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Thread: Oscilloscope, necessary tool or nearly worthless? Battling other shops

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    Oscilloscope, necessary tool or nearly worthless? Battling other shops

    There's a few shops in Chicago that seem to almost boast how they don't use an osilloscope to test and troubleshoot music gear. Insanely, it seems the least sophisticated shops are the ones with the highest prices, usually in the $90-100 per hour range. The kind of places where you get in a conversation with the tech and he blows your mind by telling you he hasn't used a scope in years and years. You ask, well then how do you know the amp is putting out full power, and he tells you by "just listening to the amp."

    No wonder their labor rate is so high. They have internalized skills that normal people usually need test equipment for
    I'd rather not listen to a bunch of 50-300W amps full volume in my 8' by 12' room just to make sure they work as they should. I'll take the scope any day

    It makes me want to ban crappy shops from being my customers. Let them do their own haphazard repairs with long turn around time for a boat load of money.

    Anyone else ever been in this position? Maybe I should respect them as just another customer, but I grew up despising shops and techs, which is why I am one now. I can't trust those people, well at least the ones I met personally. This all started because I paid a shop $160 8 years ago to fix my Acoustic 370 that was not loud. The invoice said broken connection on output transformer (which it doesn't have) and it was still not loud. After I got it back from them the 4th time it was loud. Great. I had to borrow peoples cars or take a taxi to go to the shop 8 times. Maybe they should have put it on a scope to see if it puts out as much power as all the other 370s.

    As an aside, obviously I think everyone on here seems great In fact I would say the people on here exemplify the "bar" that I would hope all serious techs would be at.

    The other thought I had is that any shop has to pay me their labor rate to work on their amps. As a punishment for pawning off the work that they should be doing but cannot or don't want to (solid state repairs that scare the techs, or turn around time is so long they're already screwed, "can you check this out and let me know ASAP?!?!?")

    Anybody ever want to punish other shops that want you to do their work for them ?? hmmm I'm waking up firey like trump sorrry
    Last edited by nsubulysses; 08-09-2017 at 06:58 PM. Reason: edit: omit name of shop I used as bad example. hypocritical, they have done good work for me too
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    Better Tone thru Mathematics bob p's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nsubulysses View Post
    There's a few shops in Chicago that seem to almost boast how they don't use an osilloscope to test and troubleshoot music gear. Insanely, it seems the least sophisticated shops are the ones with the highest prices, usually in the $90-100 per hour range.
    I couldn't imagine not having an oscilloscope. Sure, there are lots of DIY builders who get along building simple circuits with nothing more than a DVM but I can't imagine any reputable shop not having a fully equipped test bench. That definitely gives me the impression that they're a fly-by-night outfit. And you know that's the case if they have to send amps to you that they're not capable of repairing.

    A word about pricing -- I don't think any shop is going to be interested in paying you their shop rate. That's an unrealistic expectation. If they work out an arrangement with you to provide services for them then they're going to expect wholesale pricing, or at least a discounted rate so they can make a profit on your repairs by marking them up to their customers.

    I think that the most important thing to remember is that the hourly rate doesn't really have meaning when you control the clock.

    I don't see anything wrong with a $100/hour shop rate in a metro environment. I know that there are a lot of people who charge half of that, but I think they're undervaluing their own services.
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    Quote Originally Posted by nsubulysses View Post
    solid state repairs that scare the techs
    I find this funny because I am kind of a hack when it comes to repairs, but I do almost exclusively solid state (but my scope is tube ). I don't use my scope all that often, but it is absolutely necessary when tracing a signal through a complicated circuit board.

    Seems like you are free to take whatever customers you want, and I personally don't think I would let other shops make money off my work.
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    I asked the same question I posted above to a former Chicago tech I really like a lot. Unfortunately he now lives in Arizona.

    he said it's probably because "the people who seem to be the best ones are genuinely curious about how stuff works and knowing it works right, rather than some cool rock band guys."

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    Chicago is very expensive city to run a business in, as is New York, LA, etc. The shop rate can be more of a reflection of the overhead and not the quality of the service.

    Normally, if I have to repair an amp that needs a basic tuneup like cleaning pots and jacks or even new tubes, I don't normally check it on the scope to see how much power output it has. To me the scope is more of a diagnostic tool. I work in a small shop that doesn't have room to have a test lab set up where I can just hook up an amp to a scope and run power and distortion tests. If I need a scope, I have to pull it out and set it up to use it. If it was left out, it would be covered in steelwool and wood bits. This is all time that I can't charge a customer for.

    Back in the '80s we used to have one day service specials, where we would set up a bench to do power output testing. People could bring in their amps and for $25 we would test all of the basic functions and then print out a sheet of detailed information showing how well their amp was meeting published specs. It was a sales tool to get people to have things repaired and to build store traffic. We stopped doing them because there were basically two types of customers, one that didn't care about technical specs as long as the amp was working and two those that cared far too much about technical specs and could make a techs life miserable.

    If you do work for other shops that have inside service techs, then you should expect to only get the dogs that the house can't fix. If they were easy, they would do them in house.

    Just my 2 cents.
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    Quote Originally Posted by 52 Bill View Post
    If you do work for other shops that have inside service techs, then you should expect to only get the dogs that the house can't fix. If they were easy, they would do them in house.

    Just my 2 cents.
    I agree. Some of the places are skimmers as Enzo calls them. They only do tube amp repairs (mostly vintage, those are the easiest) for a premium rate. They are the easiest repairs and selling tubes and doing a few recaps is easy, quick and profitable. Tracing the circuit on a solid state Sunn 1200S (fender version) is not.

    I have been called by places that "do not service solid state amps" to do repairs. I wondered why they even had solid state bass amps on hand. When I got them, they had the name of a pretty well known band spraypainted on the roadcases. Oh cool, they don't do solid state but if a rockstar comes in they'll try to accomodate them by getting me to do the work to make their shop look good so they can post on instagram, "oh hey look who came in the shop today!" I have not been called back by this place but I would turn them down next time because of this. Or charge them their labor rate, or they can fix it themself, which they can't

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    Better Tone thru Mathematics bob p's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by glebert View Post
    ... I personally don't think I would let other shops make money off my work.
    I think that being offended by the idea of someone else making money off of your work is an unrealistic position.

    Using you as a profit center is standard operating procedure for any music store that farms out their repair services to independent techs. They pay you to fix the amp for them, and they charge the customer more than what you charged them. It's their basic business model. Think about it -- If they can't make money by sending work to you then they have no reason to go through the trouble of taking in repairs and no reason to employ you.

    General contractors make money by hiring subcontractors. That's the way the world works.
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    Quote Originally Posted by bob p View Post
    I think that being offended by the idea of someone else making money off of your work is a unrealistic position.

    Using you as a profit center is standard operating procedure for any music store that farms out their repair services to independent techs. They pay you to fix the amp for them, and they charge the customer more than what you charged them. It's their basic business model. Think about it -- If they can't make money by sending work to you then they have no reason to go through the trouble of taking in repairs and no reason to employ you.

    General contractors make money by hiring subcontractors. That's the way the world works.
    Should have been more clear, I was referring to shops that oversell their capabilities then send out the tough jobs to someone else. If this is a music store that sends out all (or even most) of their repairs then it makes sense for them to get a cut for their part of the transaction although I think that amount should be modest.

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    A phrase springs to mind that a car dealer acquaintance uses; "Always leave a drink in it for the next guy".

    I do plenty for local (and not so local) music shops. I try to be fair on pricing and give them the best break I can, whilst maintaining enough in the job for it to be worthwhile. In turn, they give me plenty of direct referrals and hand my cards out to potential customers. It's pretty tough running a shop and increasingly it's just somewhere you go to try something out before buying it off the web from somewhere else. I don't know what their markup is - I never ask and I'm not concerned so long as I get what I need out of the work.

    I'm reminded of a workplace survey that was carried out. To summarise, employees would rather take a small pay cut that was the same for everyone, rather than their wage staying the same but a colleague getting a rise.
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    Better Tone thru Mathematics bob p's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mick Bailey View Post
    ... It's pretty tough running a shop and increasingly it's just somewhere you go to try something out before buying it off the web from somewhere else. I don't know what their markup is - I never ask and I'm not concerned so long as I get what I need out of the work.
    It's tough for a brick and mortar music store in today's business environment. Being able to provide repairs is a value added service that they can offer to help differentiate their local store from the mail order houses that can't provide that type of service.

    It's interesting that you don't want to know what their markup is -- IMO that's a good attitude to have. There's nothing wrong with everyone in the chain making a good profit. If that weren't the case then the chain would have to collapse. I have had many stores recruit me to do work for them. In that type of environment you have to understand that a good deal is a deal that's profitable to everyone, and that it's not your place to determine how much is good for someone else, or how much is too much for someone else. Trying to micro-manage to the point that you want to control everyone else's share of the business chain can only lead to problems.

    I'm reminded of a workplace survey that was carried out. To summarise, employees would rather take a small pay cut that was the same for everyone, rather than their wage staying the same but a colleague getting a rise.
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    you can trace audio circuit with a probe and miniamp,but you don't know the quality of the signal,if there is inaudible high freq oscillations that can lead to further problems.
    also,in tube amps you hear a nice round clean sound,and in reality you have lots of clipping,so its impossible to judge for example if the gain of a triode stage is correct or not.
    Anyway,it happened before in my country,that a couple guys exploited some forums to get help in repairing "their amps",in reality they "worked" unofficially for some shops,but in the end there are no shortcuts,if you want to succeed in this field you need some theory,practice,tools and logic.

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    I almost did not make this thread because its basically just kind of complainey but I'm actually really glad I did because it has definitely broadened my views on the topic in a good way.

    I do work for shops occasionally because I need money and they are offering, which is basically what it breaks down to. How much I want to get into this is my own choice (good place to be in), and I guess I'm just lucky that people and sometimes even other businesses ask me to do work for them.

    Honestly, my customers just bring me much better gear than the shops. so maybe I'm just mad they gave me a Line 6 1x12 combo and a 600W (or something) galien krueger head that fits in a laptop bag the other day

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    I handle a lot of gear that no-one else will touch with a stick. To a degree I can pick and choose what I repair, but a challenge is sometimes a good thing. If you can handle class D amps, SMPS, SMD etc, then you're in the modern world and not reliant on a retrospective look at amp technology. The opportunities to work on relatively simple, vintage gear are reducing in favour of what people are buying right now. I'd much rather carry out an early 60s AC30 restoration than fix (say) a Markbass amp, but that's what people are buying.

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    The dentist charges $150, the orthodontist charges $1500. My doctor costs $50, my cardiologist charges $150. Tuffy charges $100 for a Porsche muffler. A real Porsche muffler costs far more.

    I charge my customer fair rates, and when some kid charges half what I do, I don't scream, in fact I likely gave him the schematic and sold him parts. But I am an expert, a specialist, and I don't feel bad charging specialist rates. I am all for leaving a margin in subcontract work, but if the shop is basically competing with me, and farming out the stuff they cannot fathom, why do they merit a discount? If I basically AM their shop, sure, I quote wholesale rates. But it is entirely different when they are living on their own, and need me to cover their asses when it gets tough.

    When my dentist needs a procedure done that is beyond their normal purview, they refer me to a specialist. When my doctor needs tests or procedures done beyond their facility, they refer me to a specialist. I do not expect that that specialist will give me a bill at the original doctor's rates.

    You cannot regret charging for what you are worth.
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    Quote Originally Posted by alexradium View Post
    ...it happened before in my country,that a couple guys exploited some forums to get help in repairing "their amps",in reality they "worked" unofficially for some shops...
    I see that happening all the time including on MEF. A posting will start with "I have an Acme Stratoblaster 2000XL on the bench and ---Insert question here that makes it obvious the writer doesn't understand elementary electronics---." I don't mind helping or even doing extensive mentoring if the person is honest about their situation and they exhibit a true desire to learn something rather than just being told how to fix the amp. However, the issue I have is when the same person keeps repeating the process, never showing any interest in learning the "why" behind the suggested troubleshooting/repair advice. If someone is selling themselves as a professional repair service then I expect them to invest the time to learn troubleshooting skills and the money to outfit a proper test bench.

    Helping a do-it-yourselfer do occasional repair on his gear is a different situation. No problem there if the person can safely follow directions.

    Cheers,
    Tom
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    I differentiate between the good guys who need a hand, and the outright pricks who pop up from time to time. I don't see the the good guys as competition, they're just trying to get along and there's enough work for everyone. The pricks are another matter and they even have the face to ring me up and ask for advice. They're the bodgers whose work I get second or third time round. Shipwreck amps and guitars that had the misfortune to end up on their rocky shores. The tale is often "They replaced X,Y and Z, and it still isn't right". Sometimes the work is so bad I zip it up and hand it back, no charge. Just when I think I've seen the most unbelievable thing, there's another that comes along even worse.
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    An oscilloscope is just a tool. I have repaired many amps with just a multimeter and no scope. Occasionally I will need to use more sophisticated tools like an oscilloscope to diagnose a problem. I once used a thermal imaging camera to track down an overheating output transformer. The problem turned out to be an intermittently shorting winding that only showed up when voltage was applied. It showed up on the camera as a bright red spot.

    When I go to get my oil changed the mechanics do not use a timing light. But if I take my car in for timing issues, they had better use the timing light and computer diagnostic equipment!
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    Senior Member Enzo's Avatar
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    A scope is a visual volt meter. I think the analogy is more like: when I take my car in for timing, do they use the Radio Shack timing light, Or a sophisticated auto ignition analyzer?

    You can fix most repairs without a scope because most repairs are simple anyway. I can flip the meter to AC volts and measure ripple, or I can scope the ripple, either way I detect it, but the scope will tell me I have that ripple because of weak filtration or because I am missing one side of the bridge. A meter won;t show you asymmetrical clipping or even distortion.

    And using a scope teaches you more about the circuits.
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    Well said Axtman. It's not always necessary but I consider it essential (to at least have) for anyone charging at a 'pro' level.
    Anyone I've ever come across that puts energy into arguing against them have either been a joke or a scam.
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    The bottom line is a scope in one form or another is so inexpensive that there's no excuse for a pro not to have and use one.
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    The least a tech could do is keep an oscilloscope around for a stage prop. You know, have a bunch of equipment with knob /a dials, oscilloscope with wave forms, Jacobs Ladder crackling away, maybe even a theremin playing 50's Sci Fi spooky music!

    The picture below is from Mr. Carlson's Lab. Check out his YouTube videos!

    mr.-carlson-s-lab.png

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    I'll have to be the one to buck the Conventional Wisdom here regarding shop rates for store farm outs. I do all repairs for a local music store here, and they make nothing on it. I know this because I provide them with my itemized bill that they then forward to their customer. They do it just to be able to say they do repairs as a service to their clientele. But, I know this is not the norm.
    It's weird, because it WAS working fine.....

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    The music stores that I do business with add anywhere from 20 to 40% on the bill.

    Gotta pay for the lights, no.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jazz P Bass View Post
    The music stores that I do business with add anywhere from 20 to 40% on the bill.

    Gotta pay for the lights, no.
    40% on the bill.

    SKIMMERS!

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    Quote Originally Posted by oc disorder View Post
    40% on the bill. SKIMMERS!
    There's worse: one of the stores I do repairs for adds 60%. Then state sales tax on top of the sum. OW! Curiously the latest amp I worked on for them was from a long time direct customer. Why he chose to do it the expensive way is beyond my understanding - and he's a guy who earns his living thru music, it's not like he has money to throw away. Go figure.

    What bugs me is some techs who add an up charge when they employ their oscilloscope. Or other shops (sleazy chain auto shops like Firestone) that add $3 for a shot of lube spray. If I was a plumber would I add an up charge to use my wrench? Hm, maybe I oughta give up being so customer-friendly, start chiseling them $3 for a shot of Deoxit, $30 for scope work. Might move my income up a couple grand per year.
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    Senior Member Enzo's Avatar
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    yeah well, how much do we mark up our parts?
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    Better Tone thru Mathematics bob p's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Leo_Gnardo View Post
    What bugs me is some techs who add an up charge when they employ their oscilloscope. Or other shops (sleazy chain auto shops like Firestone) that add $3 for a shot of lube spray. If I was a plumber would I add an up charge to use my wrench? Hm, maybe I oughta give up being so customer-friendly, start chiseling them $3 for a shot of Deoxit, $30 for scope work. Might move my income up a couple grand per year.
    Leo, it's not fair to place the blame on the business owner -- you're not being screwed by some greedy tech, or some greedy auto-shop guy who is looking to nickel and dime out out of an extra 3 bucks. It turns out that these line item charges were created as the result of state sales tax audits.

    I know a little bit about this -- a friend of mine owns an auto shop and he got audited by the state sales tax people. It turns out that you can thank them for the existence of those itemized "chemical and supplies" charges.

    It used to be that auto shops never charged for incidental chemicals and supplies. They'd buy chemicals, shop rags, etc. using their tax-exempt certificates to lower their out of pocket cost and then they'd use them in their business without paying sales tax when they bought them, without paying use tax when they consumed them, and without charging sales tax to the customer.

    A state sales tax auditor who was doing a fine tooth audit of an auto repair shop figured out that they were buying their supplies tax-exempt, and then consuming them in the business without paying use tax on them, and without charging sales tax to the customer. Basically, the State auditor decided that the State was being cheated by the auto shops out of it's sales/use tax. Auditors don't like that.

    Once the auditor figured out the ruse, the State charged them back taxes and assessed penalties for the non-payment of tax on that year's sales tax return, which ended up being a significant amount of money. Then, once they realized that the process had been going on for years, the auditors examined every one of the business' previous tax returns going back 10 years. So not only did they flog him once, they flogged him 10 times.

    When the auditors realized that most auto shops operated this way, they created a specialized task force to target auto repair shops for audits. Basically, the audit people realized that there was a lot of easy money to be made in this way, so they started performing 10-year audits of auto shops as a method of picking low-hanging fruit. When the auto shops started getting hammered with unpaid taxes and penalties going back 10 years the word spread through the industry like wildfire.

    The shops wanted to continue to buy their supplies exempt from sales tax because they wanted to lower the cost of their supplies. The accounting industry decided that if the shops were going to continue to buy their supplies tax-exempt, then they had to create a line item on every bill to account for the disposition of those supplies, and to collect sales/use tax from the customer to satisfy the State.

    We have the bean counters and the auditors to thank for this. It's not as if the auto shops came up with this idea on their own.
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    Better Tone thru Mathematics bob p's Avatar
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    this reminds me of a song:

    Let me tell you how it will be
    There's one for you, nineteen for me
    Cos I'm the taxman, yeah, I'm the taxman

    Should five per cent appear too small
    Be thankful I don't take it all
    Cos I'm the taxman, yeah I'm the taxman

    If you drive a car, I'll tax the street
    If you try to sit, I'll tax your seat
    If you get too cold I'll tax the heat
    If you take a walk, I'll tax your feet

    Taxman!
    Cos I'm the taxman, yeah I'm the taxman

    Don't ask me what I want it for (Aahh Mr. Wilson)
    If you don't want to pay some more (Aahh Mr. Heath)
    Cos I'm the taxman, yeah, I'm the taxman

    Now my advice for those who die
    Declare the pennies on your eyes
    Cos I'm the taxman, yeah, I'm the taxman

    And you're working for no one but me
    Taxman!
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    Quote Originally Posted by bob p View Post
    Leo, it's not fair to place the blame on the business owner....

    We have the bean counters and the auditors to thank for this. It's not as if the auto shops came up with this idea on their own.
    That still doesn't explain why they charge $3 for a shop towel when I can buy a roll of them for $2.

    -rb

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    Quote Originally Posted by rjb View Post
    That still doesn't explain why they charge $3 for a shop towel when I can buy a roll of them for $2.

    -rb
    I guess you could ask them how many they used, tear that off your roll and throw in an extra one as a tip...
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    Senior Member Enzo's Avatar
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    I can buy a can of beer at the grocery for a dollar or less, If I buy the same can of beer at a restaurant or bar, it cost me $4-5 a pop.

    I used to give away small parts, because to sell them, I had to use a 15 cent sales form.

    I charge $4 for a jack. SOme of those jacks cost me 18 cents, some of them cost me $3.25. I charge a $4 minimum for ICs, even though the 4558, TL072, etc cost me less than half a buck. I do not apologize for that. I charge 50 cents for a resistor that cost me a penny.
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    Just like the music store that adds a charge for their part of the repair transaction because it does take them some time and effort, if you only charge your monetary cost for a part you screwed yourself on the time it takes you to order and maintain inventory.
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    Better Tone thru Mathematics bob p's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Enzo View Post
    I can buy a can of beer at the grocery for a dollar or less, If I buy the same can of beer at a restaurant or bar, it cost me $4-5 a pop...
    Location, location, location.

    If you want to buy a beer from a vendor at an MLB ball game it's going to cost you $10.50.

    Why? Because he's in the right place at the right time with the right product.
    Richard likes this.
    "Stand back, I'm holding a calculator." - chinrest

  34. #34
    Better Tone thru Mathematics bob p's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rjb View Post
    That still doesn't explain why they charge $3 for a shop towel when I can buy a roll of them for $2.

    -rb
    it probably has to do with making sure that they charge enough in sales tax to easily meet the tax auditor's expectations. if they didn't charge enough tax to make an auditor happy, then they'd be going through the fine-tooth audit all over again, and potentially being assessed penalties if they didn't charge enough tax to cover their tax exempt purchases for that year. they probably want to get everything off of the books in the year it was purchased so that they don't have to carry anything forward.

    you can blame it all on the tax man who wants his money and the accountant who wants to streamline his accounting. i honestly don't think that the shop operator gives a hoot about the $3 towel charge on a $1000 engine repair. he only puts that line item on the bill because he has to do it.
    "Stand back, I'm holding a calculator." - chinrest

  35. #35
    Senior Member Sowhat's Avatar
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    I ran a big Chicago music store service department in the 60's and early 70's before moving out to California and even back then I had a scope, generator, meters and all the nice trimmings at hand and not just for show, I actually used them to effect repairs. I find a scope invaluable for numerous reasons and I don't see how anyone can claim to provide professional service without these things being available even if they don't use them much... they actually do have a use. Now a days however that compliment of test equipment has increased to include things like inspection microscopes, hot air stations, temperature controlled irons, and a lot of SMD related stuff because aside from tube gear, I do solid state, digital and even luthier work. I have a comprehensive but small machine shop as well, I'm armed for bear!. For years out here in California I ran my own shop in my own home and I didn't quibble about money very much, I was having fun and anyway during the day I was working aerospace engineering which is what actually paid the rent. Since I retired I have teamed up with a local San Diego music shop and they let me move my repair shop in store to give them a more professional presentation. I charge them by fingers. 1 finger means 1 hour which is my minimum and 2 fingers means 2 hours and so on. Parts are charged to include shipping costs, taxes and handling and what the parts actually cost. So, it would be 1 finger plus $16.98 in parts and like that. What they charge is up to them, I think they tack on 30% or so to cover things like electricity and air conditioning. I give them a wholesale finger price of $40.00 a finger. That's relatively cheap around here but it's a wholesale price and gives them enough margin to make things work... pays for my gas and a bad Starbucks iced mocha habit.
    Tom Phillips likes this.
    ... That's $1.00 for the chalk mark and $49,999.00 for knowing where to put it!

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