I just finished reading a two-page narrative written by a print shop owner who wants to sell his business. Reading his comments reminded me of a column I wrote for this magazine many years ago. The column dealt with a few of the common lies told in our industry.
The most famous as well as the most frequently used lie is told to a customer who calls the office and asks about the status of her job and whether she can still expect to pick it up today. “By the way, how does it look?” she will often ask.
The CSR who answered the phone knows nothing about the job and goes to find Bob, the owner. The job came in last week, but because Jeanne is one of Bob’s special VIP customers, the job jacket went directly to his desk—where it has been sitting ever since. Consequently, no one ordered the stock, nor did anyone realize that the job had a drop-dead delivery date for today.
The First Lie
Bob, experienced at handling crises like this for more than 20 years, picks up the phone and the words just slide smoothly off his tongue. “Hi, Jeanne. Is that the 5,000 copies of that brochure for the fundraiser?” Without a pause, Bob continues, “Well, the good news is that the job is done and it looks great, but the ink is a bit too wet for us to trim it or fold it, so do you think we could have until tomorrow instead?”
Of course, the reason the ink is still wet is because it is still in the cans! Not only has the job not been printed, but Bob is at a loss as to where he is going to get that much paper and how he is going to get the job printed and folded by tomorrow.
The Second Lie
The second lie comes quickly when Jeanne says, “I certainly don’t want you to rush folding the job if it’s too wet, but could I pick up a couple of the wet copies to show the board?”
Bob’s response is immediate. “Jeanne, I would love to get you a couple of copies, but that job is being printed at our production facility in Andersonville. Yes, it is 150 miles away, but that’s where we run our quality printing.”
Bob’s employees’ jaws drop because they have no second location. They have never heard Bob use an excuse like this and, anticipating their questions, he holds up one finger to his lips and whispers, “Shhhh… I will tell you how we are going to solve this problem after I get off the phone.”
The Third Lie
After spending what seems like a lifetime of telling white lies to customers, some owners get to the point they are ready to throw in the towel and get out of the business. This is where the third lie is born. They put their business up for sale and, in the process, they typically write a short narrative describing the company, its history, its potential, and the reason it is being sold.
Most of these narratives I read end with a paragraph almost identical to the following: “After 20 years in business, the current owner has decided to pursue other interests. If desired by the new owners, the current owner will remain for a specified period to assist in the transition.”
Translated, what the owner is really saying is, “I hate this business and I wish I had never bought it. I have a variety of ailments, including sleeping problems. Customers drive me crazy!”
Why Bob Doesn’t Sleep
Why isn’t Bob sleeping at night? Well, in preparation for selling his business, he’s taken a much closer look at his balance sheet and is shocked by what he finds. His total current assets are $73,100, but his current liabilities are $165,000. No wonder he’s behind on his payables. From a practical approach, we would expect to see these numbers reversed, and if that was the case the current ratio would be a healthy 2.25:1. Unfortunately, the ratio is 0.44:1; a disastrous ratio under any scenario.