This has been bouncing around in my brain for a week now so I guess it's time to let it out.I have a friend, let's call him Alton, who built a wholesale business from scratch to success and sold it to his brother-in-law. No, this isn't another one of those bad brother-in-law jokes. On second thought, maybe it is.Alton started out buying onyx (a colored rock that's soft and easily carved) animals down in Mexico, hauling them across the border and selling them from his van to “travel stores” across the southwest.Travel stores are those roadside purveyors of pralines, purple snow cones and grape soda located alongside long empty stretches of highway that let you use the bathroom in the back of the store in hopes you'll become enamored with the souvenirs located in the front of the store. If you've ever stopped to see “The Thing” you know the kind of place I'm talking about. Alton went through a lot of heavy duty tires hauling all them rocks around.Eventually he switched from self-delivery to UPS and settled into a rented warehouse in an industrial park. That's where I met him. He'd branched out to all manner of souvenir items. If you wanted a couple of pounds of genuine Indian arrowheads (Carved by a genuine Indian – in New Delhi.) Alton's was the place to come. He mentored me as I grew my surplus business from flea market stand, to flea market stands, to quitting the day job and opening a roadside stand, to a leased storefront, to two leased stores, to a my own stand alone building on my own property. By then Alton had already done the same (maybe I was emulating him?) and had built his wholesale business up to the point where he was ready to retire. (In his forties!)About the same time I put my company name on the building I'd had built to sell my OD treasures Alton sold his thriving business, the building and the land it stood on to his brother-in-law (let's call him Bob) and retired. Alton stayed around for a few months to show Bob how to use the five by eight cards he used for contacting customers and other ins and outs of the business before going into full retirement and leaving town.To understand the magnitude of the mistakes made next requires some background. For one thing, Alton had two secret weapons.Remember, Alton was a wholesaler selling to retailers so if the fright for a few dozen onyx animals and a “Real Japanese Samurai Sword (made in China)" came to ten dollars Alton would throw in something extra which he normally sold for five dollars. Ma & Pa's Travel Store & Culinary Castle Of Corndogs could then keystone the item and retail it for ten dollars thus achieving “free” freight. The cost to Alton was less than five dollars (remember he normally sold the item for five dollars) and grateful travel stores across the country took Alton's “free freight” into account when deciding who to place orders with.Alton had also established accounts with three of the big names in travel stores. Companies the size of “Running Indian” and “Stuckey's” (although not necessarily those companies) regularly placed large orders with Alton.Once he was in control, brother-in-law Bob promptly discontinued Alton's free freight incentive (and a few small customers). He also transferred Alton's sales cards to computer files. However, he didn't bother to type in all the data Alton had accumulated on those cards before throwing them away!Those cards were Alton's other secret weapon. Each card had the customer company's name, address, phone number and Point Of Contact (the only information the brother-in-law bothered to transfer) along with names of the names of the POC's spouse and other “friendly” information Alton used to soften up the customer's sales resistance during a sales call.But the most important data that didn't get transferred to the database was Alton's notes on what that particular customer had bought from Alton. Shish Kabob Bob's (“The World Famous Home of Rattlesnake On a Stick®”) didn't have to worry about running out of Rattlesnake Eggs (Yes, Alton actually sold them, although they aren't what you think.) because Alton would ask if he needed any more during his monthly “visit” with that customer. When he'd finished updating a customer's inventory Alton would ask if Pinnacle Pete's Porcupine Ranch & Petting Zoo would like to try some of the “new” novelties or “hot” fad items “just in” this week. It was a long laborious process, but any salesman will tell you you're lucky to make a sale on ten percent of sales calls. Alton did better than ten percent, much better.Nope, brother-in-law Bob threw all that info away and sat back waiting for customers to call orders in to him. Alton's “free freight” had made his company stand out in the minds of the small travel stores. Without it and in the absence of regular sales calls more small customers drifted away.Then there were the three big travel store chains, remember them? Over the years Bob managed to alienate all three of them. One called about a broken covered wagon and was told to glue it back together. Another had a similar experience and I don't recall why the third member of the big three stopped buying from Bob. When Bob finally called Alton and told him he wouldn't be able to make the payments on the business and the building Alton came back into town and tried to patch things up with the big spenders. He managed to talk two of them into ordering again but the third was so pissed off he refused to buy from the company as long as Bob was there. Alton probably could have helped promote sales with the smaller travel stores too, if he'd had anything to work with, but it had been years and all that “useless” data had long ago been flushed from the system. One incident from that time period illustrates why Bob's business was in a tailspin. After the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers there was a tremendous upsurge in patriotism in this country.American flags were gold (we sold out in a day) and nobody had any. I'd stayed with Alton's old company, for the items I'd bought from him, as much out of laziness as loyalty to a departed friend. But, when I couldn't get any American flags from Bob I dug into my trade journals trying to find another vender. It was the same everywhere. Wholesaler's stocks had flown out the door in a day and it would be weeks before manufacturers could gear up to the new demand. I passed the information on to would be customers and watched lost sales walk out the door.But Bob believed (giving him the benefit of a doubt here) importers claims that boat loads of flags were just days away and pre-sold flags to, among others, a guy I know who then “sold” a large number of the flags, and the promise of imminent delivery, to a government entity.Weeks later, when the flags finally arrived the importer had placed a premium on them. Rather than eat the small price increase on merchandise he'd failed to deliver on time, Bob told the guy the flags would be more than the agreed upon price. The guy went ballistic and swore he'd never buy Bob's merchandise again, none of it, not any of it, never ever again!Going to the guy's shop and apologizing profusely for something he wasn't responsible for, Alton managed to talk this guy too into agreeing to at least give Bob another chance. It's a testament to Alton's salesmanship that he was able to repair so much of Bob's self inflicted damage in such a short time. Having done as much as he could, Alton returned to retirement.Fast forward to now and I've got a new (to me) freight scale, 2,800 high quality American flag pins, a few dozen flags, 71 woodland camo bandanas and assorted other goodies sitting in my store. All purchased for pennies on the dollar at the court ordered bankruptcy sale of Bob's business a week ago.
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