A Dying Breed
Some of the greatest joys of this industry are the relationships we’re all blessed with—great people we’ve worked with over the years, incredible clients and the wonderful professionals whose knowledge and commitment regularly intersect our life’s path.
Every one of us has worked with someone who helped them learn and grow. I shared a birthday with a brilliant young mechanic who worked for us early in my career, someone so much better than I was at the time that I devoted myself to learning as much as I could, as quickly as I could, just to ease the pain. If we had never met, I might never have made the transition from mechanic to technician.
It’s my belief your “first call” is your “first call” because there is more than one superstar manning the phones or on the counter. Our first call is our first call for that very reason. Everyone there is a pro. But, even among the best in class, you are still likely to have your favorites—the guy or gal you’ll wait for rather than risk having the wrong part show up at the wrong time or, worse yet, not show up at all. The one who forces you to slow down. The one who asks the right questions, which are guaranteed to save your assets when it comes to getting the right part delivered at the right time.The same holds true for the people we’ve been privileged to work for over the years. Being who we are and doing what we do has allowed us to become a part of their lives, just as it has allowed them to enrich ours. And, every time we pick up the phone to call for “parts and availability” or order parts, we choose a partner for the incredibly intricate ballet of chaos and order that is our relationship with our parts suppliers and the distribution industry. It seems there is always one guy or gal at every parts house who stands head and shoulders above the rest. The only one you want to talk to. The only one who seems to get it “right.”
In the case of our first call, my superstar was a veteran of the car wars like me: Charlie Persinger of Warren Distributing. Charlie was a pro with more than his share of stories and battle scars. He was a parts guy and not simply a peddler. He was an old-time racer and must have been a pretty good wrench in his day. He understood what the parts he pushed across the counter did, how they worked. And he even had a sense of the cost and chaos a wrong part can wreak upon a shop like yours or mine.
He not only understood productivity, he understood where and how he fit in, the critical role he and his company played in our battle to succeed. You didn’t have to explain where your bill able hours went when someone on his side of the counter dropped the ball. He knew. He shared our anger and frustra- tion when the parts truck was late, the box was crushed and the part was either damaged, used or just plain wrong.
He would steer you away from the wrong part or the wrong manufacturer when return rates were too high. And, in the process, he became both a good partner and a great friend; someone you talked to beyond just rattling off a, “Hey, this is Mitch over at Schneider’s. I need price and availability on ...”
“When I think about Charlie and the hundreds, maybe thousands like him, the rst words that come to mind are ‘dying breed,’ mostly because that’s what we are." —Mitch Schneider, owner, Schneider’s Auto Repair
When you called Charlie, the request for price and availability were always preceded by, “Hey, how you doin’?”
Charlie helped me understand the other side of the industry: parts acquisition and distribution. I developed a profound respect for his knowledge of both the distribution industry and what transpires on our side of the counter once the part is delivered and someone hangs it on a car or truck. And, I’d like to believe he had as much respect and appreciation for us at our end as we had for him. He was absolutely invaluable when I was building my ’81 Corvette, the one I grafted a 1995 Buick Roadmaster LT1 engine, transmission and computerized engine management system into by knowing what was going to work and what wouldn’t.
When I think about Charlie and the hundreds, maybe thousands like him, the first words that come to mind are “dying breed,” mostly because that’s what we are. It seems we’re the last generation to care about what we do not just because it’s our job, but because what we do is an intrinsic part of who we are. Because, we do what we do out of an undying love for the machine and I’m just not seeing that same love in the kids following us.
The other reason the words “dying breed” pop into my head is because it is literally becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because, too many of us are dying.
Charlie started having what seemed like some minor health issues a couple of months ago. No one could get a handle on what was going on until one of the doctors finally figured out it was lung cancer. But, when they were finally able to give the monster a name, it was too late. Charlie was gone.
I’m going to miss him, both as a person and as a professional. I’m going to miss his twisted sense of humor and his unflappable demeanor. In all the years we worked together he never got angry, never raised his voice.
I’m going to miss not having him answer the phone or find me that impossible part I absolutely must have before I go home tonight. But, as much as I will miss Charlie, the industry will miss him more because it seems there is seemingly no one to take his place. I hope I’m wrong about that, and that his passion and commitment touched enough people to make a lasting impression. For the sake of our industry, I hope the next generation recognizes the impact of individuals like Charlie, learns from them, and carries those lessons into the future.
Mitch Schneider is a fourth-generation auto repair professional and the owner of Schneider’s Auto Repair in Simi Valley, Calif. He is an industry educator, author, seminar facilitator, and blogger at mitchschneidersworld.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.