - cost of parts and of labor - on it. The customer then has the list of parts used in the set and knows for what he is paying. I find this to be an excellent practice, because if anything should happen to the set a month or so later, it may be a completely new trouble. By having this itemized bill the customer can assure himself that he is not paying for the same thing twice.
The returned parts are carefully checked, too. Those that have a warranty are marked for replacement and are replaced by our parts man. He makes sure that the parts that are in date are exchanged or placed on back order, and sees to it that there are always enough of every kind of part on hand. He also checks the technicians' written reports to see what follow-up of parts are needed, and orders immediately any part that is not in stock.
The completed report is then filed under the customer's name and address if the set is under contract, or alphabetically and by the month if it is for a C.O.D. call. These reports are easily accessible should I have any need to check them within the next year.
The Service Personnel
I know that a man who is skilled deserves a living wage. I pay my men $95 a week. Broken down, that is $80 a week and $3 a day for the man's car. The man works a 5-day, 40-hour week. He is given eight calls a day and spends about one hour on a call. I arrange the calls so that he doesn't have much travel time, thereby allowing him more time with the sets.
Once a month I take our men out to dinner. This is always a treat for all of us. I encourage them to speak openly, to tell of their pet peeves. I am a good listener. The man may discuss his home life or anything else he wishes to speak of. This builds excellent employer-employee relations. The men do not hesitate to speak about the running of the business and very often I find their criticisms most constructive.
Our men have complete health coverage. They are enrolled in the Health Insurance Plan for which they pay nothing, since the company absorbs the entire cost rather than just half as do many companies. A man working for Rondel does not worry about the health needs of his family and has no fear of doctor bills.
All this takes money. Therefore we have carefully tabulated our costs and concluded that $5 for the first hour and $3 for each additional half-hour is a fair price for a service call. I did this by taking one man's earnings - $95 a week - added $7.60 a week for insurance and taxes, and $12.35 a week for overhead (these costs were previously worked out). This brought the figure to $114.95 - our cost for a man. I then divided that sum by 40 working hours and the figure is $2.87 per call - our cost. On a wholesale basis - because the dealer feeds us so many calls a day - we are able to charge $4.50 a call. But for retail calls, $5 is a fair price.
The service technician who works from his home and feels that he has no overhead still has his own labor to consider. He also has his car insurance and his telephone costs, and his own personal insurance. He pays about $250 a year for car insurance, $150 a year for life insurance, and at least $120 a year for telephone (triple that if he uses an answering service). Altogether that is $520 for his own personal overhead, or $10.40 a week. Add $95 for labor and car and you have a total of $105.40 which is not much less than our weekly cost of $114.95.
Looking at these figures, how can any so-called service technician charge only $3 for a call? Especially when we consider that he is likely to use up more travel time than our technicians do, because he hasn't the opportunity to bunch each day's calls in one area as we can by operating on a volume basis. Any service technician who charges $3 or less a call is certainly cheating himself of his own labor, and that's foolish. Only by keeping his price at a fair level can he give honest and sincere service. And by requiring an equitable price which enables him to give honest value, he helps to combat those cutthroat organizations that offer "bargains" and give only a very bad name to an industry that doesn't deserve it.
Check List for Management
A few words on running a TV service company efficiently and successfully:
1. Route the service calls as closely as you can. You'll save time and gas, besides the wear and tear on the car. It will also enable the technician to spend more time on each job.
2. Try to buy in larger quantities and don't hesitate to shop for prices. Very often you'll find that one distributor has an excellent special on tubes for a week. Another will have a special on wire, and so on. If you're too small to buy in quantity, try to buy co-operatively with a few other service outfits like yourself. It's important to save wherever you can by purchasing in quantity, but do not skimp on quality.
3. Try to keep your: telephone calls under control. The office help can make many unnecessary calls unless you watch carefully. If your office people are well briefed, they can explain to the person who calls in for service that it is very difficult to tell just when the service technician will call because routing does not take place until 5 pm that day.
However, if they want to know whether it will be morning or afternoon or approximately at what hour, we suggest that they call at 9:30 am the following day and we will be able to give them the information.
4. Try to keep a careful check on parts. I think this is most important, for this business revolves around parts and labor. For every fresh tube the technician gets, he must later return a used tube, or pay for the one he received. Tube kits should be checked every day before a man starts out and every evening when he checks in. Of course, you can't be sure that the used tube he returns didn't come out of a junk set rather than the customer's set. A certain amount of this will happen at times. But you can eliminate much of it by spot-checking to determine if a man is where his schedule calls for him to be, or by calling, at random, several of the places he serviced during the previous week. Incidentally, here as elsewhere, the good-will your men have toward you will show itself.
5. Read your service technician's report carefully and note his comments. Also, try to send the last service report with each new call so that if a new man is handling the call he will know what has already been done to the set.
6. Above all, when hiring a new person for your firm, do not take it for granted that he or she knows how to handle the customer. Make certain that he does, by telling him exactly in what manner he should speak to customers and what you expect of him. When I hire a girl I never take it for granted that she knows what to say when dealing with customers on the telephone. I explain to her our operations in great detail and instruct her thoroughly before letting her take a single call. It is the same with the men.
Here is a list of the rules each service technician is expected to follow:
1. Try to refrain from smoking in customer's home; or else ask permission to smoke and request an ash tray.
2. Do not sit on light-colored chairs or upholstery.
3. Use a polishing cloth to rub out finger marks on cabinet.
4. Do not handle the set roughly in sight of customer.
5. Never "knock" the receiver you are installing or servicing. Let the customer believe that it is one of the best sets on the market.
6. Leave a business card.
7.Bring only essential tools into the home; no drills, a.c. cables, etc.
8. Explain the operation of the set carefully and patiently.
9. Impress the customer with your thorough knowledge of the problem
10. Courtesy is the best policy.
And we of course tell our men that because they are going into people's' homes they must be neatly dressed.
These things are all very important. Your telephone girls and service technicians are the ones who handle your customers directly, and if they are not trained in the way you want them to operate, they can bring you customer ill-will and loss of business.
I sincerely hope that those of you who have read through these lines have found something useful to you in them. I have tried to show you how Rondel TV is run. It is a good company and a successful one. May yours be, too!
* Proprietor, Rondel TV, Bronx, N. Y. (it's tagged on Google)
Posted September 12, 2018