Making a Tough Call

By Vickers, Allen | Business Credit, March 2010 | Go to article overview

Making a Tough Call


Vickers, Allen, Business Credit


What action is warranted when a customer continues to make and break payment promises on a seasonal product they ordered--and the season has past? Like most credit managers would do, when the dollar amount justifies it, I decided to make a personal call. Of course that meant coordinating the visit with a sales representative who covered that area of the United States. Little did I realize what an adventure that would turn out to be!

For years, my philosophy had been to establish a close, working relationship with sales reps in hopes of having an additional set of "eyes and ears" out in the field. Since the incident occurred, of which I am about to relate, my expectations have been modified a bit.

As the credit manager for a major sporting goods manufacturer, I scheduled road trips periodically with sales reps in order to accomplish several objectives.

* Such visits provided an opportunity to observe different styles of management of sporting goods stores. In some cases owners were ex-jocks, others were hunters, some were unskilled entrepreneurs, and a few were business people. For those owners that wanted to treat their stores as an extension of their hobbies rather than like a business, it was often a difficult transition for them.

* Personal visits also provided a chance to meet longstanding customers, face-to-face, and connect with people who had only been a voice over the phone for years.

* These trips enabled me to personally see the operations of high maintenance customers, allowing me to make a more informed decision as to the best course of action for those accounts.

* Additionally, it became an educational two-way street. It gave me a better understanding of issues confronting sales reps while it also gave them insight into the pitfalls of selecting poor customers that usually become bad debt accounts.

Easton Sports, the company for which I was working, was a leading manufacturer of archery equipment as well as other sporting goods products. Even though some 30% of the archery products were made for competitive target shooting, the majority was made for hunting.

One year, weeks after the hunting season was over, I was on an airplane to meet a sales rep that covered several states in the Northeast. After picking me up from the airport, we began visiting a number of customers in his territory. Our last stop was an unannounced visit to a seriously delinquent customer in Brewster, New York.

That morning in Brewster, the sales rep and I were sitting in a large van across the street from the sporting goods shop in a vacant parking lot, waiting for it to open. While sitting there, the rep told me how the owner had two businesses that had been combined into one location. One was a sporting goods store, while the other business was a night club, which helped utilize the spacious building he had purchased. After a few minutes of discussing the issues we had experienced with this account, the rep nervously remarked, "I realize that some action has to be taken, so whatever you decide to do, I will back you."

Glancing across the street, my first impression was that this storefront was not the most inviting place to visit. That impression was not lessened any as I observed someone peeking through the slats of drawn blinds, watching us as we sat there. But finally the time arrived for the store to open so we went across the street and knocked on the door. Several knocks later, an employee opened the door. After presenting our cards to her, we asked to speak with the owner. She motioned for us to follow her to an office area, and then asked us wait as she disappeared down a long, dark hallway. …

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