Buckets of Dirt

I encountered an interesting example of how not to handle customer service over this past week. Last Tuesday, I had a large stump ground out of my front yard. The stump measured 71” by 84”, thus creating a huge pile of shredded chips and dirt. Over a two day period, that pile was moved to the neighbor’s woods, creating an even larger hole.

I left Friday mid-day for Chicago with a group of EXAIR employees to attend the International Machine Tool Show. It is the largest machine tool show in North America and occurs every two years. We toured the show on Saturday and returned Sunday afternoon.

I answered an email from my wife on Friday before I left. She had measured the hole in the yard and by her calculations; we needed 24 sheets of sod to cover the damage in the yard. I double checked her math and agreed. I told her I would call her later that afternoon when we arrived in Chicago.

I called home after we had checked into the hotel in Chicago Friday afternoon. I started to talk about picking up the sod in my car on Monday and she said “Don’t worry, I already picked it up”. She had gone to the local landscape supply house, bought the sod and loaded it into her car. She still had some room in the back of the car, so she had them fill four 5 gallon buckets with topsoil to start filling the hole. When she went to the counter to pay for everything, she found out that the 5 gallon buckets of dirt were $ 5.00 per bucket. She asked the young lady waiting on her to check the price. She came back with “Yup, $ 5.00 per bucket”. My wife took her expensive dirt home and started her research.

She found another landscape supply house, closer to home than the first. She went there Saturday and found that their topsoil was free when picked up and loaded by the customer into 5 gallon buckets. Unfortunately, they closed at 1:00 pm and she was only able to get one load of 12 buckets from there. She spread those buckets and figured out that she still needed another load.

Sod only has a life of 24 – 48 hours, so the clock was ticking on getting the sod in place. Unfortunately, the second place with the free dirt is closed on Sunday, so she had to go back to the first place with the expensive dirt.

One of the managers appeared to be the counter person when she went in early Sunday morning. She had done her math and was ready for them. She asked the new person “How much is the topsoil by the bucket?”

Again the answer was $ 5.00 per bucket. She said “Ok, by my calculations, 35 5-gallon buckets make up a cubic yard of dirt. I need 12 buckets at $5 apiece which is equal to $ 60.00, while a cubic yard is $ 27.95. What if I buy a cubic yard, set out my 12 buckets, you dump your scoop over them and then you keep the dirt that doesn’t fall into the buckets?” The man looked at her with a blank look. Finally, he replied “We have to put the cubic yards into something – like a truck. Buckets don’t count”

She asked how much the 50 lb bags of topsoil cost, to which he replied $ 3.00 per bag. Not giving up, she asked him to explain the economics of them selling a bag of dirt, that they purchased from another supply house, for less money that a bucket of dirt from a pile of dirt larger that a two car garage. He was not in the mood to explain his margins to her on an early morning, so she bought 12 bags of dirt in order to finish the job. The sod was saved and job completed by the time I got home Sunday afternoon.

As she was leaving the landscape supply counter, a neighbor walked in and said he wanted 18 buckets of dirt. She stopped and explained the pricing policies to him. He switched to the bags also.

Bottom line – that landscape supply lost a loyal customer over their pricing policy. You have to be flexible and accommodate all customers.

I remembered a classic scene from a movie featuring a similar attempt to deal with rigid service policies:

EXAIR’s customer service policy is that we want to be easy to deal with for your needs. We can supply your “toast” or “buckets of dirt” however it helps you solve your problems. EXAIR can be very flexible for your special/custom products due to the fact we manufacture our products in-house as opposed to some competition who import products and face long lead times or an inability to get it done.

p.s. The sod is still doing fine, except for the holes punched in it by the deer. Look for my next clip to be from “The Deer Hunter”.

2 thoughts on “Buckets of Dirt

  1. Funny story:) i work at a gravel company and my boss does the same thing, it drives me crazy. When it’s just me there (about 80% of the time) i just run the customers across the scales, it keeps everybody happy.

  2. Same deal here with our “big three” landscape supply houses. Price triples if you put it in buckets. I found a small yard that doesn’t care what it goes in, they charge the same. So I use them for patch jobs, but guess what? Every now and then, I either do a big job or recommend someone for a decent quantity of stone, gravel or sand. I use the same great folks that treat me fair on the small jobs. I’ve made it my goal to never use or refer anyone to the “big three” again.
    EXAIR sounds like a great company to do business with!

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