Mike Ballinger Tells the Story
Let me tell you about me. I am modern royalty in a small suburban kingdom. My name is Prince Michael Ballinger IV. I add the “Prince” part as a joke, but it’s more real than not. My father, his father, and his father’s father were kings and I am next in line to the throne. My siblings wrongly disagree.
Lineage counts. My great-grandfather Michael Ballinger (the first) was a blacksmith who came to America in 1886, the same year German inventor Karl Benz patented his Benz Motor Wagon. Great-gramps found work in New York shoeing horses for a livery service owned by the Ludwig family. In 1908, when Henry Ford’s Model T came out they sold their horses and bought their first three motor cars which was to become a fleet of limousines for hire on the island of Manhattan. Michael Ballinger was their employee in charge of buying and selling the cars, and he did it well.
It didn’t take long for others to notice Mike had a talent for the modern day “horse trading” of automobiles. He was a regular in Detroit, Michigan, manufacturing hub of the U.S. in 1909 General Motors offered him the opportunity to buy his own Chevrolet dealership in Queens, New York.
Great-gramps had some money saved and went to the Ludwigs for the remaining cash needed. Ballinger-Ludwig Chevrolet opened their doors May of 1910. Two years later he bought out the Ludwig’s share of the business and Michael Ballinger the First, crowned himself “Auto-King of Queens” (for promotional purposes).
My grandfather Michael Ballinger Jr. worked for his father after he completed his education. He was the first Ballinger to graduate college and we have all followed in his footsteps since. Granddad worked on the increasingly complicated financial side of running and growing the enterprise with Great-gramps out front selling cars and working with the salesmen.
The Great Depression hit the automobile business hard. At that time General Motors and Ford each owned a third of the market share with smaller auto makers splitting the difference. The little guys fell first. Sales of new cars were down 75% in the years 1929-1932. Half the automakers shut down. But GM acted quickly, reducing their luxury lines and adding cars designed for the everyman. With greatly lowered price points and an unprecedented demand for automobiles, Ballinger Chevrolet not only survived, we thrived.
When Great-gramps died in 1935, Granddad continued to build the business. Ballinger became an auto group when Jr. cut a deal to acquire two failing GM dealerships; Buick and Oldsmobile. He also had the foresight to build and stock the dealer service departments.
Within two months of the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 the last new car rolled off the assembly line and Detroit automakers were manufacturing military vehicles solely for the U.S. government.
The Ballinger’s filled their new car showrooms with used cars and just a few of their pre-war inventory. The service departments became the real bread winner in those days and even now, the service and parts department is the engine that drives an automobile franchise.
That’s why it’s important that we provide the best customer service for folks bringing their vehicles in for repair.
Charlotte Talks About What Happened
My Mom and Dad both owned Ballinger cars. I bought three cars from Ballinger Auto Group over the years and my son bought his first used car at Ballinger, a 2004 Toyota Corolla. I am a loyal customer.
I knew Mike Ballinger III in his prime and he was one heck of a good guy. The “Auto-King of Queens” commercials were always a hoot, and Old Mike knew how to ham it up, without ego getting in the way like some of the other car salesmen let loose with a T.V. commercial budget.
I don’t usually have car troubles. It had been four years since I bought my Chevy Tahoe and my first time back at Ballingers since the purchase. Old Mike was there at the time and we enjoyed a nice chit-chat while my salesmen was running back and forth with the paperwork.
Like I said before, Old Mike is such a nice guy.
Recently I got a notice in the mail about a factory recall on the 2015 Tahoe. Nothing major. I made an appointment with the service department for Tuesday and also had two other minor issues for them to take care of: broken seat belt buckle and I suspected I blew a fuse affecting the interior lights. I was told the car would be ready that same afternoon.
Well, the car wasn’t ready, they were waiting on a part. And the car wasn’t ready the next day or the day after that. Friday I call to check on my car and the service guy tells me the recall is done, the seat belt buckle has been replaced and the interior car lights are working. But the mechanic noticed the engine mount and the transmission mount needed to be replaced. Good news is, both parts were under factory warranty, bad news is they have to order the parts.
I could have been grateful that they found the problems and it wouldn’t cost me anything to fix it, but instead I was annoyed at having to be without my car for what would be a full week. I decided to press the issue.
“I’m curious…” I said to the service rep. “If the car has been in since Tuesday, and you did the recall the same day, how is it you are first noticing the other repairs now?” I didn’t say it meanly, I just really wanted to understand the process. Instead of apologizing or offering a reasonable explanation, the service guy did the B.S. shuffle if you know what I mean. He was regurgitating one implausible excuse after another.
I asked to speak to his supervisor.
The customer service manager gets on the phone and he’s defensive. He comes up with even more reasons why it isn’t their fault. And he has attitude. Like I’m asking too many questions and he has better things to do than talk to a frustrated customer.
I ask to speak to his supervisor. And you know what he says to me?
“I don’t have one. I’m in charge.”
So, now I’m ticked off. I was only insulted before when I was getting the phony excuses, and now I’m outraged that this guy can’t even afford me the common courtesy of telling me who he reports to. I push him on his response.
“The only one above me is Mike Ballinger.” He’s boasting like a bully on the playground. I ask to speak to Mike.
While I’m waiting for Mike Ballinger to call me back, it occurs to me that Old Mike must have passed the reins to the next generation.
Prince Mike calls me back and he is not happy to have to make the phone call. Not because he has an unhappy customer, but because I have the nerve to question his staff. Because I am taking up his precious time. Because he is after all, royalty. He starts out defending his staff and ends the conversation angry at me. We both agree I will pick up my car and take it to another dealer to make the additional repairs.
An unnecessary hassle, an unwanted inconvenience, a full day of unpleasant thoughts swirling around and around in my head.
I’m thinking about being unjustly accused of starting trouble. I’m thinking about the insults to my intelligence from the service rep and up the chain. I’m thinking Prince Mike is a complete jerk.
Today though, I’m trying to turn the incident into something positive. How could I have handled the situation better? How could I have reacted differently to their responses? How can I see God in Michael Ballinger IV?
God has granted favor to the Ballinger family over many generations. There must be a reason for the breakdown in kindness, courtesy and integrity from “Prince Mike” and why Mike took such a divergent path from the way his father operated the business. I could guess and make assumptions, but it would be a waste of time and does not open my heart. Instead, I pray for Michael Ballinger IV to live, love and work in peace.
As for me, I pray that I may be able to summon calm when I am agitated, understanding when I am annoyed, and I pray to stay composed when I get frustrated.
Good can be found in all of God’s creation. I must first steep myself in goodness. I have to make a conscious choice to walk the path of peace in all of my encounters – pleasant or otherwise. And when I stumble, I will lay low in prayer until my starving soul is replenished with love for God and humanity.
Post script from Michael Ballinger IV
The shareholders here at Ballinger Auto Group voted me out as head of the Chevrolet Dealership today. I’m talking about John and Jimmy (my two little brothers), my sister Elyse, Uncle Frank and cousin Howard. My own flesh and blood told me straight to my face I don’t have what it takes to be up front in a “customer centric business”. They offered me a $h*t job buying used cars at auction. I’ve got to grovel and say yes…what with my divorce and all, and the rehab, plus I owe the IRS and those beancounters don’t stop till they get it. I may be down on my luck, but I’m still the Prince. And when Pops dies, I will be King.