Business 1.0 March/April 2020

August 10th, 2021 by Nathan Hobbs

A Hat of My Own

By Lyle R. Hill

I could sense that he wasn’t having a good day and that my phone call bothered him, but I wasn’t having the best day either, and I had a right to call. He owed us a fair amount of money and most of it was long past due. I had committed myself to remaining calm, and I was determined to be firm and as pleasant as possible.

“John,” I began, “we appreciate all of the jobs you have been giving us of late and I am hoping you are pleased with our service.”

“Yeah, your guys do nice work. Courteous and on time,” he replied.

“And do you feel that we charge you a fair price for the material and labor that we provide?”

“Yes,” he responded. “I wouldn’t have given you the jobs in the first place if your price wasn’t good.”

I could detect a fair amount of agitation in his voice, but I pressed on. “Okay,” I continued, “I’m glad to hear that, and we certainly appreciate your business. However, you owe us a lot of money John, and we really need you to get your account brought up-to-date.”

“Are you calling me a deadbeat?” he asked.

“No, I’m not,” I calmly replied, “but these bills are several months past due.”

“Are you threatening me?— because if you are, I’m taking you out of the hat!”

What could “taking me out of the hat” mean? Was this the equivalent of “taking me out”–as in “rubbing me out” or “wiping me out?” Being from Chicago, I am familiar with these terms, but I had never heard of being “taken out of the hat.”

“John, I must confess ignorance,” I stated. “Please tell me what taking me out of the hat means.”

“Okay,” he began, “I’ll tell you. Each week I take all of the bills that are due for payment and I put them in a hat. Then, depending on how things are going, I randomly pick some of the bills out of the hat and pay them. This way everyone has an equal chance of being paid. I think this is a very fair approach. Unfortunately, you just haven’t been lucky enough to be one of the bills that got picked out for payment. But I like you, so believe me, I’d hate to have to take you out of the hat and take away any chance you might have for getting paid.”

“Well, thank you, John, I appreciate that,” I replied. “And we like you too, so if I’ve offended you in any way, please accept my apology. The last thing in the world that I want to have happen is to be taken out of your hat!”

A few weeks went by and we received some, but not much, of the long-past-due money. Then one day came the call that I had hoped for.

“Lyle, it’s John,” he began. “Are you having labor problems or supplier problems at your place? ‘Cause I got some people calling me and telling me they haven’t been taken care of yet and I’m getting some heat from them.”

“No John, we’re not having any problems at all,” I replied.

“Then why haven’t you been out to get these jobs done?” he asked with a raised voice. “You know I am the one that’s gonna get the calls from these people and if I don’t take care of them, they’ll find somebody who will. Then we’ll both look bad. I want these jobs done in the next 24 hours and I don’t want any excuses!”

“I’ll do what I can, John, but I can’t make any promises.”

“I’m not looking for promises. I’m looking for performance,” he yelled. “You’re killing me!”

“John, I certainly understand your dilemma,” I replied calmly. “And I certainly hope you’re not accusing me of being irresponsible.”

“I’m not accusing you of anything, yet!” he screamed. “But I better see your guys installing my jobs tomorrow or else!”

“John,” I replied, “are you calling me a deadbeat supplier? Are you threatening me? Because if you are, I’m taking you out of the hat.”

“What?” he screamed.

“Well, John, after that conversation we had a few weeks ago—I’m sure you remember, it was the one about us getting paid in a timely manner—your explanation impressed me so much that I immediately went out and followed your example.”

“What are you talking about?” he asked.

“John, I bought a hat of my own … and you and your jobs are in it.”

Lyle R. Hill is the former owner of a window film company in the Midwest. He also serves as president of Glass.com, an information portal and job generation company for the auto glass industry. Hill has more than 40 years of experience in glass-related industries and can be reached at lhill@glass.com.

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