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Home > Blog > New (or Ancient) Ways of Winning
Out of Our Minds
Saturday, April 09, 2005 4:04 PM
New (or Ancient) Ways of Winning
Anita Sharpe on Culture

Over the years, I occasionally bought tires from a local company called DeKalb Tire. Prices were competitive, service was fine -- but the real draw was its convenience (near my home and across the street from a Starbucks.) A few weeks ago, when I woke up to a flat tire, I called DeKalb Tire to see if they could send someone out to change it and braced myself for the service charge. Within 30 minutes, an employee arrived at my house, added air to the tire and asked me to follow him to shop so he could patch it. Total bill: $15.

Hmm, this is strange, I thought. Since when does any company these days pass up an opportunity to soak a customer for as many fees as possible? They likely lost money on that transaction, but they gained a customer for life.

So yesterday, when I needed two new tires and an oil change, I took my car to DeKalb Tire and noticed something different to the left of the entrance -- a Feng Shui-looking waterfall. If you know anything about the ancient Chinese practice of Feng Shui, you know that cascading water is associated with wealth and good fortune; major Asian companies almost always bring in Feng Shui consultants when building or decorating their offices.

I asked a manager if the recent addition of the waterfall was at all related to Feng Shui. 'Well, yeah,' he said. Meanwhile, the waiting room was packed and I have never seen so many mechanics on duty there.

Coincidence? Or is it another indication that the companies most willing to venture beyond conventional Western wisdom (no matter how mainstream their basic businesses) are the companies that will flourish now and in the future?


9 comments

Jennifer Warwick - 4/12/2005 11:16:56 AM
I agree with Troy - the point is that this company appears to be open, in a way unconventional for the tire business, to new ways of thinking. House calls and good customer service are great things to explore :-) and paying attention to the environment that customers sit and wait (and wait) in, and making it less grim than the competition, is another. Feng shui itself is almost beside the point... a company open to exploring new ideas and diversity of thought - Eastern, Western or Martian - is most likely a smart company in other ways as well. The combination of business savvy, creative thinking and diverse ideas explored (and occasionally adopted as practice) will be rewarded in the marketplace.

I may still check out the dandelion-root tea, though.
Troy Worman - 4/12/2005 8:42:19 AM
Feng shui or not, good customer service always prevails. Wow your customer. Delight your customer. Amaze your customer. Consistently. And you have a good shot at success. A rabbit's foot in your pocket doesn't hurts, but it certainly won't help if you treat your customers like a commodity.
anita - 4/12/2005 8:28:14 AM
I had planned to write something a couple weeks ago about the company's complementary house call -- that seemed worthy of note all by itself.

But I really did a double-take when I saw the feng shui fountain, because there are few businesses more mainstream than selling tires and repairing cars. Perhaps there is something to feng shui (many if not most astute Asian executives are believers) or maybe it's just decorative. But the fact that such a conventional business is opening itself up to new ways of thinking is a potentially instructive snapshot of American business today.
Ali - 4/12/2005 6:18:22 AM
Was the point so much the Feng Shui and water flow, or that on top of the way in which they were practicing their business?

Conventonal wisdom (western/eatern/northern/southern) would have you charge at least a breakeven cost (unless there was something you could cross sell almost immediately to make up for it).

I think the point was that some things you just can't calculate, and having a stand up reputation and goodwill is one of them.
LF - 4/11/2005 6:46:04 PM
It is interesting to read JG Comments.

Based on this comments, I really recommend a Liver detoxification:

Decrease protein to 10 percent or less of daily caloric intake.
Limit dietary fat to 25 percent of daily caloric intake.
Eat lots of starches, vegetables, and fruits.
Avoid alcohol and tobacco.
Drink plenty of water.
Drink dandelion-root tea.
Try taking extracts of the seeds of milk thistle (Silybum marianum). This herbal remedy is non-toxic, and European research shows that it stimulates regeneration of liver cells and protects them from toxic injury.

Following this Diet will help to improve the negative perception on the topic; as well as changing the cranky mood.


Curt Rosengren - 4/11/2005 6:35:19 PM
Kent, that makes me think of the place I go to for tires, Les Schwab Tires. They're always super attentive, and when I've gone to them with a flat, they've fixed it for free. I wouldn't buy my tires anywhere else, and I've pointed any number of people in their direction.
Kent - 4/11/2005 3:51:26 PM
I don' t think we need to get out our calculators and statistical models to judge DeKalb Tire's success. I don't know if Feng Shui has anythig to do with their great customer service, but if it does, hooray for them.

A mathematical look at your $15 charge probably would find it to be a loser, especially since 'feelings' of good will are hard to quantify. Feelings are real, however, even if they can't be measured precisely. And feelings can make the registers ring!
JG - 4/9/2005 6:39:54 PM
BTW, although it is convenient to call math and science 'Western wisdom', using it as such in this case is insulting to the many Asian, Arab and Indian cultures that contributed significant, sometimes breakthrough, concepts to these areas during the last couple of thousand years.
JG - 4/9/2005 6:36:13 PM
How would you even know if it's coincidence or not? One anecdote doesn't mean anything. You would need to collect as much good, relatively unbiased data as possible and analyze it in as objective a manner as possible using the right tools (statistics, properly controlled experiments)and then, if there aren't a whole boat load of confounding factors (what else might be responsible for a business's success?) you'll at least be able to state a hypothesis with some kind of confidence rating. Otherwise, this little story teaches us absolutely nothing.

Believing something simply because you choose to is one thing, but if you're at all interested in what's actually going on, you owe it to yourself and others to use the best tools we have available to investigate the truth of such things as the practice of Feng Shui, and these are math and science.

If you think this business's success might well be just from the psychological effect of trying something new and mystical, then this is related to the placebo effect, a not very well understood, but widely encountered phenomenon that has nothing to say about the actual effectiveness of any given practice compared to others. People might just as well create their own mystical systems and run with them... how about 'Fool Shui'? That's got a nice ring to it.

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