A Hat of My Own
By Lyle R. Hill
I once heard “Experience is the harshest of teachers because she gives you the test first and the lesson afterward.” I guess this is true, but I always liked what Bismarck had to say about experience. He was the one who said, “Fool you are to say you learn by your experiences; I prefer to profit by the mistakes of others and avoid the price of my own.” Now I don’t know which Bismarck it was who said this . . . but either way, he was right.
I could sense that he wasn’t having a good day and my phone call had bothered him, but I wasn’t having the best of days either, and I had a right to call. He owed us a fair amount of money and most of it was long past due. I was determined to be both firm and as pleas-ant as possible.
“John,” I began, “we appreciate all of the jobs you’ve been giving us and I’m hoping you’re pleased with our service.
”“Yeah, your guys do nice work: courteous and on time,” he replied.
“And do you feel we charge you a fair price?”
Of course,” he responded. “I wouldn’t have given you the jobs in the first place if your price wasn’t good.”
I could detect a fair amount of agitation in his voice, but I pressed on.
“Okay,” I continued, “I’m glad to hear that, and we certainly appreciate your business. However, you owe us a lot of money, and we re-ally need you to get your account brought up-to-date.”
“Are you calling me a deadbeat?” he asked with a new level of agitation.
“No, I’m not,” I calmly replied, “but these bills are several months past due and we really need to get paid.”
“Are you threatening me?” he now roared into the phone, “because if you are, I’m taking you out of the hat!”
At this point I was baffled. What could “taking me out of the hat” possibly mean? Was this the equivalent of simply “taking me out?”
“John, I must confess ignorance,” I stated. “Please tell me what taking me out of the hat means.”
“Ok,” he began, “you asked. Each week I take all of the bills that are due and I put them in a hat. Then, depending on how things are going, I randomly pick some and pay them. This way, everyone has an equal chance of being paid. I think this is a very fair approach. Unfortunately for you, you just haven’t been lucky enough to be one of the bills that got picked. But I like you, so believe me, I’d hate to have to take you out of the hat and take away any chance you might have for getting paid.”
“Well, thank you, I appreciate that,” I replied. “And we like you too, so if I’ve offended you in any way, please accept my apology. The last thing I want to have happen is to be taken out of your hat!”A few weeks went by and we received some of the past due money that was owed to us. Then one day the call I had hoped for came in.
“Lyle, it’s John,” he began. “Are you having labor problems or supplier problems at your place cause I got some people calling me and telling me they haven’t been taken care of yet and I’m getting some heat from them?”
“No John, we’re not having any problems,” I replied.
“Then why haven’t you been out to get these jobs done?” he asked with a raised voice. “You know I am the one that’s gonna get the calls from these people and if I don’t take care of them, they’ll find somebody who will. I want these jobs done in the next 24 hours and I don’t want any excuses!”
“I’ll do what I can, John, but I can’t make any promises.”
“I’m not looking for promises. I’m looking for performance,” he yelled. “You’re killing me!”
“John, I understand your dilemma,” I replied calmly. “And I hope you’re not accusing me of being irresponsible.”
“I’m not accusing you of anything, yet!” he screamed. “But I better see your guys installing my jobs tomorrow or else!”
“John,” I replied, “are you calling me a deadbeat supplier? Are you threatening me? Because if you are, I’m taking you out of the hat.”
“What?” he screamed.
“Well, John, after that conversation we had a few weeks ago . . . I’m sure you remember . . . it was the one about us getting paid in a timely manner . . . your explanation impressed me so much that I immediately fol-lowed your example.”
“What in the world are you talking about?” he asked.
“John . . . I bought a hat of my own . . . and you and your jobs are in it.”
LYLE HILL has more than 42 years of experience in and around the auto glass industry. At one time he operated 71 auto glass retail shops and a wholesale auto glass distribution business. He is currently the directing manager of Keytech North America, a consulting firm, and is the co-founder and president of Glass.com®, an information portal and job generation company.
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