A few years ago, I was moving to a new area with my girlfriend (now my wife), so we went around the letting agents in the town centre looking for somewhere to live. We walked into one letting agent and said that we were moving into the area and were looking for a 3 bedroom place.
The first question, as is the case with every letting agent, was “how much do you want to spend?” I said “well as little as possible” (obviously).
Why would I “want” to spend any amount? Why would spending a particular amount be one of my requirements? What would happen if there was somewhere we liked that was considerably less than the amount we “wanted to spend”? Would we turn it down?
After a short pause, he realised I wasn’t fucking joking about his stupid question, so he tried a slightly different question. “Well what's your budget?”
Again I had to disappoint him. “We don't really have a budget. If it meets our requirements, and we like it, and it's worth it, that's the price.”
It’s not that we were loaded, it's just that price is a deciding factor AFTER satisfying your list of requirements. If your list of requirements results in items that you do not believe are reasonably priced, then you may have to modify your requirements, make some sacrifices. Why would you do this at the start of the process?
So he sat us down at his desk, and swivelled his computer screen to show us a long list of properties. He scrolled right down to the bottom to show us 4 and 5 bedroomed houses in the nicest parts of town for nearly £2,000 per month.
All very nice places, but so far he'd only been given 2 of our requirements (3 bedrooms and a cheap as possible) and he'd failed on both counts.
I pointed out that they were too big. So he scrolled back up to the most expensive 3 bedroom house on the list. From memory it was about £1,300 per month.
I said “Look, I think you're going to struggle to justify anything over about £800 per month”
He'd finally heard a number. So clearly that was what we “wanted to spend”. He scrolled back up to a place that was £795.
“Well is there also anything cheaper?”
He scrolled up to the next one, £780.
He still hadn't asked us any of our requirements. So I got up and said “I think we'll try somewhere else”. Somewhere that asks what our requirements are, not just how much they can fleece us for.
And to be fair, this was just an extreme example of what is a common attitude across the industry. But if it didn't work, they'd change. People genuinely do have price as their prime requirement for renting a house. They look for the “best” house they've deemed they can afford, even if it’s much too big, too small or misses some other obvious requirement that they should have thought about before even walking into a letting agents.
My dad is the same with cars (and he's definitely not alone).
In the early 90s he had three children including me (I didn't live with him). So his Ford Sierra (a large family salon) was adequate for him, his wife, his 2 ”regular” kids whilst also leaving space for me as and when I joined them.
Then he had another child, and not long after bought a Renault Espace (a 7-seater). Perfect. His car requirements changed, so he changed his car.
Then he wanted to get a Volvo Estate. This was when they were starting to do well in the touring car championships, so they were becoming cool amongst a certain type of people. So he gave the Espace to his wife to drive so they still had the flexibility.
But then, a couple of years later, he got rid of it and replaced it with a Ford Mondeo (the new version of the Sierra).
So he had two very nice cars, but neither of them satisfied what must be the single most important requirement.
Even after having another child, he still drives 4/5 seater cars. Thankfully though, 4 of us have now grown up and have our own cars.
This is the man who bought a 2 bedroomed house about an hour’s drive from most of his grown up kids, so when they came to stay, there would be people sleeping in the study, the landing, and sometimes in the caravan. Lovely house, massive garden, but completely inappropriate.
When it comes to cars, people are very strange. Several car companies just shouldn't exist in a world with an intelligent human race.
Surely reliability must be a crucial requirement for almost everybody when it comes to cars. If your TV breaks down, that's a little bit annoying. But if your car breaks down, that really ruins your day (often several days). And yet many car brands are notorious for poor reliability. I just don't understand how most European car brands are still in business.
When it comes to cars, I usually have a long list of requirements. It’s a very expensive purchase, so it's got to be just right.
But I rarely meet anyone who has any set of requirements for cars at all.
I once approached a friend who runs a car dealership and corporate car rental company if he had a car (or could obtain one from his extensive network of contacts) that met my requirements. I only needed a small car for commuting with space for the family when our other car was in the garage) I emailed him the list:
Less than 100k miles
He emailed back and said that he had something ideal.
So I phoned him up to ask about it. He said “Yes, I've got a Renault Clio with aircon, only 80k miles....”
I was confused.
“Sorry, it's a what?”
“A Renault Clio”
Now I realise that my requirements list for our second car wasn't extensive, but it was quite clear that the number one requirement was that it was a Toyota Yaris, not just a small car.
Toyota Yaris isn't even a generic name for a small car like “Ford Fiesta” or ”Vauxhall Corsa” might be. It's a very specific car.
And I would assume that almost anybody who requested a Toyota Yaris would do so because of the famous reliability, and so a Renault (or any French brand) would literally be at the bottom of any list of considerations.
But no. He didn't offer me a Renault Clio because he’s an idiot, he’s not. He offered me a Renault Clio because throughout his career he's never come across anyone who approached him with anything other than very general requirements; size, prices, etc.
My family are now moving to the Netherlands so we're selling our second car, and converting our main car to mainland Europe standards, converting the speedo, foglight and headlights. But of course, we can't put the steering wheel on the other side of the car. It'll be mildly annoying, but we'll live with it because it's literally the only car in the world that meets our requirements.
My dad, amongst other people, said “Why don't you just get rid of it and buy a European version?”
So I told him that there isn't a European version.
“Of course there is.”
So I explained that it's a Japanese import. There is a European equivalent base model but it doesn't have any of the features that meet our requirements. The difference is huge. Otherwise we'd have bought the EU/UK version in the first place.
“Well why don't you just get the European equivalent?”
Yes, after just explaining that the European version doesn't meet our requirements, he suggested that we sell something that does meet our requirements in order to buy something that satisfies almost none of them.
Why don't we just change our requirements? Seriously? Why don't we change our entire lifestyle to suit a convenient product, rather than buying things that match our lifestyle?
This conversation isn't isolated. Nobody seems to be able to understand that having a car that we can actually use is more important to us than having the steering wheel on the right side of a car...that we can't use.
How is that difficult to understand?
In business, when you’re planning a new project, the first thing you do is that you identify all of the requirements. Because the success of any project, or any purchase, is defined by whether (or how closely) the results match the requirements.
Why don't people do this in their personal lives too?