Tom Stephens

Tom Stephens

I grew up in a small Indiana farm town where there was always something going on.  To keep me on the straight & narrow, my Dad had his “pearls of wisdom”, which he frequently shared with me.   One of his favorites, was… “If you give M & M’s to a pig, he’ll follow you anywhere!”
I didn’t have the slightest idea what my Dad was talking about.   We didn’t even own a pig.   I was ten and had just landed my first Paper Route.   Dad was giving me my first lesson in “customer relations”.   If I wanted to be successful at my Paper Route, “it would come from the goodwill of my customers.   If I hoped to keep their goodwill, it would strictly depend on my personal behavior and no one else”.
On Saturday morning my Dad’s favorite place to go, was Akard’s Hardware store.   (It’s a guy thing.)
This one particular Saturday started out like all of the others, with Dad & I going to the Hardware store.   Dad and the owner of the Hardware, Bill (Mr. Akard to me.) were friends.   For some crazy reason, they loved talking about Indiana’s corn crop.   As if it would fail to grow without their commentary.   As soon as they settled those weighty matters, Dad would ask Mr. Akard for some nut or bolt that he had actually come for.  Mr. Akard found whatever it was Dad was looking for and said, “I’ll catch you next time”.   I had heard Mr. Akard say this before, but on that particular Saturday, it dawned on me; “next time” never came.   I just didn’t understand this ritual they had.
On the way home I ask Dad why his friend did that?   I wasn’t ready yet for the “Bird’s & the Bee’s” conversation, but Dad was more than ready to explain what small towns and friends were about.   (Oscar Wilde said very well; “A cynic knows the price of everything & the value of nothing.”)   Dad explained that Bill’s friendship had real value.   Much more than the price of a nut or bolt.   Friendship goes both ways.   Dad would never shop for a cheaper price at K-mart.   (The internet, Home Depot, or Lowe’s didn’t exist yet.)   “Business is first and foremost a relationship with people.”    I had a Paper Route at the time, and Dad ask me why I put people’s newspaper behind their Storm Door when it was raining or snowing?   “Because people can’t read a wet newspaper; & they’ll yell at me if I don’t.”   Dad rolled his eyes, he did that a lot, “it’s the details that count”.
That was 1958 & I didn’t have a clue what an epiphany looked like.  But in hind sight, if there ever was one in my life, that was it!   As I think back on those days as a budding entrepreneur and the Managing Director of my very own Paper Route.  I learned more in that Saturday morning class at Akard’s Hardware than I ever learned at the Indiana University School of Business.   On that particular Saturday, in a dinky little Indiana farm town, the proverbial light bulb over my head finally went on.   I got it!   Keep your pockets full of M & M’s and a pig will follow you on your Paper Route!



Tom worked for Mercedes-Benz for 25 years as a Technician, Instructor, and Service Manager.    As the Service Manager for dealership’s in Houston and Sacramento, he received Mercedes-Benz “Service Manager of the Year” award 5 times.    After opening his own Mercedes-Benz service center 23 years ago, Sacramento Magazine honored Stephens Service Center with “The Best of Sacramento”.


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Mercedes-Benz knows their cars will last 5 or 6 years without much maintenance.  After that, it’s time to sell you a new car.  And that’s fine if you don’t mind living with the endless erosion of your net worth caused by new car depreciation.   When people finally realize the only winner is the manufacture, some may want to put a stop to it.   At some point, people begin to suspect the manufactures “recommended” service schedule is a dead end road back to the dealer for a new car every 5 or 6 years.   The manufacture’s “recommended” maintenance interval is the bare minimum for your car to make it 50,000 miles without catastrophic failure under the warranty.
People have long thought manufactures planned failures to happen as soon as the warranty was over.   That perception is correct; but it’s not because the car was built that way.   It happens because manufactures fail to inform owners of the “real” preventive maintenance their car actually needs.   How long has it been since you owned a car that delivered the reliability you  expected when you bought the car?   If you’ve bought a 5 year old used car lately, I’m sure you’ve been disappointed.   The original owner did what they were told & the second owner gets stuck with the mess.   If you complain to Mercedes-Benz as the second owner, you’re treated like a second class citizen.   Mercedes may act like they don’t know what you’re talking about, but they know exactly what’s happening.   Mercedes presents owners with a confusing maintenance program that was designed to maximize their new car sales.   Take a guess why used car values plummet after the warranty is over?   There is nothing inherently wrong with the quality of your Mercedes-Benz.   There is also nothing mysterious or confusing about legitimate preventive maintenance.   Nothing has changed & everything has changed.   It is however, truly amazing how many people actually think the dealer is saving them money when they discourage maintenance.
Know this one thing.   Mercedes-Benz is not in the business of selling you a new car once every 20 years!