When I was working for our family business, the candy company, I was focused on expanding our client base to balance the impact of a major client which accounted for 80% of our business. It’s good practice to have a mix of accounts of varying sizes. So, my first project was to call on a new customer, Kroger Company headquartered in Cincinnati. Kroger was the largest potential account in Cincinnati, and there were other smaller dairy and ice cream companies in the area.

So, I first set up a visit with a smaller company in Cincinnati named Schucardt’s. I called the owner Bill Schucardt and scheduled an appointment. According to all the Dairy Products Industry data, they were a competent company that could use our products. They had been in the business around 30 years at that point. And it seemed that they would pay their bills. The plant was in a mixed residential/commercial area with the office in front and ice cream plant in the rear. The front office was located on the main street.

I walked into a very large open office space. As I approached the owner, Mr. Shucardt, I saw his desk is piled high and deep with bound mail bundles…several dozen bundles, piled high. I could imagine the mailman walking briskly into Schucardt’s office and handing the day’s mail to the boss.

Sure enough, the postman came in right behind me. He reached around me and gave Mr. Schucardt his daily bundle. Schucardt says, “Thank you.” He doesn’t smile. As I’m introducing myself to Mr. Schucardt, he sits down at his massive desk and starts going through the mail, pulling out certain envelopes. I realize those envelopes are only checks from his customers. I immediately think, “Hmmm, my bill would be in that pile, but he’s not pulling out any bills…only checks.”

Then there’s the office arrangement. There’s a woman sitting at the desk to his right, my left. Not too close, not too far. A couple desk lengths away, maybe 10 feet. Who was sitting at that desk? Mr. Schucardt’s mom. The owner’s mother is sitting Right There.

Far off to my right, at the other end of the office, probably 60 feet away, there’s another lady sitting at a desk. Who’s sitting at that desk? His wife.

Neither of them said a thing the entire time I was there. They were both watching me the whole time.

Another guy came in while I was there – the janitor. He asks Mr. Shucardt: “Where should I mop next?”

I’m thinking, “I’m not sure I need to do business with this guy.”

This is sales training 101. Assess the viability of the relationship. Move on if there is something that smells fishy. I don’t have to accept his order, send them ingredients and then expect to be paid. And watch out for the company owner whose mother is sitting immediately to his right. Fishy and ice cream don’t mix.

Then, watch out for the guy who pulls the checks out of the mail bundle, because he’s hoarding that money and very stingy when it comes to doling out the payment for the invoices.

Back then, I was observing and learning. I remember thinking “Hmm, this must be a learning event…don’t do business with him…interesting.”

I did get a small order from him and we shipped him a couple cases of candy for one of their ice cream flavors. Sent him an invoice. Never got paid. He sold his product with our ingredients. He was paid by his customers but never paid us. We lost a couple hundred bucks. So, some on-the-job training. Don’t sell to people like that. Go to the big guys, the big companies. They have money.

I wonder about the working dynamic of that family business. Between his mom sitting right there, watching his every move, listening to every interaction, probably handling every check – incoming and outgoing. And then his wife, far off in the distance, having to deal with her mother-in-law and her husband as business partners. Trying to look out for their marriage and relationship. From 60 feet away. Was that as close as she wanted to get, or as close as her mother-in-law would allow her to get to her son? And Mr. Schucardt himself, trying to work with two business partners with deep and inextricable emotional ties to him. Can you imagine working with your mother and your wife at your side, every day, day after day, for years?

Is this your business? What is it about your work that smells fishy? Let’s have a conversation!
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