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August 2001

Making deals means living in community

NewsWire Editorial

Analysis and shopping can fit together as well as a saddle on a trout. It’s a lesson I learned this month out on the Miracle Mile, the lineup of auto dealers crammed along the interstate which slices through Austin’s center. My wife and partner Abby and I were buying a replacement for our Voyager Miracle Van, spending half again as much as the cost of a bottom-end new e3000. Under the hammer of the Texas summer sun I saw the light, finally: when buying, what you know is not as important as what you believe.

Buying anything major in a creeping economy is a show of faith, and faith is something the 3000 community holds in ample supply. We’ve heard from HP that the new 3000s are selling better than expected, so your faith must still be intact. Our Miracle Mile experience felt familiar, like the stories we’ve heard from you about buying 3000s.

We began like many of you, knowing we finally needed to replace a faithful steed. Our Miracle Van began to need serious repair earlier this year, and then in the Texas sun its air conditioning ceased to cool. I’m only exaggerating a bit when I say AC is as essential as tires to my car in a Texas summer. But we faced more than discomfort. A thorough inspection revealed engine repairs also looming in the near future. A replacement minivan was going to cost less than maintenance on what we owned.

That’s where a good share of the 3000 community sits this year, paying rising support fees but free of lease payments. Like us, many of you have done the math and felt the heat, knowing processors and IO paths designed more than a half-dozen years ago might wilt under the demands of the future. Shrinking your support bills probably helps you buy; it’s even more important to see the Internet will be much more supported on the latest releases of MPE/iX running only on newer systems.

We loved our brand as much as you love your HP 3000s. We weren’t lured much by the alternatives from Japanese car firms, or even Ford. We experienced too much good luck and growing fortune with our Voyager. Even buying a Dodge Caravan — in many ways the same vehicle, from the same maker — felt like purchasing an HP-UX system from the 3000’s maker. When a sales manager told us Voyagers were better-built than the Dodge vans, he gave us news we wanted to believe.

It was the first instance where belief cleared the way for us. Sales is a social experience, a cornerstone of commerce ruled by hearts once our minds wander. I wandered the aisles of the Internet in our research, to be sure. I found reviews that said the Voyager was the minivan to beat, even after nearly 20 years of success. Something in that message reflected what the 3000 community believes about its own continued success.

What truly sold us on buying the latest model of what we loved was our experience, the memory of rainy nights crossed and full loads carried without worry. This was the car that carried the NewsWire’s slim pilot issue all the way to Toronto, bundled in the back along with its owners’ faith in the 3000 community. Just days before the AC died, our Miracle Van carried a full load of family up that interstate to see Cal Ripken’s Texas stop on his baseball retirement tour. The seven of us poured out of the car at 1 AM to load up on Czech pastries on the way back, like a clown act on some roadside ringside, smiling and grateful to the steed still ferrying us through the summer heat. (Even after midnight, the temperature tops 80 in July around here.)

You might have had something similar happen in your company, when reports piled off printers week after week without fuss, or the server became so reliable it was invisible — compared to the continuous tinkering on other platforms.

I wish I could say our new purchasing process was as easy as ownership had been. We’d been spoiled by our prior sales experience, when a crack salesman who was headed for a manager’s job closed the deal with little more than my driver’s license and a Social Security number. This time we visited a handful of dealers whose floor staff didn’t know the features of their cars, or what they had sitting under the blazing Texas sun. Wading through retired military men dabbling in a second career, or refugees from dot-coms, we did our part for the dealers’ on-the-job training.

At its worst, I watched more than 10 minutes elapse in silence as our salesman labored through Chrysler’s Web-based customer data system. Flailing at data entry somehow got in front of finding us the right car on the lot. Sales does require paperwork, just like purchasing a server. Here’s hoping your reseller is more adept with their sales process than ours was. The delay nearly flushed me from the showroom in frustration. What saved the purchase was faith, a sense of belonging in a community of owners I’d already joined.

It took compromise, too. See, we had to revise our expectations about what our new van would cost, or how soon we’d take delivery. Our Miracle Van trade-in was worth less than what a Series 9x7 will bring in trade until October, another splash of cold water. I looked over at my partner and saw her watching me, waiting for me to bail in mounting annoyance. That’s when the community spirit kicked in. We were already part of the many Voyager owners. No creaky Web interface or ill-trained sales folk would quash the sale.

Our salesman explained patiently that nobody gets full “Blue Book” value for a trade-in, because the dealer needs to make some profit on the trade. Especially in down times, when sales are off. Most businesses we know live in those times this year. Faith in the future carries us all. Some people participate in sponsoring the NewsWire without strict accounting for value, just like we bought our new Voyager, because they want us to be printing for the community year after year. They value an independent voice. We might have been able to strike a harder deal on the Miracle Mile. But enough of those hard deals closed the doors at our last dealer. Like our own supporters, we recognized we live in a world with value in the relationship, the continuity of community you count on by owning your HP 3000.

We didn’t buy less than we needed. Our new Voyager will be everything we want, just like new e3000s purchased judiciously will offer a long growth path. As much as the novelty of the A-Class size intrigues us, it looks like it’s the N-Class systems where the 3000’s future lies. We had a chance to buy the equivalent of an A-Class Voyager and passed, knowing we are making a six-year commitment to a car. We wouldn’t want to look down at that armrest where the power window buttons would be missing all those years, regardless of the $30 a month we’d save in payments.

It’s good to have an A-Class option in any kind of lineup, be it minivans or servers. We keep hearing about ways that low-end could be improved, in some customers’ view. Hey, we wanted those power mirrors on our low-cost model, too. Improvements are always welcome, of course, but expecting them during times of shedding profits might be more than HP is able to deliver, at least for this year. Accepting the role of profits in your relationship with suppliers seems essential to nurturing a community.

This kind of acceptance might seem feeble to some, especially those who excel at analysis. I found my analysis didn’t assure my place in the community, a community whose benefits had been easy to count. We moved up to the model we needed, just like many of you are doing this year, and spent a little more. I let my faith slip over the back of that slippery sales trout, and cast off the saddle of analysis. Such marriage of need and faith begs forgiveness from the taskmasters of intellect and analysis.

Retiring our Miracle Van was not easy on our hearts, just like putting up all those aging 9x7s won’t be for some of you. We all do it because it’s best for the long haul, something both Miracle Vans and e3000s do well. Among that excellence we all can prosper, thankful for relationships which exceed reason and analysis. Grab hold of your faith, and good shopping to all of you.

— Ron Seybold



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