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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Why doing business can never fully be friendly

I never used to understand why old folks say "Never do business with family (or close friends)."

When I was younger I assumed that there'd be no better people to do business with than family or friends. You know them best and they know you best, right?

Well, it didn't take long after high school and into my first full-time job - as a civilian aircraft maintenance machinist at the Naval Aviation Depot, Norfolk (VA) Naval Air Station - that I learned why you don't do biz with family or friends.

The simple answer? Money trading hands is never a friendly prospect. It's almost impossible for it to be. The exception being those independently wealthy among us, no one likes to give up money, even if they're getting something in return for it. Instinctively, we are suspicious that we're getting screwed.

In my machinist job I was making good money, enough to pay for college, pay rent, pay a car note...and loan money to friends. Inevitably a couple of my buddies never managed to pay me back. It made me salty, and our friendships faltered.

Lesson learned.

Fast-forward to today. I have three or four gray hairs now - my wife says six. And I've learned that the same rules about business and money and friendliness apply. The first two don't mix well with the latter.

A month ago, my wife got a new car after a couple of weeks of haggling with the dealer over the price. And it's a fine car. I drive it sometimes, though not often, 'cause it's a soccer mom car and it would make me borderline hypocrite for bumping hip-hop tunes in it.

Anyway, when we finally closed the deal my wife, a more savvy negotiator than me, told the dealer she wanted an electric cooler the manufacturer makes to plug into this car. It's a nice little convenient tool, especially for road trips and trips to the grocery on hot days.

The dealer agreed to throw in the cooler but said it had to be ordered and would take three to five days to arrive in the mail.

Four weeks later, no cooler.

I call the manager last Thursday and say "(Let's call him Fred) this is James Burnett. I know you're busy, but I'm wondering about that cooler."
Fred: "Hey buddy, how's it going?"
Me: "Great, everything's good. I can't complain."
Fred: "So what can I do for you?"
Me: "Well, like I said, I'm wondering if that cooler has arrived."
Fred: "Oh, yeah. I'll have to check with the parts department on that. Give me your number, and I'll call you back in a few minutes."

Later Thursday, no call from Fred.
Friday morning, no call from Fred.
Saturday, Fred: "Thank you for calling (the dealership), this is Fred."
Me: "Fred, it's James Burnett. I never heard back from you."
Fred: "Did I say I'd call you back this weekend, I thought I said first thing Monday morning?"
Me: "No, you didn't say that. You said in a few minutes...several days ago."
Fred: "Oh, OK, sorry about that. I must've been thinking Monday."
Me: "It's OK. So what did the part's department say?"
Fred: "Oh, they're closed for the day. I wish you had called an hour earlier, I could've checked with them then."
Me: "Well, did they ever return your call or give you an answer as to whether the cooler had arrived?"
Fred: "I'm not really sure."

At this point, let us pause and reflect. When the wife and I first encountered Fred in the dealership we laughed and joked with him. And then money changed hands. We signed on the dotted line and in exchange got a car. Suddenly, I'm not feeling so laughy anymore, because my instinct nags me that the dealership probably got the better of us. But what can you do? So the friendly element to this relationship at that point was ruined. And we hadn't even walked out of the dealership yet. Now, with an item related to the car still owed to me, Fred can't understand why I'm not feeling friendly vibes anymore.

Back to the convo
Me: "Fred, I'd like to know where the cooler is, and I'd like to know soon."
Fred: "I know, I know. And I swear first thing Monday morning, I'll have an answer for you. It may be there in the parts department already."
Me: "That's fine. I'll wait for your call on Monday."

Monday morning, no call from Fred.
Monday afternoon, no call from Fred.
Monday, evening, Fred: "Hi, this is Fred."
Me: "Fred, James Burnett. I never heard back from you."
Fred: "Yeah, I'm sorry the parts department is closed again for the day."
Me: "Fred, call me tomorrow with an answer."
Fred: "Will do, buddy. Thanks for your patience."
Me: "Fred, I have no patience. Call me tomorrow."

Tuesday morning, no call from Fred.
Tuesday afternoon, no call from Fred.
Tuesday evening, Fred: "Hi, this is Fred."
Me: "Fred, James Burnett. Where's the cooler?"
Fred: "Oh yeah, let me call over there right now. And I'll get back to you in five minutes."
Me: "That's fine."

Tuesday night, no call back from Fred.

This morning, no call from Fred.
This afternoon, Fred: "Hi, this is Fred."
Me: "Fred, this is James Burnett. Where's the cooler?"
Fred: "I just got off the phone with parts, and they told me it was on back order."
Me: "You told my wife, it would take three to five days."
Fred: "That's if it was in stock."
Me: "That makes no sense. If it was in stock, then you could walk over to the parts department, take it off the shelf and walk it back over to my wife. It wouldn't need to be ordered."
Fred: "True, my friend."
Me: "Fred, stop calling me friend."
Fred: "But we're cool."
Me: "No we're not. You seem to think I'm Cletus the slack-jawed yokel and that I just fell off the back of the yam wagon."
Fred" No, no! I swear, I wish I had a better answer for you."
Me: "If you don't have a cooler or an answer for me tomorrow, I swear I'll move into the lobby of your dealership and sleep on that crappy couch till the cooler arrives."
Fred: "It's OK, we're cool!"
Me: "What did I tell you about that?"
Fred: "OK, buddy. I'll call you with a better answer later."
Me: "Sigh."

Whether personal or business, money and friendliness just don't mix.


  • Wow, that sucks! So sorry to hear about that. Turns out the gang and I at lunch were talking about horrible car salesmen. It's like every time you called him, he hung up the phone and immediately hadn't a thought in his head. What do these people get paid for??

    By Anonymous Adlib, at 3:07 PM  

  • It is so sad.

    You might be interested in business quiz.
    I found some good one recently.

    Business Quiz

    By Blogger Matt K, at 3:07 PM  

  • Gahhh!!! Why is stupidity so, so everywhere?!
    Fred prolly needs retraining every, single, day. Because they're all new ones. Each. Day.

    The Frothmistress

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:54 PM  

  • I don't even trust the receptionists at Dealerships...

    By Anonymous Lito, at 9:37 AM  

  • You guys really need to check out this show on A&E called the King of Cars--its all about sleaze merchants and slick hustlers who put you into a car and promptly forget about your repeat business because they don't plan to be car salesmen forever.

    This car salesman definitely sounds like a "run down and f*ck us one o' those cows" types when, if he was into the long term, he might be a "no son, let's walk down and f*ck 'em all" type. Short sighted salesmen are extra slimy. Car salesman rank right up there with used car salesmen and shoe salesmen in the "sheisty" department. JB--I wouldn't hold my breath for that cooler. I know it's a matter of principle, but I believe your efforts would have been better spent writing one letter to the area manager for the dealer you bought from (saying you consider the failure to provide the cooler a breach of contract and want to get a full refund of your purchase price or cancellation of your loan) and getting another cooler from Walgreens. It might not be from the dealership, but your beer would be cold by now.

    By Anonymous Big Daddy, at 5:07 PM  

  • You were a machinist? I knew I liked you for some reason.

    I have my first gray hair sealed in a little apothecary's jar.

    The following ones are in a bushel basket out back.

    Car salesmen can try your patience. I have REALLY been happy with Car Max.

    By Anonymous og, at 6:49 PM  

  • Yeah, Og, I turned wrenches before I started writing for a living. Actually, that job paid for school so I could make the writing thing a career. Those were the good old days, turret lathes, milling machines, pedastal grinders, engine grease and hot metal shavings layering your forearms. It wasn't my favorite gig ever, but it was a satisfying feeling to correctly read a blueprint and complete a complicated part.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 6:58 PM  

  • I've learned one lesson in business, that you could easily apply here....get it in writing. Everything. If it was on paper, you would probably get the cooler pretty quick.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:12 PM  

  • I had something similar happen but I was promised a 6 cd changer. I received a regular 1 cd radio. I went back and sat in the dealer until the owner was there and explained my issue. Same day I got the owner to put it in writing and in a few days I got my 6 cd changer. When in doubt, ask for the person in charge.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:29 PM  

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