Since that summer, I have fixed many flashlights...

I had an interesting experience as a teenager in my first summer job as a salesperson for a retail electronics chain (company name deliberately withheld).  The following experience has stayed with me the rest of my life.  In light of what so many have shared above, I consider myself lucky to have learned what I believe is such an important lesson, so early.

A woman in her, I’m guessing, sixties entered the store with what appeared to be old flashlight.  I approached her, offered my name and asked if I could help her in any way.

She told me her flashlight was no longer working and that she needed a new one.  I told her we had a variety of flashlights for sale and that I would be delighted to show them to her.  As I directed her across the store, I asked if I could see her old flashlight.  A “tinkerer” from a very early age, it was almost second nature to open her flashlight, check the bulb, batteries and electrical contacts.  In the days of unsealed batteries, corrosion was quite commonplace (does anyone else remember those days? I hope so).

Upon opening her flashlight, the problem was easy to identify.  Corrosion had fouled the battery contacts.  I asked her to wait a moment as I scraped the contacts clean with a letter opener we had in a jar next to the register.  I replaced the batteries and screwed the flashlight back together.  Lo and behold, the flashlight now worked perfectly.  I explained what I had done and returned the old, now-working flashing to the woman.  She was elated… and I felt pretty good too.

After what seemed like an embarrassing number of “thank yous”, at least to a young teen, the woman left the store with her working flashlight in hand.

Proudly I turned, only to immediately be approached by my, visibly upset, manager.  She had, of course, witnessed the previous events.  Quite firmly, she explained that we were in business to sell flashlights… not fix them.  She continued, that had I not fixed the flashlight, the woman would not only have purchased a new flashlight, but most probably batteries as well.  Finally, the manager reminded me that, as a result of my actions, a sale was “lost.”  Her comments made a big impression on me—particularly juxtaposed so closely with the delight experienced just minutes before.

There were no more “incidents” that summer and I left with the manager’s blessing that I was the best employee, of any age, she ever had.

Today, decades after I fixed that flashlight, I hold the lessons of that summer very dear—at least one of them, however, I don’t think that store manager, from so many years ago, would endorse.

Since that summer, I have fixed many “flashlights.”  Looking back, not one of them EVER failed to ultimately generate returns far in excess of the costs of the “parts.”
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