I was in my office at Dishonest Used Car Dealership one lazy Friday when my cell phone lit up with the caller ID for Rom. Why he almost always called my cell instead of my desk phone is a mystery for the ages, but I picked up.
“Service, this is 36055512.”
Rom: “Hey. Come out to the bay.”
Rom had called me on his own cell phone from literally the other side of my office door. I clicked off my monitor to hide the fact that I had been shopping for parts for my Jeep, and wandered the ten or so feet to where Rom was standing. At his feet was an open package with what appeared to be a large metal box and a phone keypad inside.
Rom: “Check this out. It’s a new key box. You know how keys are going missing all the time? This’ll solve everything.”
I felt the hairs on the back of my neck raise. Rom had a habit of coming up with “brilliant solutions” that “solved everything,” which typically exacerbated whatever problem they were supposed to fix and were usually abandoned almost as quickly as they were adopted. But, he was right, the keys to the used car inventory had become an issue. You see, the sales staff are in and out of the cars on the lot all day long, showing customers this and that, letting them go on test drives, and it’s easy to slip a key into your pocket and forget about it. It was not at all uncommon for ten or more keys to be missing from the key board on the wall in the bay, and in spite of only having two salespersons, no one ever seemed to have the slightest clue where the missing keys were. The techs and I began joking that gnomes were taking the cars out for joyrides, though Felonious Monk didn’t know what a gnome was, so he supposed it was Mexicans instead.
The key box was actually a clever little thing in theory. Each staff member received a little keycard that you swiped, and then you punched in the inventory number of the car you wanted the keys for. The box opened, you grabbed your key, and then checked it back in when you were done, with the machine keeping track of who had the keys last. I bolted it to the wall, set it up with all the inventory numbers, and distributed out everyone’s little key cards.
Fast forward one week.
“Service, this is 36055512.”
It was Rom.
Rom: “Hey, I’m in the bay, and I can’t find the key for 0407. Can you get in the thing and see who has it?”
I walked the ten feet out to where he was standing, and punched up 0407 into the keypad. The screen flashed back “CHECKED IN.”
Me: “Says the key’s here, boss.”
Rom: “Well, it f***ing isn’t, is it?”
Sure enough, the key was missing from its designated hook. Oddly enough, a handful of other hooks had missing keys as well. I punched in the code to scroll through what keys were currently checked out. Each of the sales staff had a single key checked out, and one other was checked out to Colossal Redneck and was hanging on the key board in the service bay. All the others were listed as being in the box. Obviously there was a serious discrepancy. Rom indicated to me that he would call a meeting of the sales staff and see what was going on.
Fast forward about two hours.
“Service, this 36055512.”
Rom: “So here the story with the missing keys. I had a meeting with Sales, and apparently they’ve just been grabbing handfuls of keys every time they open the box. They say it’s too annoying to punch in each number every time they want to open a car, so if they’re showing Jettas, they just grab all the VW keys, and then they get misplaced. Isn’t that some bulls**t? What are you going to do about this?”
Me: “Well, the key box wasn’t my idea, but the only thing I can think of that would help the situation is to put penalties in place should keys continue to go missing. Seems like Sales might respond if their commission is on the line.”
Rom: “Very funny. Figure out a way to fix it by the end of the day.”
Me: “Look, there’s no way to prevent them from doing that with the way the box is designed. In fact, since it’s more annoying to get into the box than it was to just grab keys off the rack, it’s just going to encourage them to grab keys to more cars than they need, just so they don’t have to get in the box every time they want to open up a car for a customer. And then, the box is closed all the time, so no one notices how many are missing. Unless you’re going to can somebody or dock somebody’s pay, I don’t know how to fix it.”
I heard the phone on the other end of the line slam down. Later that day, Rom called an all-hands meeting. Having spoken with The Amazon, he decided that the key box was a stupid idea, and I should have never come up with it in the first place. The next morning, I walked in to find the key box taken off the wall, sitting in the corner with all the cracked Volkswagen oil pans and other garbage that we didn’t want to throw out for some reason.
And so ended the brief reign of the key box.