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For as long as I can remember I’ve always been very fortunate to surround myself with good friends. My earliest memories of structured friendship began in the third grade. I met a kid sitting next to me on the very first day of class, his name was Ben Rodway. To this day I consider Ben one of my very best friends. Unfortunately we’ve lost a little bit of a connection the last couple of years. Ever since he returned home from the war in Iraq. That’s okay because we go through these spells in our life. We’ll go 3 or 4 years without talking and then the next thing you know we pick right up where we left off, without missing a beat.
I became pretty good at cultivating friendships as I got older and have always tried to have a good core group of people around me who are positive and also like to stay connected. About 10 years ago I started working very hard on the relationship element in my life, especially with the men in my life.
It gives me great pride to call someone a friend and in turn be just as good of a friend. I believe friendships are a lot like crops. You have to nurture them, pay attention to the elements and hopefully harvest many returns as you move through life.
I’ve always had a “best friend” but as of late that has shifted. I have lots of best friends, with my wife leading the pack. I describe a best friend as someone who brings contentment to your life. Someone that you can just hop in the car with and take off down the road without even having to talk. The silent energy that is created between both people is enough to fuel your happiness.
My dad always told me that if you have 2 or 3 really good friends in life you’re lucky. I’ve always had at least 10 people that I can say are some of my best friends. I mean someone that you can confide in unconditionally. Right now I think that number is about 12 or 13. At any given moment I can pick up the phone and call one of these people and they’ll listen to what I have to say, and I return the favor just as easy by listening or asking them about their day.
Sometimes I go through periods when I don’t want to speak with anyone but that’s a rarity. Any given day I’ll reach out to 25 or 30 people, just checking in to see how their day is going. From a retrospective point of view I believe this is what keeps me going every day. I get up in the morning thinking about all of the great things that could come my way….usually involving a friend or two.
Chinese symbol for Friendship
Over the past 20+ years I’ve maintained a lot of relationships with people in business. Everyone from friends, family members and complete strangers. I’m yet to find that ideal “road map” for partnerships when it comes to small business. I’ve been a good partner to some and probably not so good to others but if there’s one thing that I’ve learned over the years is to always try and finish any business relationship on a “high note.”
I love this quote “A person’s true character is most evident during the ending stages of a relationship, a lot more than in the beginning.”
It’s very easy to jump into a business or become partners with people but to keep it going is a lot more difficult. When and if something goes bad or people aren’t happy with the day to day chores of the business it’s imperative to try and finish the partnership on the highest note possible.
Life is way to short to burn bridges and work against each other, especially if everyone stays in business in the same community. So, the next time you feel like a business relationship is falling apart and there’s no salvaging the partnership work as hard as you can to remain positive, upbeat and focused on the good things to come in the future. Get through the negativity and difficult areas of the relationship as fast as possible through effective communication, hopefully moving on to bigger and better things, for all parties.
Always remember this…take each experiences in business, both good and bad, and learn from them. In the long run you’ll be glad you did.
Probably the two most overused words these days in business are “customer service.” I was on a webinar not long ago that addressed the issue of so many people touting superior and exemplary problem handling skills within their organization. The sum of the lesson was that our newest generation of customers and clients have come to expect a strong customer service department and are refusing to settle for any less…in a nutshell, if you are in business you had better make good customer relation skills first and foremost in the delivery of your product or service.
Easier said than done, huh? My suggestions and outlook on this particular topic tend to weigh more on the simplistic side, let me give you a quick back story…
My earliest memory of customer service began in a u-pick vegetable patch. The Crum family u-pick farm on Hamburg Pike in Jeffersonville, Indiana to be exact. We had most vegetables available for picking but my vegetable of choice was green beans. We had an interesting management structure in our family and unfortunately since I was the youngest I ranked at the very bottom. So, I had to woo customers with my charm, even at 5 or 6 years old. My tasks usually fell somewhere between greeting new customers, taking them lemonade (for a tip of course) and helping them carry big bushel baskets of freshly picked veggies to their respective cars.
I remember my mom and dad always reinforcing the importance of thanking the customers for their business. To this day, the words of my father ring very loud in my mind, body and soul “Business goes where it’s asked and stays where it’s appreciated!” Sounded good to me, without trying too hard I made sure I thanked everyone that came to our home for their own down on the farm experience.
From the very beginning I loved helping people, especially the little old ladies, probably because they gloated on me and told me how cute I was. As I got older I went into business with my grandfather for one season. Marvin Crum was a great man and probably was better with money management than anyone I’ve ever met. Our partnership agreement was a full 50/50 split after expenses. This was my first real lesson in partnerships and learned pretty quick that the one controlling the money was in full control. Grandpa fronted the money for the seeds and supplies of our own green bean patch. I agreed to help him with the planting and waiting on customers. I remember counting the profits as we planted the seeds, first crucial mistake. To this day I’m not sure how little money I made that summer but I did learn great things from watching my grandpa wait on customers and help them enjoy their “u-pick” experience.
To this day, over 30 years later, I work very hard at making sure my customers receive the very best service that I can provide. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve stumbled, fallen down and even screwed up in this area over the years, maybe that’s why good customer relations skills are so important to me now.
So, with that said, here’s my advice for the small business person, entrepreneur, large corporation customer service department and anyone else willing to listen…
- Always smile when communicating with a customer, even if you are sending them an email, text or especially in person, it makes a difference.
- Be appreciative of the business, regardless of how tough it gets, some business sure beats no business.
- Apply the golden rule of dealing with other people, treat them how you would like to be treated.
- Remember that “Thoughts Become Things,” you can always direct the conversation and situation from a positive point of view.
This August will mark my 22nd year anniversary from auction school graduation. I was seventeen years old and not really sure why I was going. I remember standing in front of the full length mirror in my bedroom with my wide brim Stetson hat perched high on my head. It was late one night after mom and dad had gone to bed. The moment was surreal. I didn’t look into the mirror, I looked into myself. I had the hat on and started my whisper of a chant. I only stood in front of that mirror once. Secretly I was afraid of what I saw.
One of my best childhood memories was when my dad told me, my brother and sister that he was going to auction school. We were living in an old farm house that belonged to my great-grandfather.
Dad coming home from auction school is a storybook memory for me. The first thing I wanted to hear was his chant. I wanted to hear my dad auctioneer like one of the men from the sale barn my grandpa would take me to on Saturday nights. A lot of kids in my generation grew up going to ball games and the movies for entertainment on a Saturday night. Not me. I was going to auctions or sale barns. When my dad was getting started he would go to other auctions to keep an eye on his competition. He wanted to see what they were doing, both right and wrong.
I think dad must have sold every single item in our house at auction. His wife, three kids and the cat were his bidders. He confesses there was a time when he sold our kitchen table and other basic necessities to raise money to provide for his family.
From the time I was seven to 17 I denied my chart of course for the auction business. Then one day, I’m off to auction school. My dad put me on a bus to Kansas City to attend two weeks of auction training. Our deal: I ride the Greyhound bus to Kansas City and he’d pick me up two weeks later. The bus ride was my rite of passage into manhood. It provided a brief glimpse of what it meant to be a man. I hated that bus ride. It took almost 20 hours (twice the time by conventional auto methods) to get to my final destination. Now, 22 years later, I love what the ride taught me. The next two weeks flew by and I had a great time. I was independent from my sheltered world of Southern Indiana. A couple of older guys from the class took me under their wing and made sure I behaved myself. Every year when August rolls around I get sentimental and conjure up nostalgic feelings about my auction education.
After graduating from auction school I came home and sold the very next day. For the next 10 months I sold at probably 20 auctions, all the while earning my auctioneer and real estate sales licenses. I graduated high school early that summer and decided to enter the family auction business full time until I decided what I really wanted to do with my life.
Less than a month after high school graduation my dad was diagnosed with throat cancer. The first thing I wondered was “what did this mean for me?” How would I deal with dad and his cancer. In the beginning I had no idea what it meant to be a laryngectomee, let alone know how to spell the word. My dad had his surgery in mid July. The day after his surgery I had my first auction while he laid in bed in the hospital room some five hours away. My constant worry was how hard this was for me. I was young and scared. Now wonder how hard that must have been for my father. The auction was a success thanks to friends helping out, our family reputation and my dads ability to never quit.
After the auction I drove to St. Louis to see my dad. Nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to experience. I raced to Barnes Hospital at Washington University in St. Louis. I made my way to the hospital room as fast as I could. Crossing the threshold into the hospital room meant there was no turning back. Once I saw dad and what happened to him I knew I was destined to be in the auction business. Dad was sitting upright in his bed and the look on his face has been etched in my mind for all eternity. He had a pad and pen and wrote me a note. How did the auction go? Did you get the house sold?
Reflection is a powerful thing. At the time I thought he was merely asking about the sale. Now I know it was much deeper than that. My answer about the sale results were hanging in the air. Somehow I had to find the courage to answer him without concentrating on the fact that this man’s throat had been cut from ear to ear and he had a hole in his neck the size of a quarter. I answered his questions and he smiled. It was a sign of acceptance. The thought still chills me to the bone. Ever have anyone ask if you can cry on demand? Not a problem for me. I step into that time in my mind and taking myself back to that brief moment and the tears come streaming down my cheeks.
My father came home a week later. His first day at work he booked three auctions. During our career together we completed over 500 auctions.
I come away from the table knowing that anything can happen to us in life, in a matter of seconds. Luck can be defined as when preparedness meets opportunity. My father sent me to auction school and gave me an education. He prepared me for all the world has to offer. When cancer struck our small family business it was viewed as an opportunity for him to welcome his son into the business. Good luck or bad luck? Kind of like the question whether the glass is half empty or half full. In my life, the cup runneth over.
I’ve also been fortunate enough to “pay it forward” to other younger people within my sphere of influence, especially when it comes to entrepreneurship. Guidance in life and business has been something that I’ve always tried to share with those around me over the past 20+ years. Sometimes my advice has been well received and sometimes not. Either way, I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to help lead and guide the way for so many people. Being a part of the process is as important as being a recipient of the end result.
In one instance I’ve helped guide, direct and lead a young man who is experiencing tremendous growth these days. I hired him for his first job at 16 years old and spent the next couple of years teaching him the importance of integrity, honesty, respect and most importantly living a life driven by positivity. He lives in another state now but we have worked diligently in maintaining a fair amount of communication via email and cell. He’s asked me for advice on relationships, career direction, buying a house and everything else under the sun for that matter. I’ve always tried to give him advice as if I was him, but only 15 years in the future. I’m not exactly sure what his plans are in the short term but I do know that he’s very focused on what he wants out of life. He’s in his mid-20′s right now so that picture is painted with cars, a house, plenty of money and guaranteed income for the future. A few years ago I tried explaining to him that you don’t want to focus only on the money, that can be a very dangerous road in which to embark but I don’t think it was time for him to hear that from me so I’ll save those conversations for when he gets in his 30′s.
My mainstay mentor and I meet for breakfast or lunch every single month, have been since the mid-1990′s. He guides me and provides direction from areas that I didn’t know existed, thank you Bob Loeffler, it’s very much appreciated.
I challenge everyone, especially during these difficult times, to look around your circle of family and friends and see who you can help. It can be as simple as a quick text message letting that person know that you are thinking of them and care about their success in life. One simple connection can turn someone around in a very positive way.
Remember, it’s easier to help someone than it is to ignore them. We all “get by giving.” Don’t you think it’s time for us as a society to step up our contributions to one another?
Mr. Bidder handed me a check, told me that he wasn’t going to worry about the stop payment fee and gave me his hand to shake. I apologized again, shook his hand and thanked him for his understanding. When I turned to walk out the door I noticed Mr. Bidder telling my dad that he should be proud of me, he said not many young men would do what I did. As I was making my way out the door as fast as I could I saw dad walk over, shake hands with Mr. Bidder and thank him.
When we got in the car all I could do was hold back the tears and reflect on what just happened. Time stood still for a minute. The ride back to the office wasn’t nearly as long as the one there and it was a great deal easier to talk to my dad.
Two weeks later my friend Bob Loeffler called and told me that his wife found the check laying on the floor in the bathroom from when I was at their house. I have to believe that if Bob would have called me the day I lost the check I wouldn’t have learned the lesson.
On the way over to make peace with Mr. Bidder I was a boy, on the way home I had made giant strides into becoming a man.
The next morning I got to work and my dad asked me for the check so he could get it deposited and then deliver all of the funds to the SBA. When I looked in my briefcase, folder, auction file, pants pocket, shirt pocket, jacket pocket the check was nowhere to be found. It had evaporated, gone forever. I explained to my dad that it was at my apartment and I’d be right back. I ransacked my apartment; the check was gone, to never be found again.
Part 3 to follow…