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Mac's Service Shop: Getting the Most from Your Service Dollars
February 1972 Popular Electronics

February 1972 Popular Electronics

February 1972 Popular Electronics Cover - RF Cafe  Table of Contents

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from Popular Electronics, published October 1954 - April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.

Although not entirely necessary to enjoy this story, it occurs to me that many people reading it might not know how to compare the size of a "man cookie" to a 45 rpm record - or for that matter even know what a record is (other than a unit of database storage). A 45 rpm record (single) is 7 inches in diameter, as opposed to a 33-1/3 rpm (LP 'long playing' album) which is 12 inches. Now you can get past the opening paragraph and glean the advice offered by electronic repair shop owner Mac McGregor regarding seeking out repair services. It applies to automobiles as well as electronics. The really interesting point I found, however, was his quoting of a 1970 statistic claiming that by 1980 the U.S. would employ more service employees than manufacturing employees. That was pretty prescient given the dismal state of today's manufacturing sector. What Mac, Barney, and Matilda couldn't know was by the turn of the century most products would have no user serviceable - or repair shop serviceable - parts inside, and that a large majority of products would be designed to be disposable and/or obsolete within a couple years.

Mac's Service Shop: Getting the Most from Your Service Dollars

By John T. Frye, W9EGV, KHD4167

Mac's Service Shop: Getting the Most from Your Service Dollars, February 1972 Popular Electronics - RF CafeIt was coffee break time at Mac's Service Shop. The owner and his redheaded assistant, Barney, were seated side by side on the service bench, while Matilda, the office girl, was enthroned on a high stool where she could keep an eye on the front door. She had baked and brought in a big platter of what she called "man cookies" - huge sugar sprinkled affairs almost the size of 45-rpm records-and these were disappearing fast along with the coffee.

"You know," Barney mumbled with a full mouth, "I don't see how a girl with such a tart disposition can bake such sweet and tasty cookies."

"Watch your smart Irish tongue or you'll taste no more of them," Matilda retorted.

"All right, you two," Mac interrupted quickly; "I want your opinions about something. Last night I read that in 1970 this country passed a milestone: for the first time the cost of services accounted for more of the gross national product than did manufactured goods. What's more, the U.S. Department of Labor predicts that by 1980 seven out of every ten workers will be engaged in service rather than manufacturing."

"How about that!" Barney exclaimed. "It looks like we're in the right business."

"I'm not so sure that's altogether good," Matilda said thoughtfully. "It seems to me the production of manufactured goods actually contributes to the real wealth of the country, while services make a necessary but more intangible and hard-to-measure contribution. Some services, I'm sure, add nothing to the nation's wealth."

"I understand what's bothering you," Mac said with a nod. "I've some reservations of my own about an economy that's becoming more and more service-oriented.

But be that as it may, it seems evident we're going to be putting out more money for service than we put out for manufactured articles. Since such a high percentage of our income is going to be spent for service, it would seem to behoove us to give some thought as to how we can get the best return on those service dollars."

"That seems logical," Matilda agreed.

"After all, we have magazines and books devoted to explaining how to get the most value for the dollars we spend for things. Perhaps we need something similar to tell people how to get the most value for money spent for service."

"Say, whose side are you on?" Barney demanded, reaching for another cookie. "Don't forget we're in the service business."

"We, as well as everybody else, are also in the consuming business," Mac reminded him. "But I like Matilda's idea about telling the customer how to get the most for his service dollar. We may not be able to help much with the plumber, electrician, dentist, doctor, or auto mechanic but we should be able to tell how to get the most out of dollars spent for radio and TV service."

Pick a Good Technician. "The first thing to do is pick a good service technician," Barney led off, "and that's not easy. To coin a phrase, 'Only another technician knows for sure.' The layman lacks the technical knowledge necessary to evaluate the work a TV technician performs. He is likely to be much more impressed by the simple problem of locating a shorted capacitor quickly than he is by a brilliant job of tracking down an elusive intermittent condition calling for complete mastery of theory plus a great deal of experience.

"However, there are some things a customer can look for in selecting a service shop. Has it been in business long? Is it well equipped? If the state has licensing, is there a license hanging on the wall and do the technicians wear license badges? If the state has a certification program, how many of the shop technicians are certified? Are any of them graduates of factory training schools or of other recognized training institutions?

"Read the advertising carefully. If the word 'Free' is tossed about recklessly, look out. Are parts and labor both guaranteed or only parts? For how long? Finally, if the customer knows one honest and capable service technician in any mechanical field, ask him to recommend a TV technician. A good mechanic usually recognizes and respects capable work in an adjacent field."

What Customer Should Do. "Now let me tell what the customer should do before he calls us," Matilda urged. "The first thing he should do is get out his operator's manual and read it carefully. Is the set plugged into an active socket? Is the antenna attached properly? Are the controls correctly set? Is the circuit-breaker closed? If everything checks out and the set still will not function, a service technician should be called.

"Before calling, however, the caller should get together pertinent information: what is the make, model, and serial number of the defective unit? Is it connected to the cable or to an indoor or outdoor antenna? Exactly what is the complaint? Is it with the picture, the sound, or both? Is only the color at fault? In what way is reception abnormal? Is this condition present on all channels or on only some? Which ones? Is the trouble always there or it is intermittent? If the latter is true, how soon does it appear after the set is turned on? If it goes away by itself, when does that happen? Does anything you do to the set change the condition? Did you see or smell any smoke around the set? Was there a popping, snapping sound? When will you be home so the technician can call?"

"Hey, Matilda, that's pretty good," Barney admitted with grudging admiration. "With the answers to those questions, the technician should be able to make a shrewd guess as to the trouble and have proper service information and parts with him when he calls. That saves his time and the customer's money."

"Yes, and the customer can save more time and money by having everything ready for that call," Mac suggested. "I mean all the stuff should be removed from the top of the set; adequate lighting should be provided; and the kids should be corralled in another part of the house."

"Hear, hear!" Barney applauded. "And the customer herself should not try to entertain the service technician with a lot of small talk. Anything that diverts his attention from what he is doing simply increases the time necessary to do it. If she wants to sit over in a corner and watch, that's fine, but a good way to squander her money is to keep peppering the technician with questions such as 'What is that thing? What makes it do that? How much longer will it take you to fix it? Are you sure it isn't the color power tube as my cousin Willie thinks?' Neither should she regale the technician with a detailed recital of experiences she has had with other 'incompetent and crooked technicians.' She might be giving him ideas!"

"When the job is done, she should receive a dated and itemized bill," Matilda .added, "Before paying that bill she should make sure the set is operating satisfactorily on all channels. The original complaint should be stated on the bill, especially if it was intermittent in nature. Then if the trouble comes back after the technician leaves, it will be a matter of record that the complaint was not corrected. On the other hand, the technician cannot be held responsible for an entirely new trouble that shows up later."

"That brings us to the matter of trusting the service technician," Mac said. "My own practice is to pick a man I think I can trust and then to trust him until I am convinced that trust is misplaced. We all know that a radio and TV service technician can deceive a customer in dozens of different ways if he is so inclined. We also know that if he charges what his knowledge is worth, he does not need to resort to such shabby business to make a good living. Human nature being what it is, there is always a tendency to meet expectations. If someone obviously distrusts you and expects you to try to cheat him, his hostility arouses your own, and there's always the temptation to give him the business just to prove you can. If your ethics do not permit this - and ours do not - you still do not give him any breaks. On the other hand, you have to be a dirty dog to take advantage of a customer who trusts you and treats you with friendliness and respect. You're much more likely to throw in a few little extra touches in servicing the receiver of such a customer."

Putting It All Together. "Okay, let's put all this together," Matilda said, plucking a pencil from Mac's jacket pocket and starting to jot shorthand on the back of a service tag. "Americans are spending more money for service than they do for merchandise. That means getting the most for their service dollars is becoming increasingly important. They can do this by (1) picking a service shop as carefully as they do a new car or a new living room suite, (2) calling for service only when they are sure they need it, (.3) having all pertinent information at hand when they call for service, (4) having things ready for the technician when he arrives, (5) allowing him to work with a minimum of distraction, and (6) trusting him and his judgment. While we've been thinking in terms of radio and TV service, the same general principles apply to all kinds of service, from dealing with auto mechanics to doctors."

"That's a good summary, Matilda," her employer said, "but now the coffee and cookies are all gone, perhaps we'd better quit talking about service and start practicing it."

"It sure is tough working for a doggone slave driver," Barney muttered, starting to gather up the coffee cups.



Posted May 8, 2018

Mac's Radio Service Shop Episodes on RF Cafe

This series of instructive technodrama™ stories was the brainchild of none other than John T. Frye, creator of the Carl and Jerry series that ran in Popular Electronics for many years. "Mac's Radio Service Shop" began life in April 1948 in Radio News magazine (which later became Radio & Television News, then Electronics World), and changed its name to simply "Mac's Service Shop" until the final episode was published in a 1977 Popular Electronics magazine. "Mac" is electronics repair shop owner Mac McGregor, and Barney Jameson his his eager, if not somewhat naive, technician assistant. "Lessons" are taught in story format with dialogs between Mac and Barney.

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