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Unknown Parts Counter Guy: There’s No Such Thing As Infinite Patience, Here’s Why

Unknown Parts Counter Guy: There’s No Such Thing As Infinite Patience, Here’s Why
Did you know that there is a magazine for parts counter people? Don’t lie…I didn’t either until this week. Counterman magazine chronicles the business world of slinging automotive parts…and unless you are deep into the selling parts game (like a CEO or upper management) reading it is a great alternative to Ambien. I’m honestly amazed that it exists, but hey, for every interest there is someone reporting on it.
We got a copy in the store, and it was my first time looking at one. Most of it is trade show this, new updates that…stuff that even at my line of work means little. There were some cool items, such as new releases of parts, but mostly I was picture skimming right up until I came across an article written by Gerald Wheelus entitled, “Is Your Patience Wearing Thin?”
Stupid question, I think to myself, and I start to read. Sparing you all from having to read it yourself, the short version of the piece is:
A.     Any and every time you are frustrated with a customer, it is your fault. You let your emotions get away from you and the customer will notice.
B.     As a counterman who is experiencing frustration, your best option is to simply laugh off the frustration and “don’t worry, just be happy.”
…wait, WHAT?
As I read this article, it was everything I could do to not get the paper bag out of the car, put it over my head and scream bad words in the parking lot until I felt better…or the cops were called. To say I disagree with Mr. Wheelus is an understatement. There are only two things with his article I agree upon: that the counterman needs to be in control of their emotions and not allow the customer to dictate how they feel, and this entire line:
Customers think that we can diagnose their vehicles over the phone when skilled, trained and well-equipped mechanics cannot fix it. They want to beat us down about the price, warranty or speed of delivery, they do not understand what we really do or go through. The truth is they do not care. They are only concerned about themselves and see us as servants to their needs at the current time.”
There, at least, I agree with him.
The truth is, you simply cannot ignore a frustration. That leads to a bottling of emotion that sooner or later, must be vented. The employee image I pictured from this article was the Costco guy from the movie Idiocracy: “Welcome to Costco…I love you.” And there is no way that I’m going to revert to a mind-numbed oxygen theif who simply is there to cater to someone else’s will. Remember, folks: The customer is NOT always right!
Does that mean that I’m going to open a bucket of Bondo up and fling handfuls of it at stupid people? No, even though it does sound appealing to me. It means that I’m going to persevere as long as I can before I finally ask for help from another counter clerk or a supervisor, if for no other reason than to disengage and go cool off. If I have a guy on the phone chewing me a new ass because the parts he ordered haven’t arrived the second he demanded them, I’m not going to go into full-on Angry Drill Sergeant mode on him. Instead I will interject, as best that I can, that continued verbal abuse will push me into hanging up on him, as I have no reason to listen to it. If they have enough of a problem, they can come to the store and deal with me in person. After some of the customer rushes, I’m ready for some MMA-style fighting and would welcome a few intense rounds of cage fighting. “In this corner, wearing the black trunks and the bag on his head…
In my store we have four dysfunctional veterans, a foul-mouthed housewife, several parents, and the basket case that is Store Manager. None of us are saints, and all of us have tempers. It takes a great effort to climb most of our nerves. We go out of our way and bend over backwards to satisfy our customer’s needs. We get annoyed when we are unable to assist. We also get annoyed by jackasses who think that because they have read every Hot Rod printed since 1978 that they know all and cannot be wrong when it comes to their vehicle, and by idiots who try to pawn off some junkyard part as a warranty claim part for money. I refuse to simply smile it away when some brat with his pants around his ass jacks us for $140 in high-end headlight bulbs when we are absolutely slammed.
I’m not sure what Wheelus was trying to get across, but patience is finite. To simply keep cutting the customer slack encourages the customer to keep taking advantage of the counterclerks. I want the customer to respect me, as much as I respect them.
Hopefully that’ll be the end of that.
(If you have the desire to read Gerald Wheelus’s article in Counterman magazine, you can find it in the April edition, on page 36, at this address: http://issuu.com/babcox/docs/cm_apr14?e=1577724/7414340

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24 thoughts on “Unknown Parts Counter Guy: There’s No Such Thing As Infinite Patience, Here’s Why

  1. GuitarSlinger

    There’s most certainly are limits to ones patience . Unfortunately there are no limits as to the amount of idiots available out there to test one’s patience . Idiots coming in a seemingly infinite supply

  2. 75Duster

    I would like to see how Gerald Wheelus would handle a Saturday rush between commercial accounts and the do it yourself crowd, it would eat him up.

    1. Parts Guy

      According to the magazine, Wheelus is the GM of a parts store in Texas. I’m hoping that he knows what he’s doing.

    2. Gerald Wheelus

      Well here is how. Patiently! I have worked the counter for 25+ years and continue to do so. I do not have the cushy office and deal with more than the occasional problems. I get to tend to 10 other stores problems as well, while mixing automotive paint, selling lawn mower and tractor parts to boot. Oh yeah the ATV products and yes the Dumb A== across the counter that does not know anything more than the color of the car or how many lug nuts are on the rear axle.

      Truthfully, you will have to read the next counterman to see my response to how I would really deal with the Saturday rush and the commercial accounts to boot.

      But, the real answer is I loose my patience too and our business is not an easy one but, just as I told the customer the other day, I did not buy that vehicle you did and it is not my fault parts are expensive for it. You have a choice and if you are unhappy in the business then???GW

  3. john

    UPCG… You don’t wear the bag while in the store? Sales through fear might be your best gimmick.

    1. Parts Guy

      Nope. The idea of being recognized is enough to keep me from having it anywhere near work. Plus, I can’t see out of the damn thing. Gotta work on that.

      1. oldsman496

        Been a Counterman 2 yrs now and I am absolutely amazed at the ignorance of the avg customer.

        “What kind of car do you have Ma’am?”

        “its blue…………”

  4. Spike

    On the flip side, I am fed up with parts counter guys that know nothing but what the computer spits out at them. You wouldn’t believe how quickly parts guys start flipping through a catalog when you ask for a 6.5 power valve, or a base plate gasket for a 4500 series as the parts hang on the rack behind them.

    1. Parts Guy

      6.5 power valve shouldn’t be an issue. GM diesel, mid-80’s. 4500 series, I’m assuming International (confession: Parts Guy doesn’t know dick about diesels unless it’s GM 6.2/6.5 or Cummins 5.9.) Either way, at least somebody is flipping through a catalog. I’ve seen idiots who ignore the books altogether when a customer has an off request. Here it’s farm equipment, and the best way to get basic parts (filters, injectors, etc) is to cross-reference via the books.

      I have a friend who hawks parts for Freightliner in the Northwest…should give him a ring…

      1. Wildman

        If I’m not mistaken both the 6.5 power valve and the 4500 series base plates were referring to Holley carb parts/accessories that most parts stores have hanging just behind the counter rather than anything for medium duty diesels

    2. tigeraid

      There’s just as many customers who THINK “they’re all the same” when sometimes they are not. If we’re asking for a year/make/model and we’re a GOOD counter guy, there’s a reason.

      I get that a lot with people who want intake gaskets or oil pan gasket for “a smallblock chevy,” Yes, the engine was essentially the same for 40 years, but there were plenty of little tweaks, so at least narrowing it down to a DECADE helps. Intake bolt pattern, rear main seal design, dipstick location…

      And further, you can’t whine and claim a counter guy “knows nothing” because he can’t, for example, remember off of the top of his head what year and models the different Ford 9″ axle bearings came in. So when you say “hur hur gimme the big Ford 9″ axles” and then get angry when I ask year/make/model, it’s not MY fault I’m not an “obscure old Ford parts guy.” Should I make fun of you for not knowing which level of Honda Civic takes a given rotor?

      We can all just get along if you answer some basic damn questions.

    3. chase

      After bein in parts for seven years now, and having worked at several parts.houses (including dealers) at least they are hittin the catalogue. The rule i was taught when i first started outwas the “you dont have to know off the top of your head, but you have to know how to FIND the answer”. If you are walking into an auto parts warehouse and getting fruatrated that the counterman is going out of their way to look up your part in the catalogue rather than just spit out the part number, i would gladly invite you to try being behind the counter sometime. Its a job where the customer demands for you to be an expert in EVERY aspect of mechanics: basic automotive, performance, off roading, electrical, how to rebuild a transmission, tractor, motorcycle, lawn mower, etc. and is pissed if you dont know off the top your head where the cam sensors located on that one motor that manufactuter tried for only one year and quietly killed. If you are mad that someone being asked several hundred tech question covering all aspects of anything mechanical every day cannot just grab your part the second you say the motor, then you are literally the point of these rants.

  5. stressedoutexmechanic

    Hmm, no mention of useless, know it all co-workers? I suppose being a dealership technician meant I was generally spared the idiot customers, and the idiot co-workers were someone else’s problem.

    1. Parts Guy

      While I would love to, the problem is that if any of them found this column, I’d be d-o-n-e F!’d in half a second. Especially since one particular ex-worker has actually started a lawsuit over a recent termination. I’m already risking a lot of my ass to write these stories. Give it time, they’ll come out eventually.

  6. Boots

    “I need a set of spider gears for my truck!”

    Ok, sir, what it is for a truck?

    “A chevy!”

    Well, Chevy makes a lot of vehicles, can you be a bit more specific?

    “It’s a half ton.”

    What year?

    “Doesn’t matter, they’re all the same.”

    No, if they were all the same, I wouldn’t ask. What’s it got for an axle?

    “I don’t know.”

    Well, how many bolts on the cover?

    “I don’t know.”

    How many lugs on the axles?

    “I don’t know.”

    Well sir, I don’t know either. I also can’t see it from here. Try holding the phone up closer to it and I’ll give it another shot.

  7. Scott

    Turned wrenches for years then went to the other side of the counter and sold parts for over 10 years. Now work as a service writer/manager. I’ve seen the idiots from all angles and there is an endless supply of them. I understand and feel your pain, keep up the good fight!

  8. Jamie Zeveska

    as a female working in a speed shop, I get a lot of guys that are surprised I have a clue as to what they need. Getting information for anything differential related is a challenge from most. Last week I sold a bearing kit for GM 8.6 diff and customer argued with me because the box label said it was for GM 8.5, I had to be wrong. I advised him to check the bearing numbers before installing and if it were wrong, I would personally deliver the correct kit (Dont offer deliveries at our store). Others think the model of the carb is all they need when looking for bowl gaskets and other small parts when the list number is required. I guess I love the challenge and am grateful that the majority of my customers know exactly what they need and are awesome to work with.

  9. Kurt

    Recently I printed out a list of parts I needed for a brake job from O’Reilly’s website. I took the list to the nearest store and handed it to the next available counter person. It happened to be the asst. store manager. He looked at the list and said “Which item on the list do you want”? Seriously? I then told him I wanted the ENTIRE list, that’s why I printed the list!!

  10. Tony Sestito

    When I used to sling parts, I vaguely remember getting those magazines in the store. They were full of articles like the one you are talking about. Most of them prized customer service above accuracy and knowledge of what you were doing. At least we had a good store manager that knew to see past all that BS.

    Remember, a lot of the people that walk through those doors are pre-marinated in pissed-offness because their car broke down. I learned real quick, as you have, to be on the defensive at all times. These people can be very angry and they carry that anger into the store to unleash hell at the drop of a hat. That “just be happy” BS does not apply here unless you want a box of brake pads chucked at your head. And yes, that actually happened to me once for trying to help someone!

  11. chase

    All time favorite has to be: “i need a starterfor a small block chevy”
    ” what year?”
    “doesnt matter theyre all the same”
    “what generation?l
    “i said theyre all the same”
    “manual or auto”
    “what, are you retarded? Theyre all the same!”
    Grabs starter for 66 289 automatic
    “is this gonna work?”

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