We used to always hang out together on the day after Thanksgiving.
Black Friday was a complete knockout when she was a young lady. Sexy, seductive, easy to please, and so damn smart! The two of us would go out shopping and pretty much knock out everything I could ever need for my cars before lunch. She was a true gearhead at heart, and for a long time she made my life easy. Oil change packages for $5. A gallon of coolant for a buck. Free spark plugs. She had an uncanny ability to find every item I would ever need for my family garage. With her small army of circulars and rebates, I could get it all for only about 20- to 30-percent off the retail price.
She… was… awesome!
My wife and friends would hang out with her as well. Everyone loved Black Friday for her fun and chatty nature. It wasn’t just the deals that made Black Friday so enticing back then. It was the experience of enjoying that one day when she was the true queen of retail America.
But then she had what could only be described as a mid-life crisis.
Her showmanship — that pizzazz of what made Black Friday so special in the eyes of so many — began to slowly dissipate. Her shapely body that seemed to almost float in an angelic embrace of free market goodness turned ever more manipulative and callous over time. The deals which were once quick and simple turned into a labyrinth of endless rebates and hoops. As big box America saw their profits plummet during her annual event, they asked more from her and gave her strict limits on how much she could sell at a loss.
This only served to tick off her loyal followers.
Most of all, Black Friday’s big box employers wanted her to take on an Amazon woman who seemed almost unbeatable. It was an unfair fight. Her own business partners and fair weather friends were essentially two-faced when it came to their love for Black Friday. What those partners loved wasn’t quite her, but the easy access she afforded to all the things they wanted: customers, revenue, profits — everything but the spectacle of Black Friday herself. As time went by, Black Friday became less of a feature attraction and more of an off-Broadway side show that was getting lambasted by every disgruntled critic and consumer in town.
Black Friday had a complete meltdown. Amazon’s Cyber Monday — and, in the world of cars, Rockauto and Partsgeek — were stealing her show. Amazon in particular was so hell-bent on stardom that she intentionally took over Black Friday’s act and even headlined her own big day. At first it was just Cyber Monday. Then Amazon decided to remove Black Friday’s employers entirely from the buying equation. This year she opened up a new act called GETITNOW where she offered an extra $20 off any $50 purchase on the first purchase at her new retail channel, Amazon Now.
What did I, one of Black Friday’s most loyal and loving friends, do? I had a 15-minute tryst with Amazon Now and got a new Blu-Ray player and Sony headphones delivered straight to my home within two hours. Black Friday’s big box customers couldn’t match this Amazon woman. After a long week trying to make some highlight of Black Friday’s showmanship, I just couldn’t see the old magic in her.
Black Friday was beat. Or so I thought as I took an afternoon nap to reflect on her former glory. She crept straight into my email box in the middle of the night with a big can of spam in one hand and a stack of coupons that contained more small print than a miniature Bible in the other.
“Hey sweetie,” she whispered in an ever-so seductive voice, “wanna buy some motor oil?”
I opened my eyes and saw the horror of Black Friday’s face. Five pounds of makeup had apparently been used to make her more attractive as the years and the stresses took their toll.
The angry gaze of a stranger — a once beautiful lady who had become tired, broken, and defeated — was at my bedside. Yet, behind that gaze there was a ferociousness. Her downright nasty temperament was used to giving orders to anyone whose living depended on her success.
“You need to make me money Steve and start selling my shit again!!!”
“Oh my God! Black Friday! What happened to you?”
“I work for Pep Boys now Steve, and all the other big box stores! We have everyone’s email address. You remember those cheap Chinese scooters that you auctioned off back during the subprime mortgage crisis?”
“Uhhhhh…. yeah? I sold over 100 lots of them in an hour back when I was bid calling. Whatever happened to them?”
“Pep Boys partnered with a small army of bail bondsman and sold all those babies to DUI offenders for an 800-percent profit! You can call me CEO Friday, and I have something perfect for all those older men who have trouble getting it up, if you know what I mean.”
“You’re gonna sell old Playboys at Walmart? God, it would be nice to not read those articles again.”
“Better! I’m going to sell them motor oil, and you’re going to help me do it!”
“Surely you can’t be serious?!”
“I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley! It works like this. We get motor oil wholesale for about sixty cents a pop and oil filters for about thirty-five cents each. Our vendors put them in nice shiny bottles and an army of MBAs and graphic designers pore over every little crevice of those bottles to make them more alluring. I then put them right next to all the crappy additives that actually make cars worse.”
“How much do you make with that?”
“About $2.7 billion last year.”
“Well then, why the fuck do you need me?”
“Because we need people that are trusted in the business. You write for the big names now. We have a blog! By the way, you want some free tires?”
“How about a junket to Vegas where we give you a Lamborghini for a week?”
“The last time that happened was seven years ago. Remember? I got a Super Speeder ticket and a front seat to The Black Eyed Peas. I still don’t know which experience was worse.”
“Steve! We need to sell some motor oil this week! It’s Black Friday! My day! What in the name of Beelzebub do you want?”
“For you to stop jerking people off with limited supplies and mail-in rebates. It would also be nice to get a true deal once in a while that doesn’t make you out to be the new queen of cheap recycled bling. You used to sell things that were worth keeping. What happened?”
“What happened?! Let me tell you what happened! Three things: Amazon, Wall Street, and profits. Ripping people off is easy because nobody reads anymore! They’re all too busy watching other people play video games on Youtube and posting their lives away on Facebook. I make money on the stupid — always have — and nothing spells stupid better than buying a Black Friday deal.”
“Well, that’s really the hook then?”
“You’re going to send out your marketeers to sell all these oil change deals that are actually cheaper at any other time during the year; especially in October when the weather turns cold and nobody wants to buy motor oil. Then you’re going to line up some cheap aftermarket parts that won’t survive a year of moderate use and advertise the hell out of them; jump boxes, canopies, whatever else you can make out of the cheapest metals, plastics, and vinyls.”
“How else do you think I can afford these press junkets, Steve! By the way, what do you think of Iceland? How about Spain?”
“I would rather visit the Brickboard and teach my kids how to drive a stick.”
“Well, what the hell do you really want?”
“Honestly, I want Mailchimp to catch a venereal disease and the Pep Boys to be deported instead of the illegals. I want people to outsmart the system until it’s forced to change for the better. I’m not talking about just you, Black Friday. The entire auto industry promotes planned obsolescence and ‘gotcha’ legal loopholes these days. Cars should be so durable and easy to maintain at this point in our history that they should last generations. We should be exporting used cars to the developing world. Ease of maintenance is the key to that recipe. As for motor oil, it should be a dollar a quart at most. One more thing: All those herpetological snake oils and additives at the auto parts stores should be regulated right out of existence. They don’t work. Not one of them.”
I was having a Bluto Blutowski moment.
“Most of all, I want owners to have access to new cars that don’t require a small fortune’s worth of special tools to do what amounts to basic maintenance. You remember when you could crack the transmission plug on a Honda with just a socket wrench?”
“Yeah, I took care of that! Now new Nissan owners have to pay over $300 to have their transmission fluid changed on their CVTs! Sucks to be them but good for Nissan and their dealers!”
“That’s my issue with what you have become to all of us, Black Friday. It’s not just the prices that have gone in the wrong direction. It’s the entire mentality of the American marketplace, especially when it comes to cars. Every year I feel like Americans are becoming slaves to a new form of debt-based system that promotes planned obsolescence. In terms of longevity, the cars of today are nowhere near as durable as those of a decade ago because the automakers make them increasingly difficult to service for no good reason. As for parts and supplies, the online world has already become the brave, new world for all things automotive. I’ll be blunt with you, Black Friday: The best thing you can do for America is give everyone the day off and retire!”
“The hell with you! I make the big bucks!” With that, her nails quickly latched onto my face and started digging into my forehead and cheeks. Yet her grip on me didn’t seem nearly as strong as it had been all those years ago. After a second graze which felt more like sandpaper, I woke up… to the reassuring feel of a small Pug licking my face on a late Thursday afternoon.
My advice to all of you is still the same when it comes to auto parts: Wait for the closeouts. Time your purchases to when they are usually most reasonable. And plan ahead. The only thing that changes over time is the price, along with the marketing performed to make you pay more for a good that is far cheaper than the sellers ever care to admit.
Enjoy Thanksgiving weekend folks, and watch out for Black Friday. She’s no longer the real deal.
[Photo credit: Top, Flickr/prayitnophotography]