On the House
“There were actually two leaks in one tire and the other tire had an old plug that was leaking,” the mechanic explained as we walked to the garage’s office. “But I’m not going to charge you for it.”
“Three leaks? Wow. Thank you so much,” I replied. I had brought the car in to fix what I thought were two leaks in two tires. This third leak was a surprise, but it sounded like he wasn’t going to charge me for that third one. Nice.
I shook his hand and thanked him again as he left me in the office to pay. “OK, sign here, please,” said the guy behind the register. “You’re all set,” he said as he handed me the bill. The bill had the charges for the two patches but then it was credited in the next line and the total due was zero.
“But I haven’t paid yet. I didn’t pay in advance,” I said, confused.
“Yes, I know. We just like to keep our local customers happy,” he smiled.
“No, he said that he wasn’t going to charge me for the third leak, but I didn’t pay for the other two.”
“Yes, I know. It’s on the house,” he said.
I still wasn’t sure what to say. “Wow, well thank you very much.”
“Maybe next time you need some tires, maybe you’ll come back here,” he added. Not at all in a pushy way, just friendly.
“Well you certainly made my day,” I replied, still a little overwhelmed. “I won’t forget it,” I said and meant what I said.
Does the Freemium model work in brick and mortar?
I suppose I shouldn’t have been so surprised. As much as I live and work with online products and services, this is the classic “Freemium” model: free services up front in the hope that you’ll come back for the paid, premium service or product.
But this wasn’t some online account to add a better avatar to your social media profile, this was real life. These were real people who just spent the better part of an hour fixing three real leaks in my real tires in my real car.
I’m a little embarrassed to admit how surprised I was at the kindness of the guys at the garage. Yes, of course, it could all be part of a bigger strategy to get longer-term customers to remember them and come back for the more expensive services. But take a step back for a minute. Even if that is exactly their strategy, there’s nothing wrong with that. Unless, of course, their premium services are over-priced and garbage. But people would figure that out soon enough. Not only is there nothing wrong with it, it’s the best strategy: build longer-term relationships with customers and get them to trust and love you.
Another factor at play here was that this was in a smaller town. In a smaller town, even if just by the numbers, chances are that you will have a longer-term relationship with a garage. Maybe there are only a few garages in town. It’s important to build that connection and build the trust and confidence so that customer will return.
Is the smaller town shop nicer because they know they have repeat customers? Or is the smaller town shop nicer and therefore they have longer-term customers?
Will I return when I need new tires? Absolutely. Sure, I’ll check prices and make sure they offer a fair deal, but if it’s even close to another deal, I’ll go with them. In fact, I might let them know that I found another deal somewhere and ask them if they could match it because I would rather give them the business.