…or why I can’t “buy local.”
So, I took my motorcycle out last night for the first time in about six months. Yes the battery had been boiled dry by the charger at some point, and yes there were a few pieces sitting on the floor, but from initial inspiration to free and clear to navigate it was still under 30 minutes.
Just a few minutes into my ride, I heard a loud crack and then, on deceleration, the sound of the chain slapping against the swingarm. A quick inspection revealed that the chain slider, a piece of rubber that encases the swingarm and keeps the drive chain from rubbing against it, had disintegrated and disappeared (all the mounting hardware was present, but none of the rubber). Not shocking for a 20-year-old bike. I went home, tightened the chain a couple of notches and kept on riding.
This morning I began investigating my options for replacing the chain slider. A google search revealed no aftermarket availability, but several places now have the Honda factory parts diagrams online for perusal (everything was still microfiche when I was in the industry). The first one I located, Power Sports Pro, had a system called Parts Fish, which yielded the part for $74.49.
Some sticker shock there, I admit, but not totally out of the range of expectation. Motorcycle dealerships, like car dealerships, make all their money in parts and service. New and used vehicles barely cover their own overhead and are really just a gateway to warranty and repair work for the service departments. The parts counter is the ultimate margin-maker. I know when I managed a parts department suggested retail from Honda was double the dealership’s cost for most parts, and the dealership’s internal pricing rule was suggested retail plus 10%. For example, the last time I bought a carburetor gasket kit at retail (admittedly about 20 different gaskets, but collectively they’d all fit in a #10 envelope and not require extra postage!) I think it was about $50. A dealership pays less than $20 for it.
Anyway, forging on via Google I next located Temecula Motorsports. They offered the same part for $68.20.
The skin is a little different, but this is obviously the same parts look-up system. There must be a service provider offering a subscription parts database for dealership web sites. Anyway, slightly better price, though not significantly (they could make it up in the shipping and handling, basically). Next I found Mr. Cycles out of North Carolina.
$54.39. Now we’re talking! Though still outrageous for a 12″ piece of rubber, this is a significant savings over the first price. Again, from the same system (look, even the product index number is the same). Interestingly, Mr. Cycles is not a better deal across the board, only on big-ticket items. The next item on the list, around $3, is actually more expensive at Mr. Cycle. I could do some statistical analysis here to figure out what’s going on, but I’ll assume it’s a per-item charge mixed in with the markup and leave it at that. Another interesting thing: unlike the other dealerships, Mr. Cycles gives you the Honda SKU. With this you could call any Honda dealer in the country and order the part. I doubt you would though, and here’s why.
My next step was to attempt to “buy local.” I have a neighborhood motorcycle dealership less than two miles away, Woods Fun Center. I also have a “neighborhood” Walmart, so don’t get too sentimental just yet. The place is truly awesome, and I mean that literally, not as an affectation of respect (“like, totally awesome”). It’s a motorcycle and sportcraft dealership the size of a Home Depot. As a combination dealership of every Japanese brand, plus ATVs, plus watercraft, plus other stuff, they must have $5 million worth of inventory sitting on the sales floor at any given moment.
On the way over there I decided to be reasonable. I decided that if they came in around the middle price–$68–I’d buy on the spot (which of course means special order and wait a week). So I walked up to the parts counter, waited for the pimply, 19-year-old clerk to stop bullshitting with his frat buddies (or whatever kind of buddies they are when you’re all high school dropouts and too young to drink), and began the demeaning ritual of being that old guy with more money than sense ordering parts for a dinosaur bike that he just won’t get rid of. Remember, I was on the other side of that counter when I was 19 too. I knew plenty of me. Shudder.
Anyway, he looks up the part, and then he does that thing that doctors, mechanics and parts guys all have down to a science–that shoulder-slumping, deep sigh-accompanied, “I feel your pain, but really I’m not the cause of it” act they put on to let you down easy. In this case, I think the guy actually cursed. And then he gave me the damage: $90. Here’s another thing I know about that job: you only round the number off when you know the customer is not going to buy. If you think there’s a chance in hell, you get specific. You say $88.42 or $92.50 or whatever the book (or in this case computer) says. You try to keep the customer engaged. Except this is a motorcycle dealership, so here’s what’s really going on: you’re looking at this price on screen and it’s dealer cost marked up 100%. But the policy is, add 10%, if you’re lucky, because you can do that in your head. But at Woods it’s probably more like 15% or even 20%. So standing behind the counter, you see this already big number (I’m guessing list is somewhere around $75), and you know you’re supposed to add exactly 15%. You also know there’s no way in hell even the old guy with more money than sense is going to shell out just south of a C-note for what is essentially a rubber bushing, so you don’t even bother to do the calculation. You just say “90 bucks” and it’s over. And it was, I said thanks and left.
In a small shop, like the one I used to work in, I could have argued. I know that for a ridiculous situation like that–$70-$90 for a piece of rubber–we used to routinely cut back as far as actual retail even for a casual customer. Hell, get them to buy some chain lube and an oil filter at the same time and you’re ahead of the game. The perspective to have here–the dealership’s perspective–is that everything that happens in the parts department is pure profit. They shouldn’t let me walk out without offering me something. Because whether it’s $30 or $50 walking away, you’ve already done 90% of the work for it. Knowing the cost on this part is somewhere around $40 (because someone in North Carolina will sell it to me for under $55, remember), the thing for any parts counter guy to do, when I hedged, and definitely when I walked away, was to say, hold up, you need anything else? because I can maybe work with you on this price. It’s called sales, people. And what’s amazing to me is that even back when we could play hard ball, before the Internet, back when we knew the customer would come back eventually because there really was nowhere else to go, we didn’t play it that hard. I gave plenty of discounts (again, almost down to suggested retail). These days, on some level, Woods has to know its going to lose that over-the-counter business to the Internet. All I can figure is they don’t care.