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Digging Deeper

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A shop in my area recently opened a second facility near downtown. They ordered a spray booth early enough and hoped to have it operational by the day of the grand opening. Unfortunately they weren’t adequately informed about more stringent regulations and permits for the downtown area.

By the day of the shop’s opening, the booth was not even close to being ready to operate. I’ve spoken to numerous shop owners who admitted they had gotten this kind of a con job when buying a piece of equipment. An effective salesperson knows how to make an enticing presentation and hit on all the buttons they know will get their prospect’s attention. It’s only later, when the product is delivered, that the buyer finds out that all of those enticing images didn’t accurately represent what they would be getting. While some products might be returnable, the biggest equipment—like spray booths and frame machines—are generally locked into place. The buyer may have first called around to talk to other users, but they may well have been the ones the salesperson recommended.

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When it comes to shopping for products, we live in a world of shams, pretenses and phony facàdes. How often do we receive one or more of these letters or postcards that tell you that you have won one of four fabulous prizes: A new Cadillac, a mink coat, a wall-sized digital TV or a wonderful new-design, all-purpose toaster? All you have to do to claim your fabulous prize is come to Happy Hidden Hills Time-Share Resort 75 miles beyond the far side of nowhere for 90-minute sales presentation. We need to develop what I call depth perception—the ability to look beyond the superficial, the appearances, the facàdes to see what really lays beneath the glitz and glib pitches. The truth might be hidden.

Many shop owners these days are shopping for price. Some may ask for competing bids and choose the lowest bid. Sadly, that bid may come with some unpleasant surprises. One that I’ve heard about frequently is in the purchase of air compressors. There are technical factors like proper-size airlines to handle the correct compressor capacity, and proper air filtration. These days being certain of the required filters can be a big factor in choosing a system. To complicate the matter further, in this tighter economy, paint companies have taken to having their sales people sell all kinds of equipment. But those sales people are often not highly conversant with the technical issues in the sale of big-ticket items. When permits and regulations will be a deciding factor, the buyer either has to become fully knowledgeable or buy from someone who has installed dozens of products and systems with those requirements.

Beyond simply choosing to possibly pay a higher price for a proven product with expert backing, there are a few ways buyers can protect themselves from sales people who are likely to hide part of the truth. 

Begin by taking more time to look beneath the surface. I’ve heard enough horror stories about imported junk and used equipment with hidden flaws to think that a deeper look is always worthwhile. One recent study found that, in a single year, over $40 billion had been lost to scams. As the keen wit of author Samuel Johnson observed in the 1700s, “We’re often inclined to believe those we don’t know because they haven’t deceived us—yet.” Here are a couple of clues to hidden, disguised or false motives:

• Unsupported generalities: The phone rings. It’s a telemarketer who says: “Diamonds are hot now! You can buy low and sell high!” Don’t buy that generality. Right then and there, say: “Oh, yeah, exactly where is that? Who did that? Send me statistical proof.” A collision repair equipment sales rep may tell you, “Everyone in the industry knows our system is the best.” When you hear, “everybody knows,” it’s time to hang up the phone or throw the guy out.

• Questionable Assumptions: A truck pulls up in front of your house. Painted on the side is the name of your cable TV company. The driver comes up to the door. On his shirt is printed the name of the cable TV company. Naturally you assume he works for the company, right? Not necessarily! Watch out for those assumptions. The shop owner who bought the delayed spray booth assumed the sales rep knew the codes and permit requirements—a costly assumption. As author George Santayana once said, “Skepticism, like chastity, shouldn’t be relinquished too readily.”


Tom Franklin, author of Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth, has been a sales and marketing consultant for more than 40 years.

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