bottom lines

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An eye-for-an-eye only ends up making the whole world blind. ~ Mahatma Ghandi.

From our back bay window I see trucks coming and going; gondolas full of racks.  I try not to stare and we continue to do our work, the sounds of industry echoing between our walls.  Silence in the workplace is not welcome.  The constant thrum of machinery means we have work to do.

Not so for our business neighbors in the building behind ours.

They are three brothers, the ages of the hubs and I, who assumed their father’s business.  When they moved in, during the fall, they shoved my father-in-law aside as he closed the gate to our property; their sign uncollected.  They had words.  I have an $850K home, old man.  Their actions betrayed their cockiness.  My father-in-law, in reply, shaken that these clean-cut, wholesome looking boys would rough-house with him, angrily retorted back.  So!?   I own this building.  Let’s see how long you last.

Less than a year later they are packing up their pallets of racks and shelving units.  They harassed one of our employees; throwing a dead rat at him a few weeks back.  Enraged I took pictures of their license plates.  On Monday he braced himself as one of the brothers drove slowly up to him in his Lexus, the automatic window slithering down.  We’re sorry about what happened. We’re good now.  We’re leaving this week.

We had heard the brothers arguing over mortgage payments; sales.   Two of them had families; just like my own.  Their deplorable behavior does not make me do a happy dance at their demise.  I did have a twinge of justice but my father-in-law watched, sadly, as these men loaded trucks in this muggy weather.  I don’t ever wish for any small business to fail.  The Ghandi quote came to mind.

One of the reasons small businesses close, Top 10 Reasons Small Businesses Fail by Jay Goltz, New York Times, January 5, 2011, is that “the math doesn’t work.”  Living outside of their means, during a recession, when the sluggish market demand for their product diminishes their bottom line.  I spent almost all of Tuesday reconciling books, making phone calls to one of our larger customers, as to when we can expect payment.  It pains my mother-in-law to have to call the matriarch of this niche company.  This was their very first customer, their relationship spanning 25 years.

It’s all about relationships.

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Because we manufacture custom bolts and fasteners we constantly purchase steel.  Most of our customers value the fact that our product is completely Made in the USA.  But we also must go where the steel cost is lowest.   The salesman for these companies vie for our business but the ones we purchase from are like family.  We’ve watched a few of them switch to the competitor and they still can drive the price lower.  I assume they cut-down on their commission.  What I realized, recently, was this.  People in our industry place more value in customer loyalty and quality.  That drives the price and gets the sale.   And they get repeat business.

It’s easy to know the boundaries in business dealings; laws and practices are fairly black and white.  Life is a gray slippery slope.  Friendships ebb and flow in good times and in bad.  I don’t do a happy dance when a friend is down.  I try not to cast stones.  It is easy to judge someone else to make myself feel better.  But what does that do?  An eye for an eye; however you want to justify it.  When a friend is doing well I sometimes, do, get a twinge of envy.  But that doesn’t prevent me from sharing in that person’s happiness.  It is those that are prideful; the ones who shout words.  Look at what I have, look at what I do.   Just as my father-in-law retorted to the boys in the back, How long will you last?  It is those doors that will close.

I hope this doesn’t happen to me; to us.  I am reminded to be empathetic and tolerant of others’  behavior.  I need to live within my own morals and values; not outside them, appearing to be something I am not.  If I’m too busy reconciling bottom lines, what loyalty and quality does that relationship have for me?

The threads on the bolts circle the stainless steel.  I need to expand my fabric of life.


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