I recently found myself on the wrong end of a fairly interesting interview. What is the wrong end of an interview, you ask?
As a journalist, I can tell you without hesitation it is the end to which the questions are directed.
You see it's a lot easier to draft the questions than it is to dodge them. The only problem is that it's not always your choice.
When the questions are focused on the current economic mess we all find ourselves struggling with, or how well we are doing in comparison to our clients, or even when they are being asked by the Los Angeles Times, well, then it’s hard to say no and just walk away.
And I didn't. I answered the questions despite the anxiety and despite the agita (heartburn for those of you not fortunate enough to have been raised in an Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn).
If you have ever been in that position, you know the "agita" comes from not being able to control “the message” — essentially what you want the reader to take away from whatever it is you have to say.
My message was simple. It's hard to get excited about profiting from a situation in which your clients — the people who have sustained you and your business for all the years you’ve been in business, in our case, more than 30 — are struggling. The problem was the article was conveying a very different point of view from my own. A point of view that suggested all of us in the aftermarket are doing quite nicely while our clients and customers suffer.
The thing I find most interesting about all of this is it appears to be the official message our industry is comfortable sharing with the motoring public. This wasn’t the first article I’ve read suggesting this and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
The lead sentence for the story I was involved with (A Pick Up In Repairs, Andrew Khouri, Business Section, LA Times, Sept. 16, 2011) suggested that "When motorists’ pocketbooks are light, Bob Little's (the primary shop owner source for this L.A. Times piece) wallet bulges!"
I guess I should be embarrassed my wallet isn't bulging. But, I'm not sure I know all that many shop owners whose are.
Don't misunderstand. A lot of us are doing OK. In fact, for many of us, sales are up. But, I'll bet if you ask the right questions, you'll find that while sales are up, bottom-line profits are down! And, they're down because shop owners like me are trying desperately to hold the line on the constant barrage of price increases we feel compelled to absorb, rather than pass on to a motoring public already reeling from increases in every other category of the Consumer Price Index.
So, if we're not all dancing in the streets from this alleged windfall, who is? Who is doing better? Whose wallets are bulging?
Is it you? I'm not sure. If you're a jobber or a warehouse, I'll bet you're feeling the reality a lot of shop owners are dealing with where you can least afford to — in your receivables!
If you're a supplier or manufacturer, is your chief financial officer doing pirouettes down the hall? Are they constantly searching for someplace to hide all that extra cash?
More to the point, is this really the message we want to share? Or would it be more prudent, more realistic, perhaps, to at least try to convey a picture of the softer, more caring and compassionate side of our industry? Maybe we should highlight the part of our industry that really cares about the people who make all of our lives possible.
You tell me. Which face would you rather see promoted? Which face would you rather see associated with our industry?