Hammer Time: The Tough Choice

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang
hammer time the tough choice

First the guy called. Then his wife. Then the repo driver.

The truck had been out in front of their house for nearly a half hour. Lights flashing. Neighbors peeved, and humiliation aplenty.

“Steve, I can get both cars. What do you want me to do?”

I want everyone to have a happy ending. But sometimes that’s just not possible.

In my business, three things will always result in me taking back my property.

1) Don’t pay.

2) Don’t tell me the truth.

3) Don’t return my calls.

In the case of this family #1 was well established. They had made good for well over a year, and then one of them more than likely lost their job or got their hours cut.

It’s not easy making lifestyle adjustments… if you’re a product of our debt driven culture.

I see this with everything in my business. Delayed maintenance on $30,000+ cars. Ungodly amounts of fast food and gas station convenience items in countless number of repos. Fast food wrappers strewn about with drinks bigger than my head. Those beverages are hopelessly laden with body deforming poisons and often times, you see the impact of those substances on flattened seat padding with small pillows on top of them that form yet another layer of a slow sad terminal decline for car and driver.

Not all the vehicles are like this. But the overwhelming majority of repos seem to show the battle scars of a culture that embodies the ‘gotta have it now’ mentality. It kills people over the long run.

“Let me talk to the guy. Is he with you? Yeah, good.”

“Hey Steve! I think you misunderstood me. I meant that I would make the payment next week, not this week.”

“Jeff. We talked on Thursday and the word you used in that conversation was ‘tomorrow’. I also left you and Lisa several messages over the weekend and never heard back.”

This is the part that gets me. If something happens… please… let me know beforehand.

I’m a human being too and for the love of God, I’ll work with you. A guy who tells you that he’s willing to put the actual cost of the repair at the back of the loan at no interest wants you to succeed. Hell, I’ve even put oil changes on the back of loans when folks are truly strapped.

Lose your job? Got cancer? I will always verify but once I know, you’re golden. I’ve even deferred payments for as long as a year in a couple of extreme cases.

I want my community to be like Bedford Falls instead of Potterville. But I can only do that if you level with me.

This guy wasn’t leveling with me. I know he has reasons. Guess what? They are all shitty ones.

“Look Steve. I’m sorry. If you can hold off for a couple of days, I can get you $120.”

“Jeff, here’s our situation. You have two cars that we both know you can’t afford. I looked at what’s happened the last several months and I can help, but I can only do so much for you. The rest you have to do yourself. Look Jeff, the truth is you can only one afford one car. Just one. If I take both you won’t be able to handle the repo fee for either one.”

“Can you take the Hyundai then?”

This is where life becomes complicated. Between the two vehicles, the couple had paid close to $8000 already. I haven’t yet made my usual profit. But at least it’s been a decent one.

Then there is the issue of goodness. If you are good to folks, most will reciprocate… some won’t. The guy that I dealt with this evening was not a bad guy at all. He’s just struggling and that’s probably pushed him behind the usual standards he tries to live up to. For over a year he never gave me a problem.

In my experiences, these are the guys you try to help out of the gray area if you can. The ones that will bite you in the end are fewer in number. You remember those and all too often forget about the ones where your flexibility and goodwill made the difference. Experience breeds skepticism and this often has a greater impact on the rules you set up for the business.

Every rule has exceptions once in a blue moon, and I was about to make a big one.

“How about if we bring the Hyundai back to the lot. You follow my driver in our Explorer. I’ll meet you at the lot and we’ll handle everything from there.”

After a brief thankful exchange, I headed to the lot, wondering what the hell I was doing.

Will I create a successful opportunity for this guy? Or am I just breaking the rules and bullshitting myself about the true nature of a manipulator who lets you give an inch, and then takes whatever assets and goodwill he can get out of you?

My rules make me lose money over the guy down the road who is willing to repo the same car five or six times. When I repo, it’s over. But I don’t repo much at all. In a business that typically has a 65% to 70% success rate, mine is right around 90%. I say no to the borderline deals and only sell cars that can make the note and beyond, if they aren’t abused or neglected.

I can live with doing this because I’m not greedy. I love cars. I love auctions. I enjoy the act of applying my efforts towards ideas and experiences that can have an enduring impact. Dad, husband, brother, son, friend… this is where most of us make that difference.

Money only provides us with the time and freedom we need to pursue those very things that are truly worth doing.

Saying no to money is a hard thing to do. When most guys see a river of financial success flowing, they want to build a dam and get every single drop of monetary gain out of it.

Dams in most any business take up an enormous amount of time to build. I know guys with enlarged hearts, divorces, cancers and pointlessly fatal levels of stress in their daily lives. All for the pursuit of the paper and ink.

As the son of an artistic mom and a frugalist dad, I was brought up to save well and trade that money still flowing in that river of opportunity, for more free time to enjoy life. I have never regretted that decision.

Every once in a while I need to make judgment calls. Tonight that middle aged grasshopper may not have chosen wisely. But he can live with it.

After all, the free market is only free when you have the freedom to make the most of it. Life is short. Go find something worth doing.

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2 of 58 comments
  • WheelMcCoy WheelMcCoy on Aug 03, 2012

    Thanks Steve for renewing my faith in humanity. I've read about too many companies where profit must made at any and all costs. I'm also tired of those same companies that hide behind "we must think of the shareholders" excuse to behave like a-holes. If more people tried to conduct business like you, I'm sure we would not be in this economic mess.

  • Speedlaw Speedlaw on Sep 03, 2012

    I once worked for a debt collection law firm. The only job I ever quit without another one lined up. The trick is to separate the scammer (whether due to ill will or desperation) from the honest. My local mechanic has the complaint that he gets asked for "credit" frequently after the work is done-not before.

  • Analoggrotto As we Tesla owners receive our life energy from the greatest son of the gods of all time, Elon Musk; His cherubs and His nephilim may remove whatever they wish from us for unto him we owe all for our superiority above all the rest of humanity.
  • Kcflyer Nice to see California giving NY some competition to be the worst run state in the union.
  • Wolfwagen I see my comment was deleted (BTW nice way to censor) so i will say it again:GTFO here with the pseudo "wealth distribution" BS. A crime is a crime is a crime.Its a slippery slope, what happens next, Jail a rich guy when he kills a pedestrian and let the poor guy who kills a pedestrian walk? What about if the poor guy is a crappy driver and has the record to prove it then what?Or we could go crazy and just institute the death penalty across the board for every driving infraction. That will make people better drivers or stop driving altogether which will make the greenies happy (damm it I just gave them an idea - SOB!!!)
  • Wolfwagen No. Bring back the J80 with an inline six and reduced electronics (i.e. no giant touch screen) and they will probably sell like hotcakes
  • David S. " test vehicles sometimes make sudden stops when uncertain about how to navigate traffic."??? Test vehicles are programmed by humans, HUMANS sometimes make sudden stops when uncertain about how to navigate traffic, Duh!!