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Mac's Service Shop: Chisel Blunters
September 1958 Radio & TV News

September 1958 Radio & TV News
September 1958 Radio & TV News Cover - RF Cafe[Table of Contents]

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from Radio & Television News, published 1919-1959. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

The dichotomy between the customer who is worried about the service shop owner ripping him off and the service shop owner who is worried about the customer ripping him off is an old one. Given how even normally honest people allow themselves a "white lie" here and there to consummate a business deal or pacify the whims of an acquaintance, it is understandable how such suspicions come to be. In this 1958 issue of Radio & TV News, Mac McGregor and trusty sidekick Barney Jameson discuss how to handle customers who imply the desire for or outright request (even demand) special consideration on repair services and/or replacement parts. The steadfast policy of Mac's Service Shop was "cash-only" - no exceptions. In the days before readily available credit cards and cash advances from ATMs, it was usually up to the business to extend and take the risk for credit. Often collecting on the promised funds consumed significant effort and on occasion resulted in failure. There are real-life stories where a serviceman effects on-site repairs on a TV or radio with the clearly advertised cash payment upon completion of the job, then the customer (aka a "chiseler") claims to be short on funds and requests an extension of credit. If unable to convince said customer to pay up, he would remove the replaced components and walk out the door. Sometimes he would immediately be called back and paid, and other times not.

Mac's Service Shop: Chisel Blunters

Mac's Service Shop: Chisel Blunters, September 1958 Radio & TV News - RF CafeBy John T. Frye

"And since this radio is all the poor old fellow has for enjoyment, I told him I'd take it and have it repaired for him," the fat man was saying to Mac as Barney came into the shop after making a service call. "Naturally, I can't afford to put too much into it; but now you understand the circumstances, I'm sure you'll keep your charges to a minimum."

"As a matter of fact," Mac replied gently, "we shall have to charge the same for repairing this set as for any other. We make it a standard shop practice to keep our business and our charity work entirely separate. We give as generously as we can to the Community Fund, the Red Cross, and all the other worthwhile charities - and you know how many of them there are these days - but when we make out a bill for a repair job, we charge the same fair amount for the work listed, no matter whose name appears on that bill. If we had a different charge-rate for every individual, we'd soon lose the confidence of our customers and be forced to ask for charity instead of bestow it. I know a man of your business ability understands this when it is pointed out to you."

"Of course, of course!" the fat man said hurriedly as he wiped his red face with his handkerchief. "I simply wasn't thinking. You go ahead and fix that set up right, no matter what it costs, and I'll pay for it."

"Hey, Boss," Barney said softly after the man had gone; "you fibbed a little to that man. Time after time I've seen you put several new parts into some poor devil's set and then make out a bill for 'broken connection repaired' or something like that so you could charge a minimum amount."

"I didn't really lie in words," Mac defended himself sheepishly. "Remember I said we charged our regular rate for all the work 'listed on the bill'; and we do. That's the way I like to handle a case in which we know the owner of the set actually deserves help but can't afford to pay for having it repaired. Doing it that way lets him keep his pride, which is important. He has asked no favors and, as far as he knows, has received none.

"This other arrangement our chubby friend was trying to put over is altogether different. It costs the set owner his pride; it costs us our labor and parts; and the tinhorn Samaritan gets credit for doing a charitable deed! Yet it is surprising how often this proposition is presented, with varying degrees of subtlety, to the service technician."

"Well, I'll say this: you certainly did a neat job of blunting that would-be chiseler's chisel!"

"That job is a good bit like the one of pasting on wallpaper," Mac said with a chuckle. "Either you do it neatly or you have an unholy mess on your hands. Having to say No or point out that a person is in the wrong is always a ticklish business. One false move and you've made an enemy for life. Never forget the quotation: 'You can't always say Yes, but you can always say No graciously.' The real trick is to be careful to leave the customer with a graceful, face-saving retreat from his or her unreasonable position."

"How do you handle the joker who buys parts from a wholesale catalogue and wants you to install them for the same labor bill you would charge for putting in your own parts?"

"Give him the straight facts. Explain that what a service technician really sells is his technical knowledge and his time; but his income is composed of two parts: the labor charge and the difference between retail and wholesale prices of the parts installed. When he sets an hourly labor charge that is estimated to pay his overhead, give a return on his investment, and yield a reasonable profit, he figures in the anticipated income from commission on parts and lowers the hourly rate from what it would otherwise have to be. If that commission is lost, the labor charge must go up to provide the same income for doing the same job under normal procedure. To do otherwise is simply to cheat yourself; and in this shop we do not want to cheat anyone - either the customers or ourselves."

"I like that last statement," Barney said. "It sort of leaves hanging in the air the idea that we don't want anyone else cheating us, too; but it doesn't actually say it. Here's another for you: what kind of psychological Jiu Jitsu do you use on the fellow who brings in three or four old junker radios and says that if you will just fix up one so it will play he will give you the others for 'parts!' "

Mac grinned knowingly as he replied. "Ah, yes! We usually get an epidemic of that sort of thing in the spring when folks start cleaning out the attics. This is a place to be very firm and clear. Never, under any circumstances, let anyone give you an old radio for 'parts'! Explain that you do not have the slightest use in the world for old sets because you never install anything but brand-new parts that you can guarantee. If the customer wants you to examine the sets at your regular estimate charge per set, you will be glad to do so and to make recommendations as to which, if any, are worth repairing and which one would be the best choice. Then, if he wishes, you will be glad to make the repairs at your regular prices. He can pick up the other sets and junk them. If he does not want to bother to take these sets with him, make a point of heaving them into the trash barrel in his presence. Never give anyone the slightest excuse in the world for starting a rumor that we install used parts."

"Check!" Barney agreed. "A character that makes my tired blood boil is the one who tries to set our service charge in advance by saying something like, 'Now I don't want to put more than a couple of bucks into this job.' What do you do about him?"

"Well I wouldn't go quite as far as one technician I know. A fellow came into this technician's shop and set an old beat-up set down on the bench with the remark, 'I want this fixed, but I don't want to put more than a couple of dollars into it.'

"Paul, the technician, grabbed up the set like it was scorching his bench and shoved it into the astonished customer's arms. 'Gosh, man,' Paul said, 'be careful where you set that receiver on my bench. You just put it down on a five-dollar spot and that's one of the cheapest areas. There aren't any two-dollar spots on that bench!'

"Actually, the thing to do is to point out that your minimum estimate charge just for examining the set is a substantial portion of the figure named and would leave practically nothing for actual repairs. If the receiver isn't worth more than a couple of dollars to him when it's working right, he'd better not leave it, for the chances are excellent it can't be repaired for that small sum. He will simply be out the estimate charge to establish that this is a fact.

"People are funny, to coin a phrase; but I know from experience that at least four out of five customers will not take the set away when the facts are presented to them in this fashion.

"Even if he doesn't leave it, you have suffered no real loss. For a service shop to gain a reputation for doing good work at reasonable prices is a good thing, but to get a reputation for 'working cheap' never really helped any shop - not in the long run."

"You know, I think the toughest thing of all to handle are requests for credit," Barney offered. "In spite of signs all over the place saying that service work is strictly cash, we still get these. What makes it really hard is that quite likely, in many cases, there is no intent to chisel. A lot of people just ask for credit sort of automatically."

"Yes, I know what you mean," Mac said; "but a strictly cash policy must have no exceptions if it is to be effective. In this case, the exception proves there is no rule - not really. You notice that new customers seldom give us any trouble in this respect. It is easy for them to understand that we cannot be asked to trust them since they are unknown to us. But when an old customer or, worse yet, a friend says, 'How about my paying for this Friday?' that really puts the pressure on the strictly cash policy."

"Yeah, but I've seen you handle that one more than once," Barney remarked.

"That's right. I explain quite truthfully that our bookkeeping system is set up for a strictly cash operation and that there is absolutely no provision for a credit arrangement. Then, if it is a friend or someone in whom I have confidence, I suggest that I will make them a personal loan so that they can pay Miss Perkins for the set and keep our records straight. I have never lost a dime this way. It's kind of funny, but people who would let a bill owed the shop drag on and on will show up promptly Friday to pay back the money I let them have out of my own pocket."

"Do you think we lose some business because we don't do service work on tick?" Barney asked.

"Certainly I do, but I'm not worried about it. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think in the long run we come out ahead. I've talked to lots of technicians who tried to make a go of independent service and failed. Invariably, they closed their doors with a lot of credit on their books; and you can imagine how much of that was ever collected after the business failed. Every time someone walks out or hangs up when I say that our strictly cash policy means exactly what it says and I feel a little low about it, I just remember these failures and determine to keep right on as we have been doing. Say, what are you grinning about?"

"I was just thinking what a switch this conversation has been from some of the magazine articles I've read," Barney said. "They are always telling the readers how to keep the radio service shop from gypping them, and here we have been talking about how to keep the public from chiseling the service technician. Personally, I find it a delightful and refreshing change!"

"So do I," Mac said; "so do I!"



Posted November 6, 2020

Mac's Radio Service Shop Episodes on RF Cafe

This series of instructive technodrama™ stories was the brainchild of none other than John T. Frye, creator of the Carl and Jerry series that ran in Popular Electronics for many years. "Mac's Radio Service Shop" began life in April 1948 in Radio News magazine (which later became Radio & Television News, then Electronics World), and changed its name to simply "Mac's Service Shop" until the final episode was published in a 1977 Popular Electronics magazine. "Mac" is electronics repair shop owner Mac McGregor, and Barney Jameson his his eager, if not somewhat naive, technician assistant. "Lessons" are taught in story format with dialogs between Mac and Barney.

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