Heard from an old friend last weekend.  You can probably imagine the circumstance.  One of my blog entries made its way around Facebook a couple weeks ago – a link to the Tow Times site.  My old friend read it, and apparently he hadn’t known that I worked in the towing industry, but it stuck in his head long enough that when he ran his SUV off the road over the weekend, he connected it all:  SUV – ditch – tow truck – Nick.  So he got my number and called me and asked for some help.  Who can blame him?  It wasn’t necessarily a referral that he was looking for so much as the “friend” discount.  So I made a call and helped him out, and I was happy to do it.

What is that, the propensity for people to exploit personal friendship for a discount?  We definitely have that in this industry.  I can barely count all of the vehicles of friends and family 

members that I towed personally for free or discounted significantly.  It almost seems like it’s common knowledge, assumed.  Your brother drives tow truck – ergo, you get free towing.  Have we cultivated that, as an industry?  Is it because our industry is more family-oriented, or informal? 
I think part of it is that the public has an awareness that towing has a multi-tiered pricing structure.  At the top, there’s the insurance company gouging level, where tow companies get back at the insurance industry for overcharging for premiums and non-renewing companies for 3-1/2 claims in a 12-month period.  Then there’s the full-blown commercial level, for BMW owners and individuals who may have a concussion from their accident and are too foggy to argue about the tow charges.  Then there’s the 20% discount for shops, who then invoice the insurance company for the full tow bill (a scam that we enable because we need their business), and for people who don’t have insurance that will cover their towing.  Then there’s the 50% discount for friends, favors between businesses, come-back tows for shops, and hardship cases.  And finally, there’s the free tow for family and very close friends.  Somehow, the public has awareness of this system, so they are able to take advantage of it, if they so choose.
Let’s picture this type of system in another industry.  Say my brother is a surgeon.  Let’s say I need some minor work done.  Why don’t I just call him up and ask for the family discount – say, 50% off retail?  Or better yet, free?  What about the guy who owns the local food market?  What does he say when some old buddy of his calls and says, “Hey, listen, I ran out of money unexpectedly.  How ‘bout you give me a break on this weeks’ groceries?”  He doesn’t have to say anything, because it doesn’t get asked (I’m guessing).
All of these cars I towed for free over the years – it wasn’t even my tow truck.  I’ve never owned a tow company or a tow truck.  So my employer knowingly (or sometimes, unknowingly) loaned the use of their commercial vehicle, which is not only a sacrifice of revenue, but a sacrifice of potential revenue that the truck could be earning if it weren’t in use.  Where I worked, we were supposed to collect a few bucks to pay for the fuel being burnt during the free tow, but most of the time we didn’t do even that, and it wasn’t enforced.  And, of all the times I towed a car for free, do you know how many times the vehicle owner handed me a $5 or a $10 and said, “Hey, use this to put some gas back in the truck.”  Never.  Maybe I told them up front not to worry about it, but I wouldn’t say it was an arm-twisting experience.
I think it works like this because we let it happen.  And you know what?  If we’re all good with it, then so be it.  It has to be okay, however, if a business owner opts out.  If you call your buddy who works at a towing company, and ask him for a favor, and he says, “Sorry, my boss won’t let me do it,” that has to be okay.  I really think that our compliance feeds into the Entitlement Culture.  This friend of mine who called me last weekend – from our conversation, I gathered that he talked his way out of a ticket, or worse.  Single-car accident, county sheriff let him go ticketless and unarrested, let him leave his SUV teetering on the edge of a ditch for a couple of days – what message does that send?  Sure, we all want to be cut some slack when it’s us on the wrong end of the stick.  Let’s at least agree to not expect it, and maybe even to not push it when we’ve been graced by someone’s kindness.  Or pay it forward it some other way. 
Have a safe and profitable week.
Nick Kemper

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