Tech Focus

Tell-All Tech: Repairs? You Need Repairs??

Inside the lives of service technicians. Not as glamorous as you might think.

No More Or Less

O.K. – it’s not minimum wage. The fact is that our labor requires skill, and as such commands a commensurate rate of pay. But at the end of the day, service techs make no more or less than most of our customers, unless they happen to be of the “better-heeled” variety.

“Labor rates” for product service are administered on an hourly basis to provide livable salaries while keeping the doors open. (No one is in business to lose money unless working a tax scam.)

Broken down further, labor rates also cover commercial floor space, business expenses and supplies (insurance, phones, electricity, water, computers, Post-It notes, etc.), taxes, marketing, blah blah, ad infinitum. After those costs are covered, there isn’t much left over, so we must make up the difference in parts, right? Well, not exactly.

A properly run service department must invest heavily in test equipment, tools, chemicals and documentation along with adequate floor and shelf space to store all of this stuff, and in an organized manner. These items don’t order (and reorder) or inventory themselves. Someone must put time (there’s that word again) into doing it. Further, replacement parts (and the fees to ship them) aren’t free either.

Somewhere along the line, these “hidden” expenses have to be recovered. As an example, my organization stocks more than 7,000 individual parts valued collectively at $100,000. And we still don’t have it.

A computer (and operator) keeps track of it all. Further, service documents (schematics) are also considered “parts,” and we have another few thousand of those too, individually paid for, shipped, received, filed and stored. The result is dozens of filing cabinets and shelves chock-full of the stuff.

It would be easier (and way more profitable) to just mark all parts up based upon a flat scale, but we don’t do that. Parts are marked up on a sliding scale, depending on what it costs for each individual component to come through our door.

If, by chance, we don’t have the part it takes to properly service the gear you needed yesterday, guess what happens? The freight company (not us) reaps the financial bonanza, and thus the price skyrockets. (It’s what “next-day shipping” is all about!)

Back-ordered parts can also be an issue. (For older gear, the term “obsolete” is very popular.) In these cases, we can’t possibly know what the cost, availability and time frame for an obscure part will be – until we ask the supplier. Yet we take the heat, because by the time we’re told we can’t have it yesterday, it’s too late for the customer.

Taking The Heat

Believe it or not, some manufacturers don’t completely have their acts together. Welcome to the human condition, aided and abetted by the ubiquitous “computer error.” Everything’s together on our end, but between that phone call and the heaps of silicon and magnetic storage media, something goes wrong.

The customer is disappointed, while the sender won’t take back the wrong part (often paid for up front by us) without a “restocking charge” – even if it was their mistake! Profoundly frustrating, to say the least. But who takes the heat? Your humble service tech, naturally.

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Rubbing salt in the wound is the fact that correcting all of this takes even more time and money (there’s that phrase again) on everyone’s part. We share the Catch-22… cue the big “sucking” sound.

There’s much more to address with this issue, such as back orders, wrong parts, incorrect billing/shipping, hidden software/firmware/hardware updates, web site issues, USB Jump-Drive formatted service info, warranty service… But I believe the point has been made.

Perhaps some this will be perceived as bitter complaining, but it’s vital to understand what it takes to run a quality service/repair operation; in our case, more than 25 years from the same location.

The best way to learn, often, is by seeing things first hand. Our arms are open – stop by and visit the “room behind the back room,” have a look around. Then you’ll be able to accurately answer the question: Am I exaggerating?

Until the next time, I remain,
The Tell-All Tech

Inspired in part by the The Rogue Rep and The Old Soundman, our intrepid author seeks to promote further understanding and dialog about the trials and tribulations of pro audio service techs.

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