I am a fan of buying whatever goods and services that I can in my local community. Given a choice I will choose a locally owned business. Most of the time that is a great decision. Unfortunately sometimes it is not.
This tale is an example of how not to run a business. It is a classic case of how to drive away your customers because you just don't know what you are doing.
First a little background to the story. I have long been a fan of Toro mowers. I have grown to like them because for the most part they seemed to be almost indestructible with normal use.
The summer after we moved to North Carolina's Crystal Coast, I bought a new Toro mower. It was August 2007. Before I bought the mower, I did some searching and couldn't come up with a local dealer so I drove up to Jacksonville and bought one from Home Depot.
Uncharacteristically in June of 2011, my Toro mower died. It was many years short of what I had gotten out of my other Toros, but I didn't debate mower choices, and I went searching for a new Toro. I found that a local company which will remain nameless had started selling Toros.
I knew that I could buy a mower cheaper at Home Depot, but I felt like it was a good thing to buy locally.
We drove over to the local dealer, looked at their choices, and picked one that was nearly identical to the one that had died.
After I had paid for the mower, and we had loaded it on the truck, the salesperson made the off hand comment that he had forgotten to fill out the warranty card, but that I could do that and drop it in the mail.
After getting the new mower home, I loaded my dead Toro on the truck and drove back to the nearby dealership. I donated my not very old Toro to the dealership for parts.
The warranty card should have been a clue that I was dealing with people who cared only about selling me something and not about turning me into a customer who will come back time after time.
Rule number one in selling something to a customer who might be returning to you for warranty work is to keep detailed information on hand as to what the customer bought. I have bought a lot of small power tools at a hardware store in Roanoke, Virginia, and the sales people always take the time to fill out the warranty card and keep a copy.
I didn't think much about the dealership not filling out my warranty card because I figured I could fill it out myself. I did fill it out and drop it in the mail, but it was clear that Toro intended for the dealer to fill it out since it had a place for a dealer number. I managed to find the dealer number on Toro's website.
For two months I happily used my new Toro, and then a piece of plastic broke on the throttle safety. I managed to duck tape a temporary repair, but as soon as I got a chance, around the first part of August, I drove by the dealer and asked him about the part. I thought if it was very expensive, I might just ask for the piece off my old mower which was still where I left it.
The guy at the dealership was very friendly, we walked outside and I showed him the model that I had purchased.
We went back inside and figured out that I had to get a whole cable assembly just to get the small piece of black plastic that had broken. He said not to worry about the price because it was covered by warranty.
I asked him when it would be in, and he replied probably next week. I gave him my business card and said call when it comes in, and I'll come over and pick it up. That was the end of our conversation.
A couple of weeks went by, and I didn't hear anything from the Toro dealership so on Saturday, August 20, we drove over to the dealership. I saw the same salesperson and told him my name and asked if the part had come in. He said yes and walked me to the back of the store.
Then is when everything fell apart. He turned to me and said, "You will have to pay for the part because you didn't call me back with the model and serial number."
Of course I was stunned because he had never mentioned me calling with any information. In fact he was the one who was supposed to call me, and he didn't.
I told him that I had given him my business card, and he could have easily called me if he needed more information. He said that he didn't remember any of that.
One of the cardinal rules of customer service is "Say what you are going to do, and follow it up by doing exactly what you promised ot do."
It is pretty hard to be successful if you can't even remember what you said.
There are a lot of ways the situation could have gone better, but all of those would have required some degree of intelligence, and unfortunately it seems to be absent at this business
The salesperson could have said. "Sir, I'm sorry but I forgot to tell you or call you about our need for the model number and serial number in order for us to get our warranty reimbursement." But he maintained it was all my fault, and the only way I was going to walk out of the store with the part was by paying for it.
He could have asked for another business card and said take the part and call with the model and serial number. My business card would have given him my name and phone number for follow-up, but he chose to alienate someone who might have been a future customer.
Of course there was no way that I was going give this poor example of a local business any more of my money and wait for a refund. I walked out of the store pretty mad, but I will show up with my model number and serial number sometime this week.
I am sure that I will get part, but I won't be bothering them if anything else breaks. In fact it something else breaks, I'll likely buy another brand of mower. I suspect a company like Toro that lets dealers keep such poor records has perhaps made a wrong turn itself.
The local business also won't be the place where I buy the generator that I was considering. In fact I am hoping my next trip there will be the last that I ever make.