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MMD > Archives > March 2007 > 2007.03.09 > 01Prev  Next

Service Charges and Traveling Expenses
By John A. Tuttle

Hi All,  I'd like to thank everyone who wrote to me to give me their
opinions or methodology for charging a fee for driving to and from
a customer's home.  As some of you may know, I display my rates at
my web site on two different pages.  When a customer calls, one of my
first three questions is, "Do you want to know my rates?"  I think
it's only fair to make it clear to the customer how much it could
potentially cost them to have me service their instrument.

Of the eleven personal responses I received, I was surprised that no
two individuals used the same 'formula'.  Everyone has their own unique
way of figuring what they will charge the customer for the time it
takes to get to their home.  I also did some searching around the
Internet and found that almost no one advertises their rates for
service calls.  I wonder why?

I found Bob Taylor's posting keenly interesting because it provided
a reliable reference point.  (As a side note, I found that the two
addresses in the 1937 letter no longer exist.  However, MapQuest had
addresses that were very close, and the tuner and customer lived less
than 15 miles from each other.)  Considering that the two individuals
lived less than 15 miles apart and that the piano was serviced every
three months, how long did it take to get to the job and service and
tune the piano?  An hour?  And how many instruments did the technician
service in one day?  Three to five?  (The point here is that he planned
his road calls so that he would work on more than one unit per day.
And, his travel time from the first job to the next was probably
relatively short.)

Then Bill McGown follows Bob's posting by informing us that if you
take inflation into account, the cost of a $35 contract in 1937 would
cost $125 today.

As it says at my web site, my minimum charge for a first visit is
$125.00, which includes up to 15 miles of travel and 40 minutes of
labor.  For travel over 15 miles, a mileage charge kicks in at the rate
of $1.25 per mile, based on a one-way trip.  (Do you think that's just
a coincidence?  Read on...)  Doing the math, if the customer lives 60
miles away and 30 of those miles are included in the base charge, I'm
making $37.50 for 30 miles of driving, or about $75.00/hr.

Now let's consider that the cost of living in the Los Angles area was
likely one of the highest in the nation in the late 1930s, and probably
still is today.  But, I live in a sleepy 'bedroom community' that's
almost an hour from the big cities (NYC, Philadelphia, Atlantic City).
However, it shouldn't be surprising that most of my customers live
closer to the big cities -- where all the "big money" is made, and
where the "McMansions" are located.

Getting back to my formula for figuring the cost of travel time
(and labor, which we're not really talking about right now), it's no
coincidence that it's almost identical to the 1937 example, and here's

Back in the early 1980s, a rich customer once said, "John, you don't
charge enough for what you do".  (I may have told you part of this
story before.)  So, I did some research, which basically consisted
of asking as a few older tuners how much they charged when they first
started working.  I was a little surprised to find that the rates
seemed to be somewhat "fixed" by the Piano Tuner's Guild.  And, like
Bill McGown did, I checked the inflation rate from the years mentioned
by the tuners to arrive at my "fair" labor rate.

I must say that I grappled with my service charge for a number of
years before settling on a base figure that seemed 'fair' to me and the
customer.  (That's because it seemed that most tuners did not travel
more than about 10-15 miles to tune a piano.  Comparatively speaking,
it seemed that there was about one player technician for every 10-15
tuners.)  I finally settled on a rate which, at the time, was about
1/2 of my labor rate.  But, as you can see from the example above,
that changed as the years went by.  Now my rate is about 80% of my
labor rate, and only occasionally do people seem a little put-off by
the service charges.

Also, now my rates go up every two to three years.  I found that
people got a little annoyed when I raised my rates every year.  (I'm
very perceptive when it comes to judging how people feel about spending
their money.)  It seems that people really don't like change on a
yearly basis, but they are willing to accept a change that relates to
inflation every 2-3 years.

Ergo, we come back to my initial posting about the methods that others
use to account for their "lost" time on the road.  And, as it turns
out, the method I use is pretty solid and adequately fair to both me
and my customers.

In closing, I'd like to say 'Thank you' to everyone who helped me
justify to myself that I'm not being greedy.

John A Tuttle
Brick, New Jersey, USA

(Message sent Fri 9 Mar 2007, 14:03:37 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  Charges, Expenses, Service, Traveling

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