The year was 1976, the place was Milton, Florida, a small, semi-rural community in the Florida panhandle, not far from Pensacola, where I had grown up. I had recently returned to northwest Florida, after working as an accountant for the Florida State Department of Education in Tallahassee and Sarasota, to take the position of Business Manager for the Santa Rosa County Mental Health Clinic.
It was a beautiful sunny day, and I was standing outside Red's service station on one of Milton's street corners (You remember service stations, right?) while a set of tires was being put on my car. I had a lot of my automobile maintenance done at Red's, and frequently bought gas and had oil changes done there. He was a nice guy, his prices were reasonable, and the service was great.
As he often did with his customers, Red came out and visited for a couple of minutes. I had been watching the activity on two of the other corners, and reflecting on changes occuring. I asked Red if the two new convenience stores with self-service gas pumps had hurt his business much. I was surprised to hear him say that they hadn't. In the few minutes I had stood there, I had seen several cars pull into and out of the self-service setups, while only a few cars had come into Red's.
When I pointed this out to Red, he laughed a little bit and acknowledged that he didn't sell as much gasoline as he used to, but his business had actually picked up in repairs, oil changes, tire sales, repairing radiators, and so on. He pointed out a lady who had just fueled her car across the street and was driving away.
He said, "Actually, I'm doing more business now than I used to, now that these self-service stations have become so popular. Take that woman for example. She put gas in her car, but she didn't check the oil, the radiator or the tires."
He went on to explain that when a customer filled their own tank, they seldom checked any of those items or even looked the car over for possible defects or potential breakdowns, such as frayed belts or leaking hoses. Neglecting simple items such as these frequently led to expensive repairs later. Not only that, failing to keep the car tuned up regularly and do such simple things as put air in the tires when it was needed could decrease fuel economy. Failing to keep tires properly inflated caused much more rapid wear, and, he pointed out, since self-service stations had become popular, he was selling more tires than ever.
He went on to mention that he and his mechanics got to know their regular customers, checking all these points for them, showing them wear and tear on belts for example, or filling the battery or radiator when they got low, and reminding them of the need for upcoming maintenance events such as periodic oil changes.
I could certainly understand those points. When I was a boy, my father always took the family car to Mr. Allday's Pure Oil Station on Navy Boulevard, in Warrington, Florida. The ritual was always the same. My dad would get out of the car as Skippie or Slim or Mr. Allday himself came up to the car. I could almost chant the refrain. If my father didn't get to say it first, Skippie or Slim would say it for him, "Check it all around, Mr. Baldwin? You take 28 in the tires don't you?" Then, they would open the hood, check the battery, the radiator, the belts, the hoses, the air filter, and, after that, they would check the tire pressure and fill any that were starting to get a little low. They would, as Red said, remind my dad that he was coming due for an oil change or point out that one tire was showing a little wear and might need to be replaced, "...not right now, but you will need to take care of it in a few weeks."
You know, it's a funny thing, but after several years, when Mr. Allday decided to buy a Texaco station down the road, my dad and several other customers who had sworn by Pure Oil suddenly changed their allegience to Texaco and became regulars at Mr. Allday's new station.
I took a couple of lessons from this. For one, I have always tried to keep track of my car maintenance, scheduling oil changes, checking belts and hoses, and keeping the tires properly inflated. This has helped with my fuel economy, saved money on tires, and probably lots of money on repairs.
When I went out into the real world of work and business, I always tried to anticipate what I needed to do to help my customers, employers, or coworkers. Anticipating their needs, or my own, could often prevent a small or potential problem from growing into a big problem.
It has become hard to find a good "service station" attitude these days. Whether I go into a restaurant, a book store, a department store, or hardware store, I seem to find those who want you to "serve yourself". When I CAN find a clerk and ask a question about the use or effectiveness of a product, for example, I am often met with a blank stare or have to listen to answers that have nothing to do with my question. By the way, when I do find that gem, the person who knows what they are talking about and is willing to provide "service" I almost always seek out the manager and let them know how pleased I was.
That being said, here's my gentle reminder to you. I'm not there to do it for you, so the next time you fill up your tank, pop the hood, take a look under there, put the gauge to the tires, and try to remember the last time you had your oil changed. You DO remember the last time you had your oil changed, don't you?
About the Author
The author's experiences as a longhaul truck driver who owned his own truck led him to follow-up on various methods of saving money on operating costs while prolonging the life of his equipment. You may learn more on this subject at http://lube2005.com