LexMob: Final Schedule

When we started LexMob on July 22nd, the idea was to keep patronizing
businesses affected by the closure of South Limestone for a month. It has been extremely rewarding to meet fellow LexMobbers and to meet owners and workers in the targeted businesses.

It has also been very time-consuming.  I’ve decided to stop organizing LexMobs after Monday, August 31st, so that I can better tend to my business.

This doesn’t mean that LexMobs have to stop.  In fact, we’d be thrilled if LexMob continues into the fall.  And anyone can organize a LexMob for South Limestone: The idea is to ‘show up’ with our feet and our wallets to help out these businesses.  Whether it is a mob of 1 or a mob of 100, simply show up and ask others to show up as well.

The easiest way to organize a LexMob: Send out a notice on Twitter with the hashtag phrase “#LexMob for #SoLime”.  In my experience, it is good to send out a few tweets at different times of the morning to let different people know when and where the LexMob will be.  Then, after your LexMob, tell the twitterverse how it was and thank those who came.  That’s all it takes. 

I’ve had a number of suggestions for how LexMob could continue:

  • LexMobs could be weekly (or a couple of times a week) instead of each day
  • Perhaps the businesses on South Limestone could organize LexMobs themselves
  • We could just see what happens; Hopefully, other LexMobbers could continue to organize mobs without a central planner

We support any or all of these options. 

In any case, here is our ‘final’ schedule for LexMob:

  • Wednesday 8/19, Lunch: Sav’s Grill
  • Thursday 8/20, Lunch: Hanna’s, Zag’s, & Failte Irish Imports
  • Thursday 8/20, 7 PM: Social Event at Pazzo’s Pizza Pub (sponsored by the Lexington Fashion Collaborative)

  • Monday 8/24, Lunch: Banana Leaf
  • Tuesday 8/25, Lunch: Tolly Ho
  • Wednesday 8/26, Lunch: Cloud 9
  • Thursday 8/27, Lunch: Han Woo Ri, The Album, Sqecial Media, and ReBelle
  • Friday 8/28, Lunch: Sav’s Grill and Oneness

  • Monday 8/31, Lunch: Pazzo’s Pizza Pub and CD Central

We hope to see you there!  Who’s in?


What you told us: How Zappos would fix cars

This week we asked for your help in defining an astoundingly great car repair experience.  We summed it up this way: How would Zappos fix cars?

In Wednesday’s post, we talked a little about what Zappos does and why customers love them, including the famous I Heart Zappos post.  And in the past two days, we’ve gotten some really great responses on Twitter, Facebook, and here on the blog – including one response from a Zappos employee!


Over on Facebook, Joan commented that she thought that Zappos was actually the “Lowell’s of selling shoes“.  (We heart Joan.)  We love that sentiment and will try to live up to it, but still think we have a lot to potential to improve our own customer service.

On Twitter, Jim suggested that Zappos “would come to your house and fix it at night while you slept“.  Allan and Mari joked about needing to buy parts online from Amazon (an allusion to Zappos’ recent purchase by Amazon.com).

But the strongest theme running through the comments: The need for greater transparency in auto repair.  I’ll run through some of the comments, and then talk a little about what Lowell’s does (and what we could do based on your comments).  On Twitter, Jupiter said he’d like to prevent that “being had” feeling, perhaps by getting greater detail on what was being repaired and why it was needed.  Ace Weekly chimed in “They would spoon you before giving you the bill?”  Here on the blog, Letha (a Zappos employee) shared a friend’s experience with a body shop which sent her daily text messages about the status of her car after a wreck, including a countdown to when it would be ready.  Jim added this comment:

“The thing the frustrates me about car repair is the unexpected nature
and size of the expense. It would be nice to provide as part of the
service an educational piece that says here are the expected life
cycles for key systems for your car and what you might expect to pay.
And here are indicators of failure so we can start to diagnose these
issues BEFORE they happen. At some point, owners need to start
BUDGETING for system replacement and failure and that takes planning
and information.”

What’s clear from this last batch of comments is that automotive service is all-too-frequently a kind of mysterious ‘black box’ where a car goes in one side and nasty, unpleasant surprises emerge from the other. 

At Lowell’s we try to prevent such surprises in the following ways:

  • On each invoice, we print a list of factory-recommended maintenance given vehicle mileage, including a rating of the severity or urgency of each one, and pricing.  We try to review that list with our customers when they pick up or drop off their vehicle.  We sometimes fail to discuss maintenance needs during busy pick-up and drop-off times.
  • We always get customer approval before doing work on a vehicle, providing customers with estimates of the costs before we do the work.  If they are available, we’ll also offer less-expensive alternatives, like fixing or cleaning a part instead of replacing it.  (Ace, we try to reduce the need for ‘spooning’ whenever possible.)
  • When we call a customer to get approval, we tell them what a technician found and explain why action might be needed.

Based on your comments to us, here are some ideas of what we could do:

  • Explainers.  For frequently-done maintenance and repair service items, we could provide detailed “explainer” sheets, including text and pictures regarding what the service is, why it is needed, and what a part might look like when it needs replacement. 
  • Schedules.  With ongoing maintenance, it is easier to implement Jim’s suggestion
    that we provide more of a roadmap of service.  And we do that, to some extent,
    with our list of factory-recommended maintenance.  But it is very
    difficult to predict with accuracy when something will break and
    require repair, and for many repairs there are few warning signs until
    something breaks.  When visible, we’ll tell customers about signs like
    brake or belt wear or engine leaks.  One idea: We could take pictures of the actual parts that are wearing or of the places that are leaking, to show the thing that needs service.
  • Convenience.  Not sure yet how we might do something like this, but Jim’s other suggestion of working on vehicles overnight is interesting.  Perhaps we could pick a car up and have it back in the morning for very basic items, but a big part of our process is communicating back to customers about what we find (and they probably won’t welcome updates at 2 in the morning).  But Jim’s suggestion got us thinking: Are there other ways we could make getting auto service easier?
  • Updates.  As a mechanical shop, most of our repairs are completed same-day, so we almost never have the 20-day delay in getting completed that Letha’s friend had at the body shop.  But Letha’s post got us thinking: Are there other ways you’d prefer to be contacted?  While the phone is our usual way of updating customers, we do frequently find ourselves in a kind of phone tag during the service approval process.  We could provide more contact alternatives: text messages, Twitter DM’s (direct messages), etc. 

Which of these things would matter to you?  What other things would create an astounding car repair experience for you?

We really appreciate your thoughts, and please, keep giving us ideas on how to improve.


How would Zappos fix cars?

We spend a lot of time thinking about how to make our shop a better place for our customers and our community.  We feel like we're pretty good at the basics.  Just a few examples:

  • We have an expert staff who know how to get cars fixed.
  • We have a lot of nice touches for customers who wait on their vehicles: 5-cent Cokes, complimentary coupons for a drink and snack at Third Street Stuff, and we encourage customers to take our waiting area magazines with them.
  • For customers who can't wait around, we have a complimentary shuttle to take them back home or to work.  For longer repairs, we provide complimentary loaner vehicles.

These (and many other) touches have helped us a lot.

But "It can always be better" is my personal motto.  This isn't some pessimistic, glass-half-empty statement; it is a fundamental belief that we can always improve the way we do things.

3So we've been thinking about companies that really excel in customer service, and one name keeps popping up: Zappos

Zappos is a world-class online shoe and clothing retailer who has gained a fanatical customer following because they do a lot of things right:

  • They offer free shipping (both ways).  While not promised, the shipping is often next-day.
  • They have a 365-day return policy.  If your shoes don't fit or don't look the way you expected, return them at no cost.
  • They have round-the-clock customer service.
  • They have a positive culture which puts a premium on providing astoundingly great customer service and having fun.
  • They have an enthusiastic staff which has permission to make things 'right' for customers with frequent pleasant surprises like this one.

Zappos recently agreed to be acquired by Amazon.com, and there has been a lot of concern about their ability to maintain their unmatched customer service. 

But for us, Zappos presents an interesting question:

How would Zappos fix cars?

What would an astoundingly great car repair experience be like?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below. 

We can't wait to see what you come up with.

UPDATE: What you told us.


LexMob Schedule

We like (and encourage) the loose, spontaneous organization of LexMob (an initiative to patronize businesses affected by the closure of South Limestone). 

But several folks have encouraged us to put together a LexMob schedule so that they can plan their attendance.  We think that’s a good idea.  As always, feel free to organize or propose your own LexMobs.

Here’s our tentative schedule for the next week (also published in this week’s Ace Weekly on page 5).  Look for updates and schedule changes on Twitter (look for the #LexMob or #SoLime hashtags).

Friday 8/7, Lunch: Tolly Ho
Friday 8/7, 5:30PM: (OFF Lime) Front Porch Friday, Ace Weekly, 185 Jefferson
Saturday 8/8, 6-9 South Limestone ‘Street Party‘ near High Street

Monday 8/10, Lunch: Banana Leaf
Tuesday 8/11, Lunch: Hanna’s, Zag’s, & Failte Irish Imports
Tuesday 8/11, Dinner: SoundBar
Wednesday 8/12, Lunch: Sav’s Grill and Oneness
Thursday 8/13, Lunch: Cloud 9 and Kennedy’s Bookstore
Friday 8/14, Lunch: Tin Roof

Please join us as we support businesses on South Limestone.  Also, if you are up for a hike (7 to 8 blocks) you can park in the Lowell’s parking lot on the south corner of North Limestone and Mechanic Streets.


LexMobs on South Limestone?

The South Limestone streetscape project gets underway this morning.  Using Twitter, Lexington’s Mayor announced that the closure will result in traffic delays of up to 45 minutes. 

From a public point of view, the closure seems hastily and poorly planned, although the promised streetscapes look wonderful.  The project stems from a noble goal: to better connect the University of Kentucky campus with downtown Lexington. 

But businesses lining South Limestone (SoLime) had little time to adapt to the closure, and I wonder how many can survive being starved of traffic for so long.  When Lexingtonians realize that there is a “mess” surrounding SoLime, they will stay away in droves.  (With a business just off of North Limestone, I’m concerned about the disruptions to our southside Lexington customers making it in to Lowell’s.) 

There are a lot of great businesses along SoLime that would be a shame to lose: Sav’s, Pazzo’s, Tolly Ho, Failte, Sqecial Media, and many, many others.  Some (maybe all) of these are Lexington institutions.

How long could they operate without significant customer patronage?  How long could they retain employees?  How long can they make debt / rent payments?  How long can they pay bills?  How long can they survive?

So, here’s a challenge for our readers: Let’s go out of our way to demonstrate that we care about those businesses.

Beginning today, and continuing through the next month, let’s pick one or two businesses to “flash mob” each day.  Let’s get together to show, with our feet and our wallets, that we want those businesses to survive.  Let’s show up.  And eat.  Or buy.  Or drink.  Let’s refuse to let these businesses fail.

If our LexMobs get too big, that’s OK – I’m sure that the plentiful nearby businesses would also love some of our overflow business.

Will this effort be well-organized and well-thought-out in advance?  Not a chance.  Will it be messy?  Yes.  Will it be chaotic?  Absolutely.  Will it be inconvenient?  Certainly.  Will you be too busy to interrupt your day?  Undoubtedly.

But that is precisely the point: to go out of our way to demonstrate we care for these businesses.

So… Let’s LexMob South Limestone.  Look for more details on Twitter with the hashtags #LexMob and #SoLime.  See you there!

Update: The inaugural LexMob will be Wednesday, July 22nd @ Pazzo’s Pizza Pub at 11:30 AM near Euclid on SoLime.  Can’t make it?  We’ll try for other times and places with future LexMobs!


Lowell’s School Tools

Lowell's is pleased to release School Tools, which is a companion guide to the Bluegrass Vehicle ReportSchool Tools is designed to help teachers, parents, and students develop their own interesting real-world insights about cars in the Bluegrass.  Along the way, they will engage their skills in research, creativity, and applied mathematics.

The School Tools guide is meant as a starting point – please adapt it to your particular needs and the particular aptitudes of your students. 

School Tools is free to teachers, parents, and the general public.  All we ask is that you give us suggestions for making it better, and that you share your stories about how you used School Tools.  We can't wait to see what you do with it!

Or, you can download a PDF of School Tools 2009 (5804.0K)

[where: 111 Mechanic St, Lexington, KY 40507]