Tom Clyde: Getting retail right
June 19, 2015
I’ve reached the point where I really resist going to Salt Lake. I can do almost everything here these days, and what I can’t do here, I can usually do in Heber. But there are a few things that sort of have to be done in Salt Lake, and the list of errands grows. I finally decided I’d better do it before it gets too hot, and made the trip to the big city.
One of the items was a trip to the Volkswagen dealer. My car gets recalled fairly often. It’s never anything that matters. It’s not like the "death air bags" or GM’s ignition switch problems. It’s always some ten-cent plastic part that could break and, under the most extraordinary circumstances, cause the windshield washer hose to come loose. This time, I waited for a hour while they put a sticker on the inside of the fuel filler door that said, "Diesel Fuel Only." I will sleep soundly now, knowing that I’ve been putting the correct fuel in the car for the past 80,000 miles.
Among the other errands were two of the most amazingly different, and absolutely perfect, retail experiences you can imagine — the Apple Store, and a place called A&E Generator. A&E Generator is a place I’ve dealt with for years on obscure automotive electrical issues. I once owned a ’53 Studebaker that would eat a starter motor just about twice a summer. It was cheaper to have the guys at A&E rebuild it that to pull the transmission to replace an impossible to find ring gear. They know their stuff.
When I walked in and set my current project on the counter, the guy looked at it from across the room and said, "Farmall M?" Yep. I walk into the place with the starter motor out of a tractor that will be 73 years old this summer (a clean, one-owner), and he recognizes it. "The brushes wear out," he added, which seems reasonable after every 73 years or so.
The place is just a classic. About half the lights are burned out; unpainted plywood shelves crammed with greasy cardboard boxes of miscellaneous stuff so random that there is no way to label anything; a funky combination of "old ashtray" and "recent short circuit" filled the air. The guys who work there have probably been rebuilding generators since they got out of the Korean War, where they learned how to do it in the Navy. It was lunch time and there weren’t a lot of guys in the shop, but the few who were there appeared to be well into their 70s. I fear my Farmall M may meet a sad end, not because of the tractor, but because the craftsmen who rebuild the parts are gone. A new, India-made part is available. Apparently this Delco knock-off is still being used in something, but it’s not quite the same. I used one on another tractor. It worked, but it wasn’t quite right. The rebuild is better.
I left there, knowing that my 73-year old starter motor would be good as new in a week, and went to the Apple Store. My computer, which was a 2009 version, was considerably less durable than the tractor. At a mere six years, the "upgrade" to the Yosemite operating system had proven fatal. I’d spent hours with tech support on the phone, dragged it into the store, and no matter what they did, they couldn’t fix it. My version of Microsoft Word was so old it was no longer supported. It doesn’t like Yosemite. But the processor on the old computer choked on the new version. Multiple layers of incompatibility killed it. Every time I started it up, it behaved differently.
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Admittedly, the computer is a lot more complicated than the tractor. But I fully expect some member of the family will be using the Farmall M to drill post holes for another 73 years. The Mac, on the other hand, was beyond hope after six years. So I ended up buying a new one.
The vibe of the Apple Store was as different from A&E Generator as it could get. About the only thing they had in common was the employees in both places had a lot of tattoos. Beyond that, the Apple Store is all light, order, and simplicity in design and presentation. There may be boxes of random connector cables in the back room, but there was nothing even slightly out of place on the sales floor. No pencils, no paper.
Both places were absolutely perfect in their own way. If the generator repair shop had looked and felt like the Apple Store, I would not have trusted them with the work. And if the Apple Store had looked like the generator shop, well, you get the picture.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.