Good morning everyone! This is Joe for the second time in a year guest posting! Since you probably don’t remember me, I currently SELL copiers and printers, although in my past I have ran an office supply store that also doubled as a copy shop back in my day. So I have a story here about something that happened several years ago with one of the first sales that I had with my current company. It reminded me of an old M*A*S*H episode I saw as a kid, which I won’t say yet as that would give the whole story away, if you are old enough to remember it.
So here I am on the job and on my first week out I manage to get a sale. It was a smaller printshop, a mom and pop kind, not a franchise. Now many of those locations tend to buy models that are a few years old but still new. The price has come down on those in anticipation of the new models coming out, and the machines are still good. Since they are expected to last up to at least 10 years in some cases we’ll have parts for them for a while. I don’t care, it is new and a sale is a sale! Let’s go! So I sell this new machine to John, it gets delivered and set up and all is running fine. For the next few months things are going great with John and their new machine. Since my portfolio of business is still small (but growing!) I check in pretty often and hear nothing but good things. About 6 months later I get a note from one of the repair techs asking me about John and the machine we sold him. It was a very cryptic note and all it asked was if I noticed anything odd at John’s shop when I go there. I really had no idea what the tech was talking about so I managed to reach him on one of his trips back to the office to get parts.
So I meet with the tech and he just says that he is getting a ton of service requests from John over the last 2 months and every time he goes there to replace parts, the ones replaced look years old instead of just months. He had just finished replacing all the rollers in the finishing unit and thought that they appeared to have over 200k copies on them, when the whole machine was only at about 60,000. He has also replaced just about every wear item in the machine, some which are supposed to last 300k or more. He also noticed that the fuser unit on the machine seemed to be a slightly different color that what he remembered. OK, I agree with him that is sure looks odd. Maybe there is something in the air that is causing things to degrade faster than normal. He does have an offset press in the shop, perhaps the vapors from some of the chemicals can be having an effect here. Having had some offset experience I tell him I will look into that and let me know if anything else odd happens.
So I ask around our offices and stuff and we determine that unless they are pouring press chemicals right onto the copier, there is nothing there that could be causing 150,000 impression rollers to wear out after 60,000. I then check the service history and my tech was right. The amount of calls the last 2 months was obscene. Any other customer of mine would have asked for a new machine by now with this amount of calls on a 6 month old machine. However I got not even a peep from John. Last I talked with him he was quite happy with the machine. Very weird. So I made it a point to stop out and check on him personally that week. I stop by and we chat for about 20 minutes. John is very happy, all smiles and nothing but good things to say about the machine. So I mention that I noticed that he has had a lot of service calls lately and is he sure everything is OK. NOW I can notice him get a little nervous, or at least that’s what I thought, but he still insists that everything is OK, normal wear and stuff, no complaints. So as we are walking back to the front of the shop, I notice that a storage room off to the side that I have never really seen open had the door open. And inside it was what appeared to be a copier, similar to the one I just sold him. Hmmm.
So after getting back to the shop I meet with our service manager and our tech. We looked at the 6 month service history and it appears that other than circuit boards, we have replaced enough moving and wear items to almost make a whole new copier. We think that he is stealing parts and replacing them on a different machine. Now it’s time to catch a thief! On the next service call, we have the tech guy mark every piece he can think of in a hidden way. On the fuser unit we added one of those key chain finder things under the cover. Plus it was one of the parts that actually has a serial number on it so we recorded it. It is about the size of a quarter and when you push a button on your phone it makes a noise. 2 weeks later, another service call to replace some rollers and so the tech guy notices that several of the rollers he is replacing were not ones that he had marked earlier. Also, the fuser unit was a different number. He did not activate the key chain thing but noted that the unit in the machine was not the one he marked 2 weeks prior.
Short story is me, the service tech, service manager and legal all meet. On the next visit we had the tech bring his manager and I came along with ‘sales trainee’ who just happened to be in the area when he was getting the service call. The so called trainee was our legal guy. Tech guy opens the machine just as I get there while the service manager records the whole thing. He records the different serial numbers on the fuser until and how many more of the rollers are missing the marks the tech had placed on them. Meanwhile me and legal are talking to John and walking by the machine. We stop to chat with the techs when as planned the tech says “Something is odd here, this fuser is not the fuser that I put in here a few weeks ago.” We all look at John who seems to be sweating a bit but says that he has no idea what he is talking about. Then John says that the fusers all have tracking devices on them and that we should activate it to see if this is really the one it was supposed to be. John’s head quickly turns a bit towards the closed storage room, but he says nothing. The tech manager then activates the tracker on his phone and a high pitched beeping starts coming from the office. Gotcha!
John ends up opening the storage room door and inside is a same model machine as what he bought from us, containing just about every part we ever put in the new one. Longer story short, he bought a fried machine for $100 for parts and then decided he would try and replace everything inside it with parts from the new one. He was running about 70% of his copies on this machine instead. The service contract is based on a certain amount per copy, and if he ran them on this other machine, he paid no service costs. So legal made him an offer. We took a meter reading on the machine he had hidden and guessed from that he was running about 100,000 copies a month on it. So we presented him with a bill. The bill was for the 600,000 copies he didn’t pay maintenance for. It also contained the replacement cost of every part we put in the machine, as well as the labor rate for all the sales calls. This bill was now equal to 150% of the cost of a new machine. That bill was to be paid now. We would also end his lease on the new machine and take it back. The only other option would be for us to go to the police. He took our deal. We also blacklisted him within our company, as well as made sure others ‘heard’ about it. After this was done it had reminded me of a long running thing in M*A*S*H where Radar was trying to send a whole Jeep home one part at a time. For this, the guy might have gotten away with this if he didn’t have so many copies on the hidden machine. Greed always does you in.
Thanks for reading my M*A*S*H story and have a fantastic day!