You Don’t “Owe” Me (psst….yeah, you do)

Posted on Posted in Identity Marketing, Integrity, Promotional Merchandise

I do a lot of things in life for a variety of reasons.  Rarely is it in hopes of personally benefiting.  This is an exception to the rule.  This is a story from fifteen years ago, where I did have some expectations.  Yeah…I’ll flat out say it: the guilty party here did “owe” me.  You’ll read the story; it’s all true.  It’s an updated version of a column originally published in Identity MarketingI owe them enough to at least drop their name from time to time.

I warn you: this post is about honor.  Integrity.  Doing the right thing.  Don’t tell me “it’s just business…nothing personal”.  This was business and it was personal.

Back in my garmento days, I was presented with a fairly large program opportunity.  This lead came to me directly from a “civilian” friend, an end-user, who was preparing to put together an entire corporate identity catalogue by himself.  Apparel was going to be a large part of this program, and he knew that at the time I worked for one of the promotional industry’s largest clothing companies.  As such, this seemed like a gimmie.

In my usual role as a consultant, I lead the conversation and we certainly discussed apparel.  After a while, I asked about the rest of the program.  What other items were being considered?  Who was going to handle the fulfillment?  What about customer service?  These were all issues that he had not taken into consideration when he’d called me; he’d just wanted some shirts and jackets!  Me and my big mouth.

I explained that there were companies who could handle all of the above for him (for the sake of this story, let’s refer to them as “distributors”).  Yes, he could purchase the apparel from these distributors, along with the lapel pins, coffee mugs, pens, and all the other items he’d been getting from a variety of sources (can you say “mail order”?).

It was one of those “light bulb” moments we all seek: that moment of recognition that the person not in our industry “gets” what we’ve been talking about all this time.  He “got it”, right there and then, and asked me if I could suggest someone who could handle all of the above for him.  Considering a number of factors, I suggested one distributor in particular.

I called the big-guy at this distributor, and told him what was going on.  My gift to him, as it was.   He needed to set up a meeting with this end-user and, as long as he didn’t find some way to foul this up, he’d just been presented with a very nice program.  He thanked me, and we left it at that.

Several months passed before I spoke with my friend again regarding his program. He couldn’t thank me enough, saying that he and the distributor were all over this, finalizing the product selection, catalogue printing, fulfillment…the whole package.  Everything was going according to plan, and he was quite happy with the way it was working.  He especially liked the distributor with whom I’d connected him.  I knew I’d picked the right company.

It was more out of lack of small talk than curiosity, but I asked about the product selection.  He rattled off the brand name pens, watches, awards, this-and-that, and then got to the apparel.  He named some of the items, none of which I recognized.

Well…that’s not entirely true.  I did recognize the names of these items.  I also recognized that they did not come from my product line.  Running through the list in my head, I came to the realization that, not only did they not have a single one of my items in this program, every apparel item included came from just one of my competitors.

Without jumping ugly with my friend the end-user, I asked how they came up with this collection.  He said that the distributor had suggested these items during presentation, and they were approved by committee.  Fighting back my nausea, I casually mentioned that there was not a single one of my products in this program.  My friend was naturally surprised.  He didn’t realize this when they were going over the items; he simply thought that the label on the garment was one of our other lines.

We got off the phone, and I immediately called the distributor.  To say that I was annoyed was an understatement.  As calmly as possible, I asked him how the product selection was determined, and he said that these were the items that the customer had selected.  After digging a little deeper, he told me that he gets special pricing from this competitor of mine, so it was more beneficial for him to go with that line.

Didjaever see a cartoon where a character’s head explodes?  Picture that, with good hair.

I reminded the distributor of how he got this program.  I reminded him of who it was that brought it to him on a silver platter.  I asked him how could he not include a single item from my line; much less make it the primary source of apparel.

I think the thing that blew me away the most was his just not getting the point that I was trying to make.  Where was the loyalty here?  Not that I expected to get 100% of the apparel in this program, I suppose I did think that there was some obligation to at least throw us a bone!

Nothing.  Do you hear me?  Nothing.

Guilt is a wonderful motivator.  Ask any (insert ethnic background of your choice) mother.  Even though the catalogue was about to go to the printer, he would find a way to include at least one of our items in it, and (yes, there’s more) use us for the periodic specials they’d be offering.  No guarantees, of course, that the customer would select our item, but, every effort would be made to promote our line for this purpose.

Remember that great movie from the 70’s, Dog Day Afternoon?  It contains one of my favorite lines of all times.  “Kiss me”, says Al Pacino’s character, Sonny.  “Kiss me.  I like to be kissed when I’m being …”.  You know the rest.  If not, let me know and I’ll fill in the blank.

Suffice to say, this was the last time I referred any business to that distributor.  Yes, I was pissed.  Yes, I genuinely felt that he owed me.

Yes, I can hold a grudge with the best of them.

Mike Schenker, MAS
Mike Schenker, MAS, is an award-winning promotional products industry professional and All That at Mike Schenker, Consulting. He’s been a distributor and a supplier, and has a view of our industry which can best be described as “unique”.  He takes the promotional products business very seriously, but not himself, and his reflections on all things imprinted can be found in his monthly column for PromoCorner.  He is one of the admins of the popular Promotional Products Professionals group on Facebook, a two-time candidate for the PPAI Board of Directors (but he’s not bitter), a member of the SAAGNY Hall of Fame, and the recipient of the 2014 PPAI Distinguished Service Award.
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