Thirty four months ago I didn’t know Paul very well. Yes, I had very regular encounters with him. But, for the most part I didn’t give him much thought. He was just one of the people floating around at the edges of my life, omnipotent, but stealthy. On the other hand, having owned my own company over 25 years, I knew Peter quite well.
For the first 22 years I owned my company, even the bad times weren’t that bad. Business may not be great, but it sure as hell beat working for a living. When business was good, it was really good. When business was bad, it just meant I went to Florida on my vacation, not the Virgin Islands. It meant instead of filet mignon for dinner, I had a rib-eye. Instead of Bud Light, I... well, there is no compromise here.
But, the point is, business was just something that happened every day. You show up, you flip your sign from Closed to Open, you spend 8-10 hours doing that thing that you do, then you flip your sign from Open back to Closed and go home. Then you get up and do it all over again the next day... and the next day.... and the next.
It was easy to take for granted and I’ll be the first to admit that I took it for granted. Then 34 months ago it all changed, and I finally met Paul!
At first Paul was acting pretty cool and never spoke of Peter. Paul didn’t care that once in a while I’d rob from Peter just to pay his sorry ass.
Then about midway through this recession Paul changed. Paul started demanding I rob from Peter to pay him. It wasn’t a suggestion, it was a demand. Even though as business owners our cash flow is sporadic at times, and we occasionally rob Peter to pay Paul, it’s just part of being an entrepreneur. Cash flow management is just part of the game. And... Peter never really suffered.
Now Peter is suffering just like the rest of us and is no longer available to be robbed. He needs his money just like Paul needs his. So how do we manage this?
In business you play both roles. You’re Peter and Paul! Sometimes someone is spending money that they planned on paying me with, and using it to pay someone else, thus causing me to rob from one of my Peters to pay one of my Pauls. And sometimes it’s me that’s not paying Peter because Paul’s being a total jerk. We’ve all got our Peters and we’ve all got our Pauls, but most of us only intimately knew Peter. Paul, like I said in the beginning, is always there, but I didn’t really know him... ‘til now.
We all have certain people in our lives that think that they are above the fray. The recession doesn‘t matter to them, and they think that they deserve to be first in line to get paid - always. That no matter what, they are not to be messed with. Well, guess what, something’s about to change.
Somehow, during this damned recession I’ve managed to keep everyone current. I’ve paid nothing late, no checks have bounced, and for the most part, I’ve honored every commitment I signed up for. But, at the 3 year mark, there’s a bunch of those commitments expiring, and a lot of Pauls are starting to realize they should have been just a little more understanding over the last several years.
Everything from insurance renewals, to cell phone contracts, to my cable TV expires eventually. I was locked into a contract when the economy crashed, and the ‘Paul’ I had to pay would basically say, “Sorry son, there’s nothing I can do. You’re under contract till August of 2011.” Which brings me to my point... how do I suddenly know Paul?
Paul is coming around a lot here lately. Paul has lots of paperwork. Paul has lots of brochures with lots of exciting money saving offers. Most of them at half of what I’ve been paying over the last several years. Paul is suddenly very willing to cut my price in half for the next contract term. Hell, if he would have done that 3 years ago when this thing started I’d sign without question. Now he can kiss my butt.
Paul is suddenly my best friend, but I’ve got news for him. I wouldn’t pee on him if he were on fire, unless I could pee gasoline. I wouldn’t renew with some people and some companies if my life depended on it. When I needed the help, they hid behind “the contract.” Now as business is starting to normalize I don’t need any help, and now that the contract is expiring, they’re squirming because I, and a lot of people, are bailing on them.
Through it all though, Peter has been the understanding one. As I stated earlier, I’ve been a Peter and I’ve been a Paul, but I like to think I was a cool Paul.
I’m noticing now that for about the last 8-10 months I’ve been running at a very steady 50% of revenues from the good old days of 2007. At 50% I can pay all the bills and keep the lights on, but I’m sta-cationing, not vacationing. And, about 2-3 days a week I hit 100%.
This is a far cry from the depths of the Great American Recession of late. But, this means that I’m still robbing Peter to pay Paul, but it’s just a little bit, and just for a day or so, so it’s cool. It kinda reminds me of when I first started in business and this was just the way it was. I was new and didn’t have any customers and had to fight for every dollar. Now, I’ve got tens of thousands of customers and they’re all slowly starting to filter back in and say, “Hi Chuck, it’s my anniversary on Friday. I need something nice for my wife.”
I think once we get through the summer doldrums, we’re gonna have a pretty good year all in all. I’m starting to look forward to coming in every day again and having lots of work and lots of customers to deal with. Whew! To say it has been tough to be in business through this whole thing would be the understatement of the century.
I hope everyone has a great summer and if you’re going to be at the Atlanta Jewelry Show, stop by our booth on Sunday and say hello and take a picture with me for our Facebook page. Our booth is right beside the main entrance as you walk into the show. And remember, as always, the best way to say hi to me is; “Hey Chuck. Can I buy you a Bud Lite?”
Chuck is the owner of Anthony Jewelers in Nashville, TN. Chuck also owns CMK Co., a wholesale trade shop that specializes in custom jewelry and repair services to the jewelry industry nationwide.
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