Guest Column: Three decades later, surprises keep coming

By Marc Karon
President, Total Truck Parts and 2007 Distributor of the Year

This month’s cover story is Truck Parts & Service’s annual look at the unusual, unexpected and sometimes just plain bizarre occurrences that occasionally happen in our industry. They are tales that leave you shaking your head, sometimes laughing, sometimes feeling like crying. But they help make everyday a new challenge and a new adventure.

For instance, the other day, I was working on the counter and a customer came into the branch looking for a seat belt. As I tried to get more knowledge about his application, he explained that he and his wife would always argue when they rode together in his truck. To solve the problem and save the marriage, he had mounted a bench seat in the bed of the truck and wanted a seat belt so his wife could ride and be safe. After we took care of him, I began to think of all the crazy stuff that had gone on over the years.

In 1979, when I first became an independent truck parts distributor, I really had no idea what to expect. Almost 30 years later, I wish I had kept a diary of all the strange things that happened with customers, suppliers and employees. We all remember the classic story of the customer who responds to the question, “What kind of truck do you have?” with an answer of “my truck is red.”

In this business, the unexpected is commonplace and a sense of humor is mandatory.

Here are just a few of my more memorable trips into crazy land.

My background for becoming a distributor was a 10-year stint as an engineer for Bendix in the design of their antilock braking systems. When I opened my first branch, customers desperately wanted to know how to disarm these systems since they were causing problems. My training taught me just the right wires to cut and I was gaining customers every day.

However, one large customer who was impressed with my engineering talents decided that I should be a sponsor of his cousin’s latest invention of a perpetual energy machine. Somewhere I remembered that the customer is always right. We did a lot of business in the four years it took before the cousin gave up. However, my reputation with my engineering colleagues was forever impugned.

The scariest happening was when we were importing brake lining from Columbia. We received a call from the U.S. Customs office in Miami requesting me to come there. When I arrived, I was first advised of my rights. I was led out to a container destined for us that had pallets of brake lining. Unfortunately, the vendor had placed large blocks of white powder inside the pallets. They did not seem to care that I had no idea what it was. When it was tested and determined to be sugar, I was never happier to have been deceived.

Then there was the recovery from Hurricane Andrew in 1992 which devastated South Florida. The army set up a recovery and assistance base a mile from our branch. There were hundreds of army trucks and other vehicles used in the recovery effort. When they needed parts, they came to our branch. For whatever reason, they insisted on paying cash and would not accept free parts. Everyone stopped what they were doing when the sergeant, flanked by two large corporals, opened the suitcase filled with money. It almost made the storm worth it.

There are always strange occurrences in the shop. One employee used to tie his hands around the driveshaft so he could look like he was working while he was sleeping on his creeper.

When we found out, we started the truck while he was under it. He never did that again.

Motorhomes were always a problem. Customers would come in for a brake adjustment and claim that their refrigerator did not work afterwards. I used to bring my own motorhome into my shop for general repairs until I found out that my mechanics had a pool going as to where and when I would break down.

Another fun area was customer warranty claims. The most egregious occurred when a customer brought back a transmission we had remanufactured. All of the internal gears were blue indicating that the unit had been run without oil. But the unit had oil in it as clean as if it had been poured in just before he came to our shop. We actually did warranty his unit. I am sure he remembers that kindness and he has rewarded us with his business to this day.

There are more stories than there is room to write them. Being a distributor has been fun and fulfilling. Perhaps several of us ought to get together and write a book of experiences. It would be both fun and interesting reading.

Marc Karon is president of Total Truck Parts and the 2007 Truck Parts & Service Distributor of the Year. Total Truck Parts is headquartered in West Palm Beach, Fla., and has six locations throughout the state.

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