Ways we do business

This column perseverates over how TT lands — quite wilfully — at the annual bottom of two scorecards, the World Economic Forum global competitiveness index’s old customer orientation scale, and the World Bank’s ease of doing business index. That global shaming hasn’t seemed to matter.

So I thought telling Thursday’s small story of my dead battery would help make the point differently.

Last year, after an over-five-year run, my original car battery retired. Replacement was straightforward, involving little consumer action. The Petit Valley garage where I service it competed favourably with the St James parts place I price-checked by phone. I drove there in minutes, and in minutes left with a new battery, installed, with an 18-month warranty.

It was one of those small but enormous victories of TT life, the delight in getting a bit of business done efficiently, without the usual exhaustion, remorse or victimhood.

I’ve sung the praises here before of a wonderfully customer-friendly service facility former Neal & Massy manager Gordon Rauseo has built at the elbow of Morne Coco Road. The culture of attentiveness and service among the team of neat young men he employs. The stories and backstories with which his baritone relentlessly fills his waiting room. He synergises the discipline and values of an older generation with technology and the intimacy of living in a small place.

For months I resisted Massy’s effort to shift servicing to franchises like Rauseo’s, insistently trekking to the corporate Morvant facility for mine. Then one day I went; and was won over. “Are you a customer?” I’m asked when I call. After my inspection found a blown reserve lamp, I drove right over and they replaced it — at no charge.

That’s one way to do business.

There are others I encountered Thursday when the replacement battery I bought so seamlessly last year failed to start my car. Rauseo’s shop, waiting for its last customer to come back to close, told me to call when I’d got the car jump-started and retrieved the warranty from my safety deposit box. By the time I did, they were gone.

The lack of a reliable closing time annoyed me. But I soon discovered how that feature of doing business in small places is double-edged. (Another virtue of small places was the bank’s security guard who watched the car I left running outside.) Rauseo referred me as backup to another growing Petit Valley auto business, co-owned by Roderick Patience, celebrating its first-year anniversary. Cousins, also on Morne Coco, near Four Roads, was due to close at two.

But when I pulled in at 2.12, a crew of the boss, a seasoned tech, an accented foreigner, who seemed to be an apprentice, and another man assiduously directing traffic in the busy yard all attentively agreed they’d take one more customer. Except they were out of my model of battery. I could go to another nearby participating merchant in Massy’s ACL battery warranty programme. But the car kept shutting off each time they jump-started it. Without much thought, they put their service battery into my car as a loaner to get me to Pt Cumana, with the simple trust I’d bring it back for them the next morning.

KJ Welding didn’t have my battery in stock, either, the worker behind the high counter grinned through the dusk of the shop, pointing to his supply on display. I didn’t get the humour, but I was on my way in crawling rush hour traffic to Wrightson Road’s Tyre Centre, where a call assured me it was. That garage was classic: floors stained with grease, from the 1950s it felt; large red jacks lying about, the sink in the corner; a diffident open-toothed mechanic in unbuttoned overalls fussing and fiddling over an engine. It was a piece of history. And a form of service.

“I go hadda charge that battery for three days to check it,” the old man pronounced after playing with the acid and consulting his country-dressed manager. “Else you could go by Massy in Arima.”

It was minutes to four. I called the corporate service line distrustfully. The automated answering system’s prompts kept misfiring: no such extension, try again. I tried the second number, where an exasperated young woman pleaded with me to tell Massy her home number is being printed on their receipts. I kept dialling. Maybe they closed at 4.30. But clearly things had sort of shut down already. Eventually my call landed — in the Volkswagen division in Morvant. ACL is supposed to have roadside assistance, you know, the young lady told me. She helpfully transferred me — to a number that cut off.

So all in a day, I’d encountered four local ways of doing business: the legacy garage; the big automated corporate facility that loses people; and two thriving new local businesses blending the best of small places and efficiency to provide great service quality.