A true story about doing business with the wrong kinds of people
Written 1/2010 and rewritten 02/12/2016 unedited
Over the years, there have been many business lessons that I have learned, and this story is about one of them, it is one that I learned early on.
Not every business deal is a good one, In order for a business deal to be successful all parties need to be happy and sometimes due to dishonest people, mistakes or stupidity this does not happen, hopefully when those things happen no one is hurt and it becomes a good lesson for the future.
After correcting the mistake, an honest business person will usually say “I’ll never do that again”, I have sure learned my lesson.”
However if any of the people involved in a bad deal are dishonest or just plain stupid, it’s hard to tell who learned the lesson.
In 1965, I was twenty six years old and a junior partner in an automotive parts rebuilding company called A.P.I. which was located in Hialeah Florida.
I had bought into the company in late 1963, and by 1965, I was involved in sales, and calling on our customers all the way from South Miami to the City of Homestead.
My business partner’s son Don covered our customer sales in and around the
Sometimes to make an extra buck, Don and I would buy something together and then share a booth at a flea market to sell it on the weekends. Don’s father, the owner of the company, didn’t mind if we made extra money on the weekends, as long as it didn’t conflict with our normal business duties.
Every Wednesday, I would make a sales trip, calling on all of the auto parts stores and trucking companies doing business with us all along U.S. 1 heading south.
Once I reached Homestead I always stopped in to see a surplus and junk dealer, who had a scrap yard right outside Homestead Air force Base. I stopped to see him for several reasons, one was because he was buying all the scrap out of the Air force base, and sometimes he had parts that I could buy for our company to rebuild. The other reason was that I just loved to look at all the different kinds of junk he would haul off the Air Force base. This fellow had what was called a “Term Contract”, which meant he bid every year to haul off everything the Air Force base was throwing away. He once told me he only paid them 2 cents a pound, and he bid and got the contract every year.
Sometimes he would go on the Homestead base and pick up stuff that he just took straight to the dump, items that were pure trash and there was no money to be made on. But that was unusual because most of the stuff he picked up, he brought to his own scrap yard where a steady stream of people like me came by and bought it from him.
So every week, when I stopped by to see him, he would usually have a small pile of parts waiting for me to buy, and every week we would go through the same ritual, he would always want more money than the stuff was worth, and I would have to dicker with him. I hated dickering with him as I found that he was always a bit difficult to deal with, he seemed to lack common sense.
Now I had been doing this consistently every week for about three years. And by that time you would have thought he would have known the routine, as I was a regular customer. But strangely, every week he would act like it was the first time we ever did business together.
One day I drove into his yard and it was filled with stacks and stacks of boxes of magnetic computer tapes. They were each in a square flat box about two feet in diameter and about one inch thick. I picked up several of the boxes and they were from companies like IBM, or 3M, so I opened up one box and inside was a big aluminum reel, filled with hundreds of feet of magnetic computer tape. It appears that Homestead Air Force Base, had converted their old reel to reel computer tape over to a more modern system of floppy discs. They just erased all the reels of magnetic tapes and threw them in the trash.
The owner of the junk yard saw me looking at them and came over to see me. I asked him what he was going to do with all the computer reels. He said he was getting ready to haul them all to the dump, he told me that by the time you took the reels out of their boxes and then tried to get the magnetic tape off, you, would have wasted more time than the aluminum reel was worth in scrap. He said that he had over 2500 of them.
I told my junk man friend not to be too hasty by throwing the stuff in the dump, I said, let me take a sample and see if I could sell them to someone. In the back of my head I had remembered seeing similar aluminum reels at a surplus dealer’s warehouse in New York City.
When I got home, I dug around and found the company in New York’s old business card and I called them up. They said they were very happy to hear from me, and yes they always bought magnetic tapes on aluminum reels. I think that they were very excited to hear that I had 2500 pieces available and they asked if I could send them a sample, yes I said, I would sent them a sample by express mail, which I did.
About a week later I received a letter from them in the mail with a purchase order in it that they could buy all two thousand five hundred reels @ $1.00 ea. I was so excited that I could hardly talk.
That day, I went to work and told Don, about the deal that I had just made, and if he helped me, we would share in any profit equally, Don was as excited as I was.
That very afternoon, we both drove down to Homestead together to see the junk yard owner, and once we were there, I proudly took out the purchase order and showed it to him. He read that we had an offer of $1.00 each. I said, we could pay him fifty cents each, and my partner Don and I would pay for the packaging and shipping to New York.
After closely studying the letter, the surplus dealer asked me, “How do you know they will pay you?” Well, I said, I had done business with them in the past and I never had a problem with them, they always had appeared to be honest.
O K, he said, “How do you guys want to do it”.
Well, I said, my partner and I need to rent a U haul trailer and bring all the tapes to Miami where we can box them up. Then we need to call a freight company to come and pick them up to ship them to New York. Then he said, “I think you should pay me more”. I explained that the U haul trailer and the packing and the freight to New York, left Don and myself only a very little profit.
What I was really thinking was, here, this bum had gotten the stuff for almost free, and it was going to cost him hundreds of dollars to take it to the dump. But with us he would both get rid of the stuff and make a profit, he finally agreed.
The next day, Don and I rented a U-Haul trailer and we made two trips to the
Homestead yard, and we hand loading all the tapes to ship to Miami. This was horrible work to do for my partner Don as he wasn’t used to such physical labor in the heat.
That weekend we spent all day Saturday and Sunday packaging up the boxes of magnetic tape reels into larger and stronger, used, corrugated cardboard cartons and then we strapped each box with metal banding. It was summer, and it was very hot, but we finally had all the magnetic tapes packed up.
I called a local trucker named Southern Transport, and they said they would haul the whole lot to New York for $300.00, so the next day they came to pick the stuff up, but somehow they had forgotten to send a truck with a lift gate, so we had to load the entire shipment by hand again.
At this point we both agreed that the profit we were earning wasn’t enough to cover the costs and labor we were incurring.
The next day I called the buyers in New York to tell them that the shipment was on its way, and I asked them how long it would take them to pay us the $2500.00.
There was silence on the other end of the phone, finally he said, $2500.00, where did you get that figure from?
From your purchase order, I replied. I have it right here, you offered us $1.00 each. “No we didn’t he said, we offered you 10 cents each”.
I said, it’s impossible for you to offer 10 cents each when the freight to send it to you costs more than 10 cents each.
I looked at the purchase order, and I saw they had written $ .100 ea. I said, you purposely wrote it on your purchase order to look like $1.00 ea. Well that’s your problem the fellow in New York said to me.
I hung up the phone, and when my heart stopped pounding, I immediately called the trucking company, and the dispatcher said, I was in luck, the shipment was only in Atlanta Georgia, and they can turn it around, and return it for a cost of about $100.00. As I had no alternative, I had them return it to us. The next day the truck arrived in Miami and we unloaded it. This time Don rented a much larger and much more expensive U haul truck. And we drove the load of tapes back down to Homestead.
Once we were there, I explained to the junk yard guy what had happened, and I took out the purchase order from New York, and we all looked at it again. He agreed that it looked like they would pay $1.00 ea.
I told him that I was sorry, but Don and I were out the freight to Atlanta, the cost of the U haul trucks, and all the packaging labor. As long as we had all the tapes on the U haul truck, did he want us to take them to the dump for him for free, and we would pay for dumping it.
I told him I felt really bad about the situation and even though Don and I had lost quite a bit of money, I would pay for dumping the stuff in the garbage, which I knew was his intention in the first place.
He said, “No leave it all here, I can dump it after you give me the $1250.00.” you owe me.
Don and I unloaded the U Haul truck by hand again, and I again apologized to the guy, I said, look Don and I already have lost way over $500.00. I’m sorry for what happened, but I don’t intend on losing any more money. Especially as you really didn’t lose anything, let’s all shake hands and remain friends, he didn’t want to, and needless to say I never went to see him again.
It was indeed the worst mistake I had ever made back then in 1965, and I am sure I learned something, however, I think I have made some worse ones since.
A true story written 4/2000 and rewritten 02/2016 unedited
In 1959, I had a difficult decision to make, I had to decide if I wanted to return to New Haven State Teachers College and complete my second year there or quit.
I had lost interest in teaching for several reasons. One reason being that I didn’t like the idea of having to go out and teach kids that weren’t interested in being taught.
That meant teaching kids, who were like me, and who wanted to do that?
Another reason was I was just bored with college, it was hard to stay awake in English Literature classes at eight in the morning, and it was just impossible to sit there listening to a professor drone on about some author or another.
I was tired of it all, and at the end of the semester when we were supposed to write a biography on an author, I picked Mark Twain, and I copied his biography word for word out of an encyclopedia.
When I received it back from the Professor, I had received a “D” and he had corrected and edited the language used in the encyclopedia.
I started to think that I liked working at my part time job better than I liked going to college, so when my guidance counselor told me that not everyone was cut out for college, I took that as my exit. I could quit and get the hell out of there, I was sure I would be happier doing something else.
When I told my Father that I was thinking of dropping out of College, naturally he was upset, Dad was an accomplished journeyman electrician and he also taught school a few nights a week for the Electricians Union # 90 in New Haven.
I told dad that I was thinking of becoming an electrician like him, I said that I could probably earn more money than I could ever make being a teacher. My Father didn’t disagree with me, but told me that with a college degree I wouldn’t always be locked into just being an electrician, I knew he was right, so I promised him that I would just take some time off and eventually return to college.
Back in 1959, you couldn’t get a good trade job unless you were a member of a local union, but becoming a member of a union was nearly impossible unless you had pull, like someone on the inside to help you get in. Fortunately my father had the ability to get me in as an apprentice.
If you had asked me before, I never in a million years thought I would become an electrician. I knew from watching him that my father thoroughly enjoyed what he did, and I saw how he was constantly in demand day and night by people needing help with one electrical problem or another.
Our phone at home seemed to never stop ringing, always with people requesting my dad’s assistance. My father never refused to help anyone, and I knew dad didn’t help people for the money, because I don’t recall his ever charging any poor or elderly people for anything.
My dad just liked the satisfaction of helping people, and I thought I could do the same.
When I was younger, I remember that on many evenings dad would drag me to someone’s damp and moldy basement to hold a flashlight for him as he repaired their electrical problem. Naturally I would never hold the flashlight good enough to suit him as I was more focused on following spiders and bugs, so I don’t think my father ever expected that I would be interested in doing electrical work like he did.
So once my father realized that I was serious, about taking time off from college, he agreed that he would assist me in temporarily working in the electrical trade, but he made me promise it was always with the idea that I would be returning someday to college, and that was the deal we made.
Once my father got me into the local Electricians Union, he called an old friend working for large New Haven electrical contractor to see if they needed to hire any apprentice electricians. As soon as they heard that I was his son, they immediately hired me, thinking that I must be an electrical expert. In New Haven, when it came to residential or commercial electricity, my dad was the best there was in town.
So that’s how I got started in the electrical trade working as an electricians apprentice for the tidy sum of $1.37 an hour.
At first it was a little scary for me, because everyone I met, knew my father and they respected him, so they all naturally assumed that I knew what I was doing, which couldn’t have been farther from the truth.
The whole electrician apprentice thing got off on the wrong foot, as the very first job that they sent me to, I was working on the new addition to New Haven State Teachers College, the very college that I had just quit.
So here I was, standing up on scaffolding installing new fluorescent light fixtures while all my old school buddies walked below me yelling and waving to me. It certainly was strange feeling.
I found that I got along good with all my fellow electricians, and they started calling me “Step ladder”, because I was 6 foot 2 inches tall and I didn’t need to carry a step ladder to install the fluorescent bulbs in the new school class room fixtures.
Now the electrical foreman at the new addition knew my father very well, as they had both worked together in the past, so he naturally thought I must be an expert, just like my dad was. One day he gave me a huge box of electrical two way and three way electrical switches and told me to install them in every class room on the new first floor. I was too embarrassed to say I didn’t know how, I had never installed one of those switches before in my life, so I just took the box from him like I really knew what I was going to do.
I went into the first new classroom and looked the situation over. There were rows and rows of new fluorescent fixtures on the ceiling, and all the switches I was supposed to install were very special and very complicated. They had to make the lights go on and off from different ends of the room, also they had to be able to turn on and off certain rows of lights. I had never seen anything like it in my entire life, and I was truly stumped.
I was sweating profusely, and I was too embarrassed to ask anyone how to do it. How could Jake’s son not know how to install around 30 three way switches? I could just hear all the electricians laughing at me.
Well after making quite a few mistakes, I started reading the instructions. I was sure grateful for my college education, and after a few bad connections and quite a few short circuits, the job was done, I couldn’t believe it myself, and to this day, I will never know if they gave me that project just to see what would happen.
After a few weeks on the job, I was got the feeling that as an apprentice, I got to do all the jobs that no one else wanted to do. On the one hand, that was OK with me but let me tell you how it nearly killed me.
One of the jobs I had was the pulling of hundreds of feet of electrical wire through the conduit piping that was in the walls of all the classrooms.
All buildings have a main high voltage room, that’s where the high voltage current comes into the building from the main electric pole outside on the street. You had to be real careful in the high voltage room for obvious reasons, because if you touched anything you could easily be electrocuted.
Well, the old timer electrician I was working for, asked me to push a metal “Snake” into a conduit going to the high voltage room. A snake is a long metal wire that you push into electrical conduit and then you pull it back after electrical wires were attached to it.
The old timer told me to push the snake into the pipe and he would go to the high voltage room to stop the snake from hitting the live electricity there.
Well after I had pushed in about a hundred feet of steel snake the old timer came in the room with a cup of coffee in his hand. He had forgotten I was pushing the snake in. He dropped the cup of coffee and ran to the high voltage room. It was a close call for me as the metal snake I was pushing went everywhere in the high voltage room, but never hit the high voltage current, and I wasn’t electrocuted.
When my dad heard what had happened, he understandably was upset, as I could have been killed, so he made a phone call.
I was then transferred to a different job and I think the old timer was officially retired.
My new job was at a construction site for a new sixteen story condominium building called
“University Towers”, it was being built in down town New Haven, which was my hometown.
By the time I arrived there, they were just working on the third floor, and there were thirteen more floors to go.
This type of construction was a totally new experience for me, and a whole different aspect as to what an apprentice electrician on commercial construction project does.
All electrical wiring in a new building has to run through metal tubing called conduit, and conduit comes in all sizes, from ½ inch diameter all the way up to 6 inches. However the most popular sizes used are ½ inch, ¾ inch, 1 inch, and 1-1/4 quarter inch, they are the popular sizes that must go into the concrete floors and walls before the concrete is poured.
My job, along with another apprentice electrician was to pre-bend bundles of conduit pipe.
It was backbreaking work, but for the electricians working on new hotels floor, called the “slab”, the work went quicker and easier for them as they didn’t have to bend the conduit. A crane lifted up the 100 pound bundles of pre-bent conduit pipes that we made, to where the electricians needed them.
When I first arrived there was another apprentice already bending the conduit, so together we were able to bend enough conduit so as not to cause a slowdown for the electricians working on the new floor. We worked like a couple of crazy men bending conduit from 8 AM to 5 PM, every day. It was the hardest labor intensive job I had ever done. But after a while, the other apprentice stopped coming in. I heard that he was transferred to another job, so now I was doing it all by myself.
As I bent the bundled of conduit I would see people in suits walking around and checking what we were doing. I recognized one fellow to be a big shot from the company I was working for, and I saw him watching me. As I had his attention, I introduced myself and said that I had been working for the company for over six months and had never received the first raise. I told him that all I was getting was $1.37 an hour.
He said, “Don’t worry kid, I have been watching you.” you are doing a great job, let me see what I can do about it”. That was wonderful, after hearing that, I knew I had been speaking to the right guy.
When Friday came, I was so excited to receive my pay envelope, I couldn’t wait to open it, I closed my eyes, and then I looked. My pay had been increased by ½ cent per hour. That meant I got an additional 20 cents each week. I couldn’t believe that was what the company thought of me, and here I was, only one apprentice supporting all the electricians building University Towers.
The next Monday, the workers were getting ready to pour the slab of the apartment buildings fourteenth floor. They announced that the lifting crane that hoisted my bundles of conduit was broken.
As each bundle of conduit weighed over 100 pounds, I lifted one up onto my shoulder and started walking up the new metal stairways that had just been put in the building. I knew I would have to walk up the entire 14 flours. By the time I reached the 12th floor there were no more metal stairs, only wooden temporary ladders that had been installed by the carpenters. So I bent over and carried the 100 pound bundle up the last three stories. I did it bent over with my free hand balancing myself holding on to the ladder.
When I reached the top I dropped the bundle of conduit off my shoulder and I found that I couldn’t stand up straight anymore, I was bent way over, and my back hurt awful.
Hunched over, I slowly made it to the first floor and notified the foreman, and he said I needed to see a workman’s compensation doctor.
I crossed the street bent over and tried to get in my car, I couldn’t.
After about a ½ hour I backed my way into the driver’s seat and drove to the doctor’s office.
At the doctor’s office, the nurse asked me to have a seat, here I was hunched over, so I told her I could sit.
Eventually the doctor saw me and suggested that I was faking the back pain to get out of work. He taped me up and I went home and rested up just enough to quit my job.
My father was right, a college education sure started to look a lot better to me.