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Automobile Mechanic Uses HP 100LX in His Business

Automobile Mechanic Uses HP 100LX in His Business

Southern California-based Honda Bob" has tailored his palmtop's applications to his unique business.

By Robert Hebert

I own and operate a mobile service company that repairs automobiles in Southern California. When I went into business over 17 years ago, I was keeping records of the work I had done on my customers' cars in a card file box. Pretty soon, the box got too small.

I purchased one of the first "portable computers," an Osborne. It came with two 5.25" 360Kb floppy drives. I typed in all the records from my card files onto 26 disks, one disk for every letter of the alphabet. Pretty soon I had several disks for every letter, and the Osborne was getting hard to lug around.

I then found out about the Psion handheld computer. I was able to put all my customer records onto four 256Kb Psion datapacks, but I had to abbreviate a lot of words to make them fit.

Why I liked the HP 95LX

 When the Hewlett-Packard 95LX came out, I got one with a 2Mg flash card. All the information from all the datapacks fit nicely on that flash card, without abbreviations!

I used the HP 95LX for about two years before I moved up to my current HP 100LX with a 10Mg flash card. My palmtop with 2Mb RAM, loaded with 100Buddy n, is my primary computer on the road. I use almost every application on it several times a day.

Many automobile dealerships seem to operate on the premise that another customer will always come in, so repeat business is not an issue. Repeat business is very important to me, so I keep detailed records of every car I work on. By doing this, I can identify problems early on by cross referencing the VIN number or the engine number with any service bulletins. I also give the customer a computer-generated copy of all previous services performed on the vehicle.

 In the morning I use ApptBook to check my daily appointments, and also to remind me to call my parts suppliers to have the parts I need ready when I get there.

The ToDo list keeps track of all my messages from my answering machine. I just type in the name and phone number of the person calling, leaving the "carry forward" box checked. When I return their call, I remove the check and the message is permanently stored on the date it came in.

If a new customer calls, I put an asterisk (*) in front of the name so that I know to start a new file on this customer before I return their call to schedule an appointment. I also schedule repeating events, like birthdays and anniversaries.

 What my database contains

 The Database I created contains all the information I need to identify about 1,200 customers and their cars. (See Screen 1.) When I first see a car that I am going to work on, I enter all the information about the car into the database that I developed.

I have their name, address, Thomas guide location coordinates, all known phone numbers, car model, VIN number, engine number, license number, color and any other items peculiar to their particular model. (The Thomas Guide is a popular map system for Southern California.)

 After I enter all the data, I use the following smart clip:

 I use this clip to copy all the data into a memo file that contains that customer's information. I then use the following smart clip:

 I use this to copy the phone numbers to the PhoneBook.

 I created another database of used cars that are available from my customers. In this database I keep all the car information, as well as any other options on each car, and how much the customer wants to get for each car. I update this database weekly as cars are sold and bought.

The PhoneBook is, I think, the most frequently used function on my HP 100LX. I keep all my customers' phone numbers, as well as all vendors that I use. All business cards that I get are immediately entered into the PhoneBook.

To keep the vendors separate, I was initially using separate subsets, but I found that if I put an asterisk in front of every vendor name, the PhoneBook stores these after the customer names.

 Since then, I have included all phone numbers for my family members as well. I just put a dash (-) in front of their names; this stores them after the vendors. So far, I haven't had any problems accessing any phone numbers, even though I have over 2,000 entries in the Phone Book.

PhoneBook complements pager

 Since customers, vendors and family members are all contained in one database file, I can look up a number rapidly. This is important, because I try to always remain available by pager to answer my customers' questions. (I feel that the only dumb question is the one you don't ask.)

 When I get paged, I open the PhoneBook, press (F4) (Find), enter the telephone number from the pager (or part of the number), and the PhoneBook looks up that number.

When the phone record containing that number comes up on the screen, I know who is paging me, and I can pull up their database record before I return their call. This allows me to know who I am talking to and what kind of car they are talking about. All this takes about two or three minutes.

 The PhoneBook also has other functions. I modified another PhoneBook file to keep track of all the paint codes of every Honda-powered car ever made. That's when I realized that Honda has 33 different shades of RED! I modified another PhoneBook file to keep track of all special order parts from my vendors.

 The MACRO application is one of my favorites. I wrote several macros to make it easier to update a customer's record. Ten function keys weren't enough to handle all my tasks, so I made a macro to switch back and forth between two different sets of macros.

 A very useful macro

 Whenever I finish working on a customer's car, I use Calc to total the customer's bill. Then I run a macro that I've created which automatically does a number of things:

 First, it adds the amount of today's bill to the total cost of all bills in the past (it gets this figure from the MEMO file for that customer). Then the macro takes this new sum and replaces the old "Total cost of Maintenance" in the MEMO file with the new figure. The macro then saves the MEMO file, returns to ApptBook and clears the time from the appointment, saves the appointment, then backs up the file to the flash card. Finally, the macro closes the appointment and moves down to the next appointment for the day. When I open the ApptBook again, it is already highlighted on the next appointment.

Using Note Taker while driving

 The Note Taker is handy for quickly jotting down messages to myself. Sometimes it's hard to type and drive at the same time, so I keep the messages short.

 Part of my daily morning routine is printing out (on my home PC) the customer records of the jobs I have for that day. Each customer's record lists all work that I've done on that car, as well as a total cost of the work done. Often a customer's file is quite extensive because of all the work I have done on that car, sometimes spanning over 15 years.

 Backing up

 The FILER is used for backing up the files from the palmtop to the 10Mg flash card. I have a macro that is set to run at 2 a.m. every day. It closes all the applications, opens FILER, then copies my files to the flash card. When I open up the palmtop in the morning and the screen shows the top card, I know that my files were backed up properly.

 My home PC is a Pentium that has a flash card drive installed. Whenever I boot up the PC, I insert the flash card from the palmtop, then press any key, and the instructions in the PC's AUTOEXEC.BAT file copy all the files on the flash card to several different directories on the PC.

 Then I open WinWord and print out the customer's record, which usually contains the owner's photograph. (I try to take a photograph of each customer when I first work on his or her car. Then I scan the picture and save the graphics file on the PC.) The copy of the maintenance record that I give to the customer, with its color photograph of the owner, is attractive, personalized, and unique.

 Whenever I have some free time, I play the SOKOBAN n game. So far, I'm up to level 50. Some of the levels are really challenging.

 As you can see, my HP 100LX is my constant companion. I don't go anywhere without it. As a matter of fact, my vacation is coming up and I have my entire itinerary loaded.

 The author created this customized database to store his customers' information.

Shareware/Freeware mentioned in this article

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