Working in a parts store offers many challenges, from technical (knowing what the customer is asking for, then trying to decipher the catalog listing) to personal to the unending paperwork that accompanies any type of inventory-oriented business.
With all there is to do in a normal day, you would think boredom or complacency would be the last thing to set in; unfortunately, that's not always the case. If you let it, the usual routine can turn into a mind-numbing grind that affects every aspect of the day, especially job performance.
The best way to describe this is the S.S.D.D., or same stuff different day, syndrome. It's something I think everybody wrestles with once in a while, but they may not realize it. Stop and think about customers you talk to on the phone every day. You can probably tell within the first few seconds just how their day is going by voice tone only, and they can tell the same of you.
Whether it's good, bad, busy or indifferent, the expression on your face and your mood are going to telegraph down the line just as surely as if you stated it in plain words. Most people can easily understand and even overlook busy or bad moments, but indifference signals an unwillingness to go the extra step that may be required, and that's certain death for any service-oriented business.
The S.S.D.D. syndrome is alive and well in the service bays as well. It's always struck me as sad that some people can invest so much time and effort into their job and expect nothing more than a paycheck out of it. I've known more than a few technicians who complain about whatever vehicle they happen to be working on at the moment. If you ask what they would rather be working on, they'll tell you that all cars are junk, so what's the difference.
Obviously, at some point the satisfaction of working at what was probably once a hobby or teenage passion has worn off. These are usually the same guys who will tell you how much better and easier it was to work on cars years ago. That may be true, but dwelling on the past won't change what's here today. While these guys may not have to worry about interacting with the general public, they sure can make the counterman's life more difficult. And you have to wonder how thorough their work might be, given that they don't seem to enjoy the job.
The obvious solution to S.S.D.D. syndrome is change. How much or how little is up to each individual, but it doesn't take a whole lot to make a difference. Unfortunately, people stuck in a rut get that way because they resist change in the first place, so they come to believe that only big changes can make a difference. I'm lucky in that I work for a company that has 35 stores, and on occasion I get to help out at other locations.
All of the procedures and everything I do at other locations is the same as my everyday routine, but I get to see them from a different perspective, and it's made me realize some things.
The automotive parts and service business is changing all the time. New methods and technologies are being introduced at an almost exponential pace, but the basic nature of the industry is the same as it always was: Provide the customer with the right parts and quality repair services. If you fail to notice or take advantage of the small changes and opportunities that come your way each day, you can easily work your way into a rut so deep you can't see the end objective clearly anymore.
Mike Gordon, a 20-year counter sales veteran, works the counter at Sanel Auto Parts, Concord, N.H.