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This is a parable about three buddies who lived back in the seventies. They were carburetor repairmen. Because they were very good at what they did, they made an excellent living. Until, that is, electronic fuel injection came along and made automotive carburetors a thing of the past. Albert, Bob, and Charlie suddenly had a big problem-- they supplied an expensive service for which there was little demand.
Albert refused to face the problem, and just kept his head down. Before long he wasn’t doing enough business to pay the rent on his big downtown shop, so he gave the landlord a chunk of money to break his lease and moved to his home garage out in the country. Fortunately his wife was a teacher, so they could make ends meet, barely. Every month it seemed a few more old beaters were taken off the road. Before long there wasn’t much for Albert to do but sit around the shop drinking beer and grousing about how foreigners had put him out of business.
Bob also saw the clouds coming but saw a silver lining. Being a classic car buff, he knew several things: first, there are hundreds of thousands of treasured classic cars, lovingly restored, all of which have carburetors. Second, most classic car owners are prepared to pay really good money to have their cars run perfectly. And that involves carburetors. Third, with the majority of carburetor mechanics leaving the trade, those who remained could do quite well if they could figure out how to get the work of these free-spending classic car owners.
So he re-branded himself as the Bob the Classic Carb Wizard. He bought advertising in all the classic car magazines and traveled to every trade show and classic car event he could find. Sometimes he’d leave his booth and wander, listening for the tell-tale sound of a carburetor that really just needed a little love and a little tweaking. “Hi!,” he would introduce himself to the owner, “Nice car! I’m Bob the Classic Carb Wizard. You’re running a little rich on the front left throat-- mind if I take a look? No charge.” Five minutes later Bob left the ecstatic owner with a melodious carburetor, his card and a handful of brochures. An early adopter of courier services, Bob offered a ten day turnaround on rebuilds, and before long also began to distribute some very expensive, very high end, and very high-profit specialized carburetors. He became so busy he even thought about hiring Albert, but decided that Albert’s sourpuss attitude would not be good for business.
Lastly, Charlie took still a different tack. Charlie asked himself a very important, very existential question, “What is it that I really do and love to do?” He also asked his wife, his best friends, and his best customers the same question, and came to the realization that he wasn’t just a carburetor mechanic, but he was a guy who had exceptional instincts about how things worked and why they worked and why they didn’t work and how to get them working better than ever. Toasters, cameras, clocks and garden tractors -- it didn’t matter what he touched, when Charlie was finished, they ran better than when they had come out of the factory. He just had a golden touch.
As it happened, Charlie’s cousin David owned a small manufacturing company, and as it also happened, David’s assembly line gave him constant grief. So Charlie, finding himself with plenty of time on his hands, offered to make the line behave properly, saying to David, “If I can’t fix it, you pay nothing, and if I can fix it, you pay me what you think it’s worth.”
After about a week of quizzing the workers and watching the line moan and squeal along, it was obvious to Charlie what the problem was. After all, figuring out mechanical problems was what he was born to do! And before very long, Charlie had David’s assembly line behaving itself as it had never behaved before. David was amazed and grateful, and gave Charlie a rather nice cheque. But more importantly, David bragged Charlie up to all his industry buddies, and before long Charlie’s phone began to ring and he became busy.
Before long, Charlie’s reputation brought in so much work he needed to hire assistants. He even thought about hiring Albert, but remembered that Albert lacked imagination and always blamed others. So sad about Albert.
You see, trends and technology never stand still, and sooner or later seismic change will come to your industry and to mine. Will we be an Albert, a Bob, or a Charlie?
Norm Bowley teaches the Alignment Doctrine and the Client Code-- secrets to building the professional practice you and your clients deserve. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at 613-862-3489
Norman Bowley teaches the Alignment Doctrine and the Client Code-- secrets to building the professional practice you and your clients deserve.