Going Back in Time

Today I had an experience that although not unique to Wausau is probably becoming rarer and more likely to be found in smaller cities.  I did business with someone who actually has a conscience and provides real service to his customers, rather than that smarmy “customer service” (Did you find everything you were looking for?)you find at most stores these days.  Do I sound like an old fogey or what?

Here is the background.  About a year ago I bought a vacuum cleaner from a chain store.  Not a Big Box store, but a chain, none the less.  It is a national brand.  Within a month or so the switch stopped working.  I was able to fix that little problem with a Philips screwdriver and life went on.  A few months later the stupid thing started plugging up after using it for a few minutes on the carpet.  The attachement hose worked fine, but cleaning a carpet was impossible.  Finally, I took the thing to get it repaired.

After a diligent search of the phone book (look in the Wausau phonebook under “vacuum repair” and you will see what I mean) I took it over to Ken’s Vacuum Center on Thomas Avenue, mostly because it was closest to me.

Now, my wife’s father ran a one man vacuum shop so I had some idea what to expect, and Ken did not disappoint.  Later Ken told me he had been in the business for 35 years and while it doesn’t show in his face, it does in his knowledge.  At Ken’s you don’t get that fake “yes sir, no sir” “the customer is always right” kind of stuff you get at a big box.  Ken knows his stuff inside and out and is not afraid to tell you exactly what he thinks.  The first opinion Ken gave me was about how bagless vacuums, like the one I was bringing in for repair, were just terrible — a waste of time and money.  Thanks, Ken, now you tell me. 🙂  But he said it with such good humor and in a very factual way so there was no way I could take any offense.  And if there had been any offense, it would have been totally wiped away by what happened next.

One day later Ken called me and told me that he had found the problem.  A mechanical valve was not opening like it was supposed to when the handle was pulled back to vacuum carpets.  One part should fix it he said. Unfortunately, though he is not a dealer for the company that makes that vacuum so, although he could get the part it might take a while.  AND the part takes a special tool to put in right, which he doesn’t have.  SO, I would be better off to take the vacuum over to this here shop over yonder that is a dealer for that brand.  AND to make sure things get done right he would call over there and tell them I was coming and just what the problem was and so on.  Wow! Thanks Ken!

So I go over to pick up the vacuum and asked a simple question, “If they can’t fix this thing or it is too expensive, what should I buy?”  What I got was not a sales pitch for the vacuums that he sells, but rather a combination of dissertation and discussion of the business of making and selling vacuums (and other consumer products) and how business has changed over the last 30 years.  I will not to summarize all we talked about, but I found myself agreeing with almost everything he said.  Ken is definitely a guy I can deal with.

Here is an example of what kind of guy he is.  The most common problem with vacuums is that the belts go bad.  Vacuum cleaner belts go for about ten dollars or so.  People call him all the time he said, and describe a vacuum that needs a new belt, and he tells them, come in and buy a belt and change it yourself — it’s pretty simple.  But even when someone brings in a vacuum that needs a belt, he is never quite sure what to do.  He said it takes him about 3 minutes to change a belt on most machines.  “So, what am I gonna do, charge the customer three dollars?” he wondered out loud. “I suppose I should post a shop minimum charge…” he began, but his voice trailed off.  I could just see that he could not bear to overcharge his customers in that way.  Integrity in business? Still exists in some corners of the world.

After our discussion of where we would work when everthing was made in China, I finally got around to asking him what I owed him.  “Oh, the other place will charge you for fixing that thing, don’t worry.”  I thought about pressing him about some kind of shop minimum, but decided that, of course, I knew where I was buying my next vacuum.  So I thanked him and headed out.  Now, I am not one plug businesses willy-nilly, but if you want a vacuum that will actually last longer than your carpets, stop by and see Ken.  Plan on spending some time.  You might learn something.

And after spending your time with Ken — walk across the street to the Wausau Oriental Super Market for the best damn egg rolls — or spring rolls or whatever you want to call them — in town.  Real flavorful food, hot and fresh, a perfect complement to the real customer service.

It was like being a time machine, back to a simpler, and perhaps better, time.  And a wonderful way to spend a morning.

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One response to “Going Back in Time

  1. There are actually a lot of stand up businesses in town. The problem is that the businesses with the best customer service are often the worst at telling the world how great they are. It could be because of their reluctance to advertise; or maybe they’ve got plenty of customers that they don’t need new ones.

    Needless to say, for the fear of our favorite businesses getting swamped and therefore unable to provide totally awesome customer service, we should share with others which businesses treat their customers fairly and with respect. Bigger cities have the advantage of web sites like Craigslist and AngiesList that do just that. We need a Wausaulist to give referrals for our favorite businesses.

    I once saw this message on a business card: “If you like our sevice, tell your friends. If you don’t, tell me.”

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