No Touchy da Tools, Or Not - Tire Review Magazine

No Touchy da Tools, Or Not

Tool-borrowing customers break your bank faster than they buy, but there are some tricks.

The tiny bell jingled over my head as I entered the store. “Morning, Herk. How’s business?” I scanned the low shelf behind the parts counter, looking for evidence of a recent donut run. After all, it was Thursday.
“Business sucks,” growled the grizzled owner of Herkle’s Auto Parts. “Wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t have to keep buying new tools.”

I looked up in surprise. “Tools? Why are you buying tools? This is an auto parts store, not a repair shop.”

Herk raised a bushy eyebrow. “Yeah, so I’ve been told. Just watch; here comes a customer now.”

I snagged some day-old coffee and stood off to the side. The bell tinkled again as a middle-aged man came in to buy a headlight for his car. After stuffing the receipt in his pocket, he coughed and looked at Herk sheepishly. “Hey, can I borrow one of those funny shaped screwdrivers to change this?”

“You mean a Torx-drive?” Herk sighed and reached below the counter. “Sure, just bring it back when you’re done, okay?”

“Sure thing!” The customer grab­bed the tool and disappeared out the door.

Herk looked at me sadly. “I’ll never see that screwdriver again. They borrow my tools and then drive off with them in their glove box.”

I frowned. “Why don’t you just refuse to lend them out?”

“Ha!” Herk reached for a donut and knocked the excess sprinkles into a trash can.

“If I refuse, they just get mad and go elsewhere to buy their parts.”

“Well, look on the bright side; at least you only buy pretend tools.” I swallowed the last of my coffee.

“Imagine how much it’d cost you if you lent out real stuff, like the tools we use at our shop.”

From the look on Herk’s face, I could tell I’d overstayed my welcome. So I grabbed the parts I’d come for and made a hasty retreat back to the shop.

“Here’s your TPMS kit,” I said, walking into the service bays. Tooner looked grumpier than when I’d left. “Is something wrong?”

“Yeah, I’ll say there’s somethin’ wrong. That rascal Buck Pincher borrowed my needle-nose pliers this morning, and I need ‘em!”

I winced. “So he hasn’t returned them yet?”

“Oh, he returned ’em, alright…right after he broke the tip off of one side.” Tooner held up the damaged tool. “If he’d wanted a pry bar, he shoulda asked for one.”

Everybody was having a bad tool day; even Quigley, our service writer. When I took the parts invoice into the front office, I found him clutching the service desk, gasping for breath. “What happened to you?”

Quig collapsed into an office chair, clutching his chest. “Had to…chase down…FedEx truck…signed for delivery…stole my best pen….” He lapsed into a fit of coughing and couldn’t continue. But I got the message – people get attached to their tools.

I broached the subject during lunch break. “Do you think we need a policy about lending out tools?”
Tooner snorted. “Policy? We need a sawed-off shotgun!”

“Oh, come now,” I protested. “It can’t be that bad.”

Basil disagreed. “I was standing near the automotive service counter in Cheap-Mart the other day, and I couldn’t believe what I heard. A customer asked to borrow a tool, and the service manager actually took him into the shop to see one of the mechanics.” His eyes widened. “Can you imagine the pressure on that technician? With the service manager standing right there, how do you tell a customer you’re not going to lend him your tools?”

“I can think of a few ways to say it,” muttered Tooner.

“People don’t realize how much these tools cost us,” added Beanie. He was far enough into his apprenticeship to have a hefty line of credit with Stan the Tool Man. “We can’t do our job without them, but if you say no, then you look like a jerk.”

I had mixed feelings on the matter. Having progressed from a technician on the floor to being the shop owner, my own toolbox had long since become fair game for the guys whenever they needed something unusual. But it’s one thing to lend a tool to a fellow technician (who hopefully knows how to take care of it) and quite another to let the unwashed masses molest your private bits and pieces.

So we put our heads together and made a plan. Now all we needed was some idiot to come in and ask us for a tool. We didn’t have long to wait.

“Hey, Buck, how’s it going?”

Buck Pincher pasted a phony smile on his craggy face. “Doing just grand, Slim. Only, I got this teensy little problem that I figure you and the boys can help me with.” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder towards the parking lot. “Y’see, old Betsy’s got a busted tailpipe, and I got the parts, but I can’t get the danged muffler clamp off.” He patted my shoulder and winked. “How’s about lending me one of them shiny wrenches of yours? I just need something to bang on the clamp ‘til it breaks.”

“No problem, Buck.” I winked right back. “In fact, the boys and I put together a custom toolkit, just for special customers like yourself. Here, let me get it for you.”

Opening a small closet in the front office, I pulled out an old paint can full of rusty, beaten up wrenches and sockets that we’d picked up at a yard sale. Each tool was carefully chosen and guaranteed to strip whatever bolt or nut it was applied to. I handed the bucket to Buck. “Have fun,” I said.

Buck took the pail and eyed it carefully. “I dunno, Slim. These don’t look like the ones I borrowed last time…”

I slapped him on the back. “You’re right, Buck; these are better! They’re well-seasoned tools with lots of experience. Why, I wouldn’t dream of giving you some brand new thing that wasn’t even housetrained yet.” I pushed him out the door. “Trust me; these tools are exactly what you need.”

I don’t know if Buck really believed the cow pucky I was shoveling, but he never asked to borrow our tools again. In fact, the entire incident raised his appreciation of my crew to a whole new level.

“Slim,” he puffed later as he returned the rusty pail of metal. “You guys have my unqualified admiration. If I can’t fix my tailpipe with these here experienced tools, then you guys must be wizards to be doing it with that useless brand new stuff.” He dropped the pail on the floor and mopped his sweaty brow. “I guess that’s why we pay you the big money.”

I whistled cheerfully as I returned the pail to the closet. “You got that right.”

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