Everybody I know warns that business and friendships don’t mix. I have heard that from others for many years and I have also had experiences with it. Once (many years ago) my best friend and I decided to have a little craft business together when our kids were babies so we could do something at home and make a little extra money for ourselves. That almost ended in disaster, as we disagreed and mis-communicated on a couple of issues which resulted in a few years of us not really talking to each other. Fortunately, time was our friend and clouded over our differences and when we saw each other a few years after the incident, enough time had passed to allow us to move on with our lives and again be friends. Our children are now in their 20’s and she just became a grandma and even though she is in Chicago and I am here in Nova Scotia, we interact and ‘talk’ just about every day.
So you would think that I would have learned something from that, right? Not exactly.
It is difficult when you have a ‘pink cloud’ mentality (such as I do) to not look at most situations from an optimistic point of view. Although the pink cloud has darkened and faded a little over the years, it still rears its pretty little head from time to time and it is quite evident that it is still a dominant force in my thought process. “Why?” I wonder. “Why?” Don’t I learn?
I don’t consider myself a stupid girl. You would think that by being burned a couple of times by that pink cloud, I would wise up and realize that there are times to be more cautious. But throughout my life, I have always chosen to be an optimist. I have seen many pessimistic people in my life and I just don’t want to be that way. Cynicism is such a destructive emotion, I feel. I prefer to hope for the best and look on the bright side of things. “The glass is half full” and all of that. I like to think others think the same. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. About 99% of the time, it is something in between.
So with that said, I will get on with my story.
Yesterday I had lunch with a friend who I used to go to a weekly painting day with. When I lived in Digby, I went every Tuesday and we painted all day at another friend’s house in Bear River, which was about 20 minutes away. There were about 8-10 of us depending on the day and we did all kinds of different painting. Some did tole painting, others ceramics, others just came to visit. We ranged in all different ages and it was a wonderful way to socialize and visit and catch up, along with making some great things and gifts and be creative. Our group met like this for about 8 years, taking the hottest part of summer off, but otherwise meeting every week.
I came to the group a couple of years after it was established. I was immediately accepted as one of them and quickly developed friendships with everyone there. Being the newcomer, I was probably the most quiet because much of the talk was about locals in the area and I would just listen. It was like a history lesson in a way because I got to know who was who and such through the conversations.
Because of the position I was in with my own business, I was able to obtain supplies for the girls. I had a couple of wholesale accounts because of my designing position and because of my company and I was happy to get them brushes and paints and surfaces at less cost than they would have to pay retail. When I did this, I charged them what I paid, plus we split the shipping, as we were friends and I didn’t feel right making money from them. I never took more than what I paid for things, and many times gave extra brushes and supplies that I knew they needed.
Unfortunately in the past year or so our group kind of broke up. Everyone’s life changed and I moved another 45 minutes further away and it was pretty much impossible to get there on a weekly basis. I have stayed in touch pretty much a couple of the girls and not as much with the others. But they will all always be friends.
One of the girls has had her own ceramics business for many years. She used to sell brushes and supplies to the other girls, and also paints and stuff because she had a couple of wholesale places which she bought from on her own. That was another reason I didn’t want to ‘sell’ to the girls – I didn’t want to undercut her business. With the economy the way it is, many craft suppliers are no longer in existence and she was having trouble finding supplies. I had found this supplier here in Canada that I had established an account with that she had tried to do so with before and was unsuccessful. I guess they didn’t consider her business large enough or legitimate enough because she just had a few students and no storefront, but for whatever reason, they said no.
I ordered from them maybe once a year, and I would ask her if she needed anything and get supplies for her. It did me too by making my order larger, because as a designer I didn’t really need quantities of stuff, and saved me from spending more than I needed. When I did this, as usual I would charge her exactly as much as they charged me.
Over the past couple of years, the company changed owners and the customer service really got bad. Orders were late, incorrect and items were missing and back ordered and you would never hear from them when they got back in stock. The last time I ordered was in November of last year and it was a headache because the shipping cost a fortune because everything came piece meal and half the items were missing. I was on the phone many times trying to get things straightened out but it was also difficult because they were in Quebec and didn’t speak much English. In my mind, I didn’t want to order from them again.
When I knew my friend was coming over yesterday, I told her I needed a couple of things that I knew she ordered in November and asked her if she still had enough stock to sell me. This was about four separate items. I didn’t want to take all she had, but I didn’t want to have to come up with a minimum order either. Besides, I had received notice a couple of weeks ago that the company was closing its doors (no surprise!) and they would only sell out what they had. I am sure that ordering with them would be even more of a nightmare, no matter how low their clearance prices were.
She said there was plenty of stuff left, as she was down to only 2-3 students. She brought the stuff and we had a nice afternoon and lunch together. I didn’t even really look at the bill, because I didn’t even think to.
When I returned home from lunch and was putting stuff away, I read the bill. It was a bit high for the four small things I got. I then realized that she marked the items up to full retail price for me. Two of the items, I could have bought cheaper at the store right here in town. I had to call her because I had asked for two cans of varnish and there was only one there and she charged me for two – again a little more expensive than retail here. She said it must have rolled out of the bag and was in the car, just to take that off of the price or she would get it to me the next time. Nothing was said about the full retail price.
Now the more I thought about this, the more it bothered me. I know I am probably foolish for thinking that I deserve ‘special consideration’ from her regarding pricing, but don’t I? (Just a little?) I guess it hurt me because in all these years I never charged my friends over my own cost, figuring I wasn’t in the retail business and I was helping friends. Am I really that wrong in expecting the same courtesy back? (Especially when these were the exact things I got for her at a wholesale price) After all, I saved her a lot of money and helped her to make money. It isn’t as if I asked her for half her stock and depleted it. I did do this with no strings attached and in reading this I feel like I am being a brat, but it still hurts me. She and I talk about everything, including our finances and I know she is good. They are adding some things onto their house and going on a two week vacation next month and they are always stable financially and responsible.
I also didn’t mention that she presented me with a list of stuff that she wanted me to try to order for her before the company went out of business – a task I don’t want to do because I know it will be a major headache. I am not even sure if they are still open at this point, but if dealing with them was that difficult when they were trying to stay in business, I can only imagine how they would be right now before shutting their doors. I just don’t want to do it.
Now the money we are talking here is really a pittance in the big picture. I feel kind of petty and small being hurt by this. I probably won’t say anything about it because it isn’t worth losing a friendship over and I will still consider her a good friend, but it bothers me.
Is this one of those ‘life lessons’ we read about every day (on this forum too) which tell us the hundreds of reasons not to do business with our friends? Is this experience going to make me more business savvy and aware? I would love to hear feedback on on it (as usual – honest whether it is good or bad). I don’t think I am a greedy or petty person, but on the principle of things, I just didn’t think it was right. Maybe it is a lesson for me to absolutely keep things separate. Maybe I set myself up for disappointment.
I just don’t know.
-- Contributing Editor, Creative Woodworks and Crafts, Sheila Landry Designs http://www.sheilalandrydesigns.com "Knowledge is Power"