Things Ain’t What They Used To Be

Back in the early 60s I didn’t have much time when my grandfather pronounced that things had turned for the worse. Bearing in mind that he had been through two world wars, it did indeed portray a terrible picture for the future. But odd as it seemed, I thought it was all getting better. More people were starting to own cars and I didn’t see a lot wrong with the pop music of the time and mini skirts were just starting to appear.

So, at the risk of repeating the words of my elders, why have we now finished up in the state that we have? Of course, how you view the current situation by and large hinges on how your life-style unfolds and whether you have the misfortune to run a business that is coming to the end of its 30-year cycle.

For the average person life has got to be miles better than it was in the 20s and 30s, or even the 70s; but who wants to be part of a Nanny State full of bureaucracy, lacking in common sense; riddled with stupidity and tinged with dishonesty, which makes life very difficult for us people with an old-fashioned work ethic. The whole world is full of marketing and spin and, quite frankly, full of bullshit. If we look at our own industry and how it has been effective; the AA and RAC have gone on forever. In the case of the AA the yellow vans are so iconic that it is the brand that people are trying to replicate in all industries.

No matter what type of service or how it is perceived, it is measured against the industrial standard, which of course is the AA. Even the RAC would have to admit that it doesn‘t have quite the clout in a social discussion.

There are a few other examples that go the same way. All vacuum cleaners are measured against the original Hoover and as we will see in the future, the ones without a bag will be referred to as a Dyson. There are many, many companies that clean blocked drains, but the only answer in a Mastermind Contest would be Dyno-Rod because they were the first to be corporately branded. It must be really annoying to produce a brand new vacuum cleaner and have someone say: “I see you have made a new hoover.”

It makes branding and identifying a new product in an existing market place very difficult to get established. Green Flag have put out liveried vehicles and I did see two on the motorway the other day (which was good) but it hasn’t taken the image any further forward than National Breakdown did using any willing helper.

The difference is that now people’s perspectives of good service have changed and, quite frankly, they are too easily rolled over. 25 years ago if somebody got bad service by any motoring association they might ring up and complain but they would certainly rubbish them to their friends in the pub; and of course, in the same conversation the good eggs would rise to the top. Perhaps that is how National Breakdown, Britannia and so forth became established. It did not need liveried vehicles or much advertising, it just needed a few loud-mouths helped by the odd pint or two.

Moving forward, what happens now? A dissatisfied customer will peck away on their various electronic communications, probably threaten to sue and at least demanding their money back. A likely response from a well-oiled Customer Department will result in a rapid offer of a handful of M&S knicker vouchers and a promise of 10% off next year’s membership and our member thinks he is King or Queen. Of course, by the time he has kitted his wife out with his M&S voucher and next year comes around, he is selecting the cheapest membership he can find, for better or worse. I doubt for one second he selects his membership because he is joining a company with 3,500 vans or somebody with just a few covering the whole country. It’s all about cost – forget the service – after all, he can always complain.

Of course, the greatest change of all which our elders would be shocked at is the number of people who are in employment all over the country and are not doing a proper job. It’s almost like the job has been created for their benefit when it wasn’t necessary. There are so many who take a cut out of our industry: we should have a quiz sometime to see who can name the most. We could start with FMG taking most of the money out of a motorway breakdown and continue for at least another ten or fifteen. Most of that money should be going to the recovery operator and not these people. Of course it is not only our industry that is affected, it is the whole of society, generally taking the lion’s share of any profit, which cannot be described in any other way but sheer greed.

Yes, I’m afraid things do appear to have changed for the worse, certainly as far as many of us are concerned, but then again it is only one element. We all have warm houses, nice cars, mobile phones and life in many ways is not too bad, unless you live in Somerset!


Fred Henderson,
Breakdown Doctor,
March 2014