By Tim Hayes
Over the past two months, a couple of the nicest guys we know decided to hang ‘em up and retire. One ran a small car repair garage and the other served as our insurance agent. And I couldn’t feel worse about it.
“Wait, what?” I can hear you asking. “A mechanic and an insurance salesman? Why would their retirements make you feel bad?”
Because these two fellows proved to be so much more than the services they provided. They were genuinely good guys. Beyond missing the chance to interact with them, their retirements make me feel bad because I don’t see their kind coming along again any time soon.
Pete had run his own one-man auto repair shop for decades. Whether in the stifling heat or the crusty frost of Pittsburgh weather, there he worked, showing up early each morning, taking care of everything from the most mundane state inspections to complete engine rebuilds.
With fingernails marred perpetually with grease and motor oil, Pete never raised his voice, never showed frustration, never greeted you with anything but a sincere welcome. Lord knows how many dozens of times each day he got interrupted with phone calls and customers just showing up. But Pete stuck to his knitting, performing quality work at a fair price, over and over and over again.
I used to tell him he held the title of World’s Only Honest Mechanic. He’d just chuckle, grab his wrench, and get back to work.
In the 20-plus years I brought vehicles to Pete for servicing, I only knew of one regular workday that he closed the garage – the day of my father-in-law’s funeral. Dad had known Pete even longer, and when he died, Pete and his wife came to the church to pay their respects. Like I said, a good guy through and through.
Jeff has been our insurance agent for nearly a quarter-century. He kept his door open for pop-in visits, just to shoot the breeze after dropping off my monthly premium payment. His wife worked in the office too, and could always be counted on to notarize documents or check on claims.
I had never planned on building such a familiar rapport with an insurance agent, but it paid benefits in a number of ways. Jeff’s plain-speaking approach gave a lot of confidence that we had the right coverages, and when things happened to the house or one of the cars and we needed to use those policies, Jeff and his team did a great job, no questions asked.
But even beyond the transactional dimension of the relationship, Jeff became a friend. Walking into his office – whether I was there for anything insurance-related or not – felt like visiting a friend’s home. When we learned he would retire, it felt like learning that a friend was moving away.
Yet the worst part of Pete and Jeff both heading off into their well-deserved retirements, again, comes with the realization that the depth of personal, genuine, grounded service – and not just with the products they sold, but the way they treated the people who came to them for help – has become a rare commodity anymore.
We can go to one of those quick-lube franchises or a dealership for car repairs, I guess. And we can find another insurance agent with little trouble. But when the people working there have to get trained in “delighting the customer,” something’s a little off.
Pete and Jeff knew how to accomplish that without any training. It was in their bones. They owned their enterprises and knew that customers enabled their livelihood. I, for one, felt delighted for all the years I brought them my business, because not only were they great service providers – they were good guys first.
Copyright 2015 Transverse Park Productions LLC and Tim Hayes Communications