I want Empathy when I Buy Parts, Dammit

The local BMW dealer parts counter guy seems to be a nice man, but … sad. I can guess why. Day after day, he deals with the following two sorts of dialog, many times a day:

“Hey, I’m looking for an alternator for a 1987 BMW 535i.”
“What’s the VIN?”
“I don’t know. I don’t have it with me. I’m at work. The car’s at home.”
“I need the VIN to look up the parts.”
“Seriously?”
“Yes.”
“Well, I don’t have it.”
… and it doesn’t get better after that.

Assuming the person does have the VIN, the next conversation goes something like this:

“How much for the alternator?”
“$514.34.”
“Say, what?”
“$514.34.”
“For the alternator?!”
“Yes.”
“Wow! The entire car cost me maybe $2K and that had a working alternator. That’s crazy.”
… and it doesn’t get better after that.

Aftermarket prices are often better, and sometimes not by much. Sometimes, when I heard the price, I thought “Forget that,” or some less-polite variant.

Seems to me that whoever comes up with these prices has no idea of the basic viability of someone who’s not made of money, trying to keep their E28 or E34 going. There seems to be a basic disconnect when the parts prices are so high that a customer reacts with incredulity. Basically, the vendor and the customer don’t relate to each other. They’re are not on the same page. There’s no empathy.

* * *

BMW parts prices can suck, but there’s a parallel to that: software.

How often have you used software that sucks, because regardless of how technically cool it might be, it sucks for you because it doesn’t work for you? Whoever made it didn’t empathize. As to whatever your situation was, they didn’t “get it.”

There is a better way. In the software industry, it’s called “Eat your own dog food.” Wikipedia defines it as: Eating your own dog food, also called dogfooding, is a slang term used to reference a scenario in which a company (usually, a computer software company) uses its own product to demonstrate the quality and capabilities of the product.”

It’s a great idea.

That might be the best reason to buy your used parts from my little company. What’s in it for you? You’re understood. That’s it. We also drive old 5-series cars and we’re trying to keep them going, with a tight budget. We empathize.

For a while, I’ve driven a 1987 535i whose rear window was a plastic sheet. And, I survived. I didn’t have a used rear window, and I didn’t have money for the “new parts” solution.

My little used parts business is not the world’s smartest when it comes to E28 or E34 cars. We haven’t been in business the longest. We don’t have massive depths of technical insight. We don’t have a huge inventory. We often mis-estimate the time it’ll take to get a part into inventory.

But, dammit, we relate. We have our own little sad fleet of several floundering old 5-series cars, and we struggle to keep them going on a tight budget that includes wondering how we’re gonna pay the rent this month. We get personally stranded when a main fuel pump dies, and we have to walk home and figure out what’s wrong, how to remove the bad part without causing a fire, and how to replace it without paying three figures.

This struggle makes us relate to customers who struggle, just like us.

We need to buy food, pay the rent and somehow keep viable, as transportation, an almost-30-year old car that most people have given up on, long ago.

We tenaciously refuse to let these cars die. We make plans, we find money, and we pull through — so that we can keep driving these magnificent pieces of engineering, even if the dash lights don’t work and the heater fan is broken. At some point the way we’d turn on the lights on one of the company E28 cars was to hot-wire the parking lights’ wiring to the low-beam circuit. But, dammit, we kept it going until we could figure out a better way. We’re still in the game. We’re fighting and if driving the car one more day is victory, then we’re winning.

If you like that mindset, buy your stuff from 5seriesparts.com because you’re dealing with someone who “gets” you.