…Or If You Do, Don’t Tell Your Clients

I accompanied Aunty Carol to a business meeting during our stay in South Africa. Carol and Pete export African Lifestyle goods and other bits and pieces manufactured in Africa for sale in the UK.  They have been doing this for several years now, and have built up quite a significant business (Kendrick Imports – send your UK friends to the website for their Christmas shopping!).

Because shipping charges are quite expensive from Africa to the UK, Carol tries to place just a few large orders per year, to minimise the freight charges  – which have to be passed on to the  customers. The meeting I accompanied her to was to check on the progress their latest large order which had been placed 4 months previously.  I’m not going to give away commercial secrets, but let’s just say that it was for a significant amount of money – a proportion of which had already been paid in order to secure the order and allow the supplier to purchase a large amount of raw material.

A difficult supplier

Carol had warned me that this supplier was difficult to deal with, but what I heard shocked me to the core.  I have never, ever heard a large customer be treated with such disdain!

The entire conversation was a litany of miserableness, and covered, amongst other things, the following:

  • I’m sick of this business
  • I’m tired and I want to get out
  • I’m so over this
  • I have other clients who are more important than you
  • I have to fill my other clients’ orders first because they have deadlines
  • I have to buy so much stuff to fill your order
  • I won’t be able to do your order by your deadline because we shut for Christmas

And so it went on.

I was unsure whether to laugh, cry, or slash my wrists.  I actually asked Carol was the product from this supplier profitable enough for them to continue with this treatment?  Her reply was affirmative, so she continues struggling on.

It could be so much better!

The real shame of it is that the product is unique and the business could be so much better – in all respects.  This guy is surviving in spite of himself!

A multitude of lessons

There were so, so many business lessons in this one short meeting, and at some stage I will pick them out one by one for individual attention.

For this post, I will simply summarise the entire conversation into one, over-arching lesson.  My friends Andrew Griffiths and Timbo Reid (no relation!) talk about the Miserable Bastards Club. Carol’s supplier was a fully paid-up member – probably the President.

If you’re a business owner, don’t join the Miserable Bastards Club

Yes, we all get down in the dumps at times – especially in times like the current downturn we are battling through – so it’s permissible to take out a Casual Membership just for a little while every now and then, just to let off some steam.

But if you do, at least don’t tell your clients about it!

PS  No photos have been included with this post to protect the not-so-innocent.

By Bronwyn Reid
24 November 2014

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