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Time to Retire That Old Dog?

Apr 5th, 2013 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

We have a customer who owns an old Holmes wrecker, cheap a pre-Miller product, and he calls me every few months to get a quote on parts. Sometimes it takes me a couple of days because these are not commonly requested items. He’s always in a hurry, and when I give him the prices he usually decides it’s too much so he uses duct tape or something instead. He doesn’t understand that most people have purchased equipment manufactured after 1995 so the parts he asks about just aren’t made anymore. For instance, right now I’m getting pricing for him on wearpads. Our supplier used to order a hundred or so of these pads at a time from their supplier, and then those stock orders started dropping. Finally their supplier decided they weren’t going to sell the finished product anymore, or that it wasn’t cost-feasible to do so. So now our supplier buys the raw material, cuts it, drills the holes, counter-syncs and makes the pad at their facility. So obviously that part is going to cost more than it used to, and it’s going to take a few days to get it done. And it even takes a day or so for someone to find the current price on the raw material and get the quote to me.

So the customer currently has no wearpads on his wheel-lift. Nada. Zilch. And he wonders why it’s wearing out. And he’s on the East coast so road salt has converted most of his truck into a completely different alloy. He recently sent me some photos of the bed to get a quote on side panels. You know how petrified wood is made, right? The wood gets buried, water drips down into it and the wood erodes away. Minerals in the water slowly take its place — so it looks like the wood — and then it solidifies. Same frame — different material. This is what his truck bed is like. Road salt and grit have slowly converted what’s left of his bed to some kind of brittle mixture of minerals and rust.

Putting new parts on this truck is kind of like treating the symptom of a disease rather than curing or preventing disease. He probably thinks he can’t afford a new truck, or a newer used truck. Could it be that using this old truck is decreasing his earning potential? There’s a thought. He probably thinks he can’t afford to have the truck down. Could it be that the repairs are draining his resources — both time and money? Hmmm.

With genuine care, you can keep a working piece of equipment in excellent shape. However, there will come a time when your efforts should be to beautify it as an old-school show truck and take it out of circulation. Think about it from your customer’s perspective. If the tow truck pulls up and things are falling off, it does not instill confidence in any decision you make on their behalf. Sure there are pioneers out there who appreciate the pragmatic approach, but even for these folks there is a point of diminishing return. It might behoove you to look for the “Diminishing Return Ahead” sign and get off that road.

When my parents purchased a tow company back in the mid-1970s, all of the equipment they acquired was used and fairly old. Everyone, in hindsight, blamed that as one of the factors that put them in the hole right from the get-go. I’ve driven my share of dubious trucks, the ones with a sag in the stinger that seems to contradict the properties of tempered steel, or the intermittent controls that only work if you sequence it like an X-Box cheat (left-right-left-right-A-B-LT). Or you pull out the needle and thread at the accident scene to patch up the wheel-lift strap before hook-up. It’s a reflection of your operation. It’s more than a reflection — it’s a transparency.

I know the realities of business. Sometimes you have to tough it out with what you have. Heck, my laptop is missing one corner section and looks like the Starship Enterprise right before Khan got fooled by Kirk. It’s better for our business, in a way, if you keep that old standby on the road and call us every month for parts. It is an indication that you’re putting it to use. But remember, trucks have feelings too. Don’t take that old hunting dog out and make him swim out for the ducks when it hurts him just to walk to the water bowl in the morning. He’ll keep going out for you as long as you ask him to, no matter how much it hurts.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper