Stan's World - Practicing Patience
August 15, 2021
Across the board, businesses in America were ill-prepared to power down when COVID hit and were even less prepared when the economy started to reopen a few months later. Once supply chains were effectively shut down, ratcheting up has proven far more difficult.
First, businesses stopped ordering because their markets disappeared. Who was going out to buy a car? Or a couch? Or an appliance (other than a freezer for the garage to stock up for Armageddon). As Americans sheltered at home, factories closed. Sure, demand for hand wipes soared, but even the folks who make Lysol weren’t prepared for the extraordinary demand for their products. Even if they had the raw materials (and they did not), they couldn’t produce enough to meet demand.
As the number of vaccinations increased, people like me decided it was okay to go out again. As we tried to re-stock our homes with items whose purchases we had postponed, we quickly learned the goods we wanted to buy weren’t always available. It’s hard for manufacturers to go from sixty to zero when they’re running a factory, and it’s even more difficult to go from zero to sixty.
When the water dispenser on our refrigerator stopped working, we were told the parts would take time once they were ordered. The parts were on a boat, coming from somewhere. Three months later, they landed onshore.
When the control panel on the dishwasher gave out, we were told the parts would take time once they were ordered. After all, as any car manufacturer will tell you (see below), computer chips are hard to find. In fact, the chip we needed was on a boat, coming from somewhere. Six weeks later, it landed onshore.
In the last Stan’s World, I wrote about my dilemma: continue driving an 11-year old car lacking some now common safety features, or spend money to buy a new car packed with safety from stem to stern. As we were ready to hit SEND on the last newsletter, you may recall the story ended with a late addendum: my car’s transmission decided it had lasted long enough.
While I briefly debated getting the transmission fixed (though the parts were probably on a boat, coming from somewhere), I ultimately decided not to put thousands of dollars into an 11-year old car. (That’s the advice I would have given a client.) Thus began the soon-to-be new TV show titled: COVID car-buying with Stan.
Let me start by stating that I’ve never enjoyed buying cars. My best car-buying days were when a friend owned a few car dealerships, and I had the good fortune to deal with him. No haggling; no problems; car-buying for me was indeed a pleasure. When he sold his business, I was thrown into the deep end of the pool.
As a creature of habit (an understatement when applied to me if there ever was one), when I find a car I enjoy driving, I tend to buy it again. And again. And again. (And again.) Yes, there is still haggling at the time of purchase, but I end up driving away with the exact same car I know how to drive. I know where the controls are placed, and I’m a happy boy.
It should come as no surprise that I started by calling the dealership where we purchased my transmission-less car, along with the car before that and the car before that. They indeed had a car for me, and I could have any color I wanted so long as it was black. Or maybe dark gray. It didn’t have all the safety features I wanted, but it had a lot of them. Then came the news I was braced to hear: “You’ve heard about the computer chip problems automakers are having, right? Your cost is ‘only’ MSRP (aka sticker price) because we’re not marking up MSRP like other dealers are doing.”
But then a funny thing happened; I listened to my kids. “Dad, you always drive the same car. There are always two of the same cars in your driveway. It’s time to buy something else.” (NOTE to self: There really is no requirement that we ever have to listen to our children.)
Thus began the pilgrimage to find our new car. We were told by each dealer about inventory shortages, MSRP (to include MSRP+), and dark gray and black cars. It was a long day, but we finally found a car we liked that had all the safety features we wanted. Except the car was in Maryland.
“In Maryland? Can you get the car here?”
“Maybe. Nobody has inventory. Dealers don’t want to give up cars. It may take a few days. We may have to trade a car. We’ll work on it.”
It used to be that a dealer wouldn’t let you easily walk out the door, let alone tell you to go home and wait. Go home and wait?
Suffice it to say, it’s black. Needless to say, I’m also still trying to figure out what all the controls do and where they’re located. (Did I fail to mention that I stood in my driveway one night for 20 minutes trying to figure out how to open the cover on the gas tank? Did I also fail to mention how many times I’ve told Pearl that I miss my old car?)
If nothing else, COVID is teaching us patience while we’re also learning how to settle for Options B or C as we move through life. Personally speaking, I take a little less for granted. When I walk into a store or shop online, I no longer assume they’ll have what I’m looking to buy.
Hourly employees are having difficulty securing babysitting services. Many had to spend last year at home while their children attended school online. Others are afraid of getting COVID and no longer want to work in a public-facing setting. I get it; far be it for me to judge whether any or all are doing the right thing. I’m not in their shoes; everyone has to do what’s best for them and their family.
I no longer assume there will be adequate sales associates in stores or customer service representatives to answer my call to an 800 number. In fact, when someone does help me, in person or via a phone call, I often thank them for coming in to work to help people like me. (During one call the other day, I came very close to marrying a Capital One rep. I’ll never forget you, Joy.)
If you’re missing a part for an appliance or need to buy a car, prepare yourself for an experience that will likely take longer than planned and cost more than budgeted. We’re all trying to do the best we can navigating through perilous times, so please join me in giving everyone working in a service role the benefit of the doubt.
And if you see a black car on the side of the road with the driver standing next to it reading the manual, pull over and give me a hand. There’s a high probability I can’t get the wipers on. Or off.