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A leopard can't change its spots...

Posted on December 7, 2012 at 6:10 PM

...and a Jerk can’t change his true nature.


Many years ago, when young(er) John was just starting out in this home theater industry, he crossed paths with someone we’ll call Mr. Menace.


Menace was building a fairly large new home and expressed extreme interest in having all of the latest and coolest technology of the day: A dedicated media room with front projector, 7-channel surround and tiered seating, a golf simulator room, full housewide audio and lighting control.


His new home was located about 45-minutes (one-way) from our showroom, but that didn’t matter. This was a 6-figure job back when that really meant something, and young(er) John spared no amount of time when it came to doing the full-court hussle trying to win over Mr. Menace.


There were multiple meetings at his jobsite. Walk-thrus discussing system design and equipment location. Recommendations on how construction changes could improve the room and performance. Notes written on studs of where things should go. I worked up scaled drawings of the room showing elevations and different viewing angles and speaker positions. I overnighted him packets of literature and proposals. I cut a vacation short to drive back from Alabama to meet with Mr. Menace when he said he was leaving town and needed to meet with me urgently to discuss the system.


And, when it came time for Mr. Menace to make sweet-sweet business love and consummate our deal by signing on the dotted line, he said, “You’re crazy if you expect me to pay these prices! I’m not paying anywhere near retail! You need to give me a giant discount if you think that I’m going to do business with you. I expect to pay a percentage over wholesale and then just hire you to put it all in. You rework this and get back to me if you want to do the job.”


I was blindsided and crushed by this news. This was going to be my largest project to date, and I was excited by all of the different elements that would have resulted in a truly killer system. More so, I didn’t know where I’d gone so wrong in my reading the situation. I’d done literally everything to try and earn Mr. Menace’s business and show him that we were the right company to do his install. And leading up to this conversation, I thought we were both on the same page and headed towards that wonderful moment where he signs the contract and hands over the deposit check and we shake hands on what an awesome system I’m going to deliver.


We ultimately told Mr. Menace that we weren’t interested in that arrangement -- my partner says I made some comment like, "You wouldn't expect to walk into a Cadillac dealership and tell them you expected to pay wholesale pricing" -- and he ended up taking all of my designs to someone else who put in a system for him.


And I forgot about him (but not really) for about 12 years.


At which point I got an email from one of my reps.


It read:


Good afternoon, John, & Happy Holidays!


I received a consumer call from a gentleman in your fair city listed below, and had an engaging conversation about fitting a new XXX into his existing room!  Attached are two designs, as sent to him, both engineered to fit into his restrictions.   (I did mention those prices did not include the freight...)  In any case, he asked me to recommend him to an area dealer, so of course, I thought of you, sir.  


Let me know how this all turns out, and Thanks, John!


I scrolled down and saw the name: Mr. Menace.


And my left eye started twitching.


I sat staring at email and my monitor for a minute and then asked my partner what he thought I should do. This caused him to immediately go into a lengthy tirade about how that guy wasted our time, how he stole my design, how he was a cheapskate that was never going to buy anything from us, how he got into an altercation with his builder when he had a bunch of building materials trucked in from out of state for the builder to use, and how I should call the rep and tell him all of this.


I let it simmer for a day. Until I got a follow up e-mail from my rep, making sure I got the first e-mail and seeing how it went. I decided that 12 years was a long time, and what was the worst that could happen? And, how knows, the guy might have changed and now we might get a decent sale out of it.


So, I called him up and (re)introduced myself and explain that we got his contact information from the manufacturer and that they asked me to follow up with him. I say that I’ve seen the quotes they provided and that I’m the local authorized dealer and that I’d be happy to answer any questions about the quotes and sell him the product.


“How much?”


“We would absorb the shipping charges, so the price quoted on the proposal would be the price.”


“Oh, no! That’s ridiculous! That price is suggested retail! I’m not paying that! Huh-uh. No. No way. You’re gonna need to do better.”


“Well, we do absorb the shipping, but that would be our price.”


“Look, I’m friends with the company president! if you think I'm going to pay retail pricing, you're crazy. I’ll just call him up and deal with him directly and tell him to have you sell it to me at wholesale.”


“We aren’t in the business of selling things at wholesale. But, if you really are friends with the company president, I suggest that you DO call him. That’s what I’d do. In fact, I don’t even know why you wouldn’t have just started there. If you really are friends with him.”


“If I call him, then I’m gonna make sure you’re cut out of the deal.”


“OK. That’s fine. I think you should call him.”


“This was supposed to have all been handled. I called that rep and told him. He was supposed to handle all this. He didn’t tell you to give me a better price on this?”


“No, sir. He just passed along your contact information and the quotes.”


“Well, I had a long talk with him and I explained all of this already. So here’s what you need to do. You need to call your rep up and you need to get this all sorted out and then you need to give me a call back with a better price.”


“Uh-huh.”


“I’ll pay the freight, and I’ll give you a little something for your time, but there’s no way I’m paying retail. So you call him and then get back to me.”


“OK. Sure.”


I hang up the phone and my partner say, “I give you props for calling that guy, but, I knew it! Once a jerk*, always a jerk*! He’s never gonna change and never gonna buy anything from us.” (Then there was a few minutes of profanities cleverly strung together.) (* And he might not have said "jerk.")


I honestly can’t think of why Mr. Menace would have thought that he could bully or browbeat me into selling him this product at a discounted price. Seriously, what is my motivation to do *anything* to help him out? It isn’t like he was holding the promise of a big job out there or that we had done lots of work in the past or that I don’t remember him totally bone-holing me…


“Wow! You mean, I can sell you this at wholesale?! And you’ll pay the shipping?! And give me a little something for helping you out?! Oh, gee whiz, mister! That’s just the swellest bunch of swelly-swell ever!”


I called my rep up and described the conversation – and our past experience -- and explained that in no way were we interested in cutting Mr. Menace ANY kind of deal and that we – frankly – could care less if he bought the product from us or not. However, as good little dealers, if he repented and wanted to buy the product at full retail, we’d be happy to oblige.


To his credit, our rep totally took our side on this and said he couldn’t believe the nerve of the guy and that he mentioned he used to golf occasionally with the company president, but that he made it clear that the company did NOT sell directly to customers or dictate that dealers discount products. Further he said he’d be calling the president to explain how out of line his “friend” was and apologized for sending me such a jackknife.


It just goes to prove the old saying; lovers gotta love, haters gotta hate. Or, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t hold its head under the water until it stops being a jerk.

Categories: December 2012, CTA, Rants

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5 Comments

Reply Richard Fregosa
6:35 PM on December 7, 2012 
This one literally made the acid in my stomach churn. Early in my career I was prone to chasing brass ring projects and clients. Visions of covers of AVI and sugar plums dancing in my head.

Over time I learned too, that unlike a customer, a client is someone who you in some ways get invariably married to. And if you don't like them at the outset, chances are it isn't going to get better over time.

Props for your diplomacy, I think that haters gonna hate but more to the point a bully is a bully - and the only way to deal with them is to freeze them out.
Reply ted_g
7:03 PM on December 7, 2012 
You handled that WAY better than I would have. But I have to say...like your partner...I learned a long time ago that - as the post title says - a leopard can't change his spots.

Let this guy put someone else out of business...

And by the way, I found your willingness to give him another chance...charming!
Reply The Tim Channel
6:12 AM on December 8, 2012 
I have had my fair share of "pie in the sky" customers. For purposes of discussion, that group will include the rich tightwads, the tire kickers, the assorted dreamers & tech groupie time wasters as well as the "I know or am a friend of the owner" abusers. The wisdom of acquired knowledge (and customer base if you stay in one area long enough) taught me how to avoid the time wasters. There was always one young sales guy who wanted to impress you with his tech acumen, so the guy who wanted to talk tech *(but not spend money) got shuffled off. When computers first hit consumer market none of us knew enough DOS to sell them at first. The commissions were horrible. Customer support a NIGHTMARE. But there was this ONE guy who liked that crap. While he was making twenty bucks selling a cheap computer, I was busy making a hundred on a large car stereo install. ***Once it became profitable to sell PC's, I became a PC expert quite quickly, since I had the entire company stock to practice working on.

Good customers. I've had a few. I was in a position of being able to direct order almost any Sony specialty product. Very high end stuff. There were a couple guys who bought from me all the time (at full retail) just because of my access to the product and oversight of it's delivery to them. Kind of guys who were into reading their vinyl records using lasers instead of phono needles (in the early era of CD's no less!). I've had pro football players wander into the store and tell me they needed a new stereo. Bought everything I pointed at and invited me to the party at his condo. That was cool. There have been others. The delivery and set-ups that morphed into something weird and wonderful, but it was the 70's....

LOL.
Reply The Tim Channel
6:31 AM on December 8, 2012 
About the Sorting/Weeding Out Process

Make sure you have one. Consultation fees or something. If the dude wants to feel "special" then he needs to pay for it like anybody else. Some of the best customers are rich guys who value YOUR time as much as they value THEIRS and realize you are in the business to make a profit. Being over-eager is not an asset on your part. If you think sorting wheat from chaff is bad in consumer electronics let me share a story. I was in a sales position for a major internet provider when every Tom Dick and Harry thought he could throw up an online store and get rich. Some of these knuckleheads didn't even have an actual product idea! I think it around the time Tom Bosley was selling internet stores in a box on continuous late night infomercial. Internet database management and online credit processing were relatively new and while pennies compared to a brick and mortar investment, still involved thousands of dollars in processing and setup. At the end of the day, I was able to pull a handful of legitimate clients out of the sea of muck I dealt with most of the time. You quote HIGH and chase most of the people away. The ones who don't run are the ones you work with. Enjoy.
Reply Steve Faber
4:45 PM on December 8, 2012 
John,

Been there, done that. I feel for you. Was the gerntleman an auto delaer, by any chance? Just a shot in the dark. It's surprising that he would think that since you'd managed to remain in business for the intervening 12 years, you would welcome a deal like that.