I was assembling a line of product that required me to outsource some of the components.  Cellphones have lots of different kinds of accessories – spare batteries of all shapes and sizes, chargers, leather cases, cigarette lighter adapters.  We did not manufacture all those products.

Having worked in the industry for years, I knew a lot of manufacturers, and had personal relationships with a lot of them.  I figured it would be easy for me to buy the highest-quality products in the industry, to complement the already high-quality products my company manufactured.

I had a friend who worked in the leather case industry.  I’ve referred to him here before; he was a real mover and shaker, the kind of guy who wore a headset all day and talked on the phone constantly.  He knew everyone in the business, and his company made a high-quality product.  I penciled him in as my case vendor, but then something strange happened: he didn’t return my calls.

At my previous company, I talked to this guy two or three times a week.  We had a personal relationship, emailing each other at home, bitching about work, talking about family.  It was very odd to not have him return calls like that, and so I started worrying about him.

Soon, though, I noticed that a few different companies weren’t returning my calls.  A company that made mounts so that your cellphone could be affixed to your car dashboard.  Another company that made antennae.  Two different companies that made cigarette lighter adaptors.

I had a friend who ran another accessories company, and I called him on the phone one day.  We exchanged pleasantries, and he asked me how things were going.

“It’s a tougher road than I thought it would be,” I told him.

“Why is that?”

“When I was at the bigger company, if I picked up the phone and called someone, they took my call right away.  If they didn’t take my call, they called me back within a couple hours.  Here, they don’t even take my call.  People I’ve known for years are blowing me off.  It’s amazing what the size of your company can do for you.”

“Are you listening to yourself?” he asked.

I paused for a second.  “What?”

“What do you mean, ‘What?’ Listen to what you’re saying.  Put two and two together, man!  Why do you think these people aren’t calling you back?”

I was confused.  “I told you why,” I reasoned.  “I’m a small startup.  No guaranteed sales.  Suddenly I’ve got no clout anymore.”

“Suddenly you’ve got someone scared, is more like it.”


“What if I told you that your old company was calling all its vendors, telling them not to do business with you?”

I let that sink in for a second. “He didn’t call you, did he?”  I was referring to my old boss.

“He did.”

“And what did he say?”

“He said that if I sold product to you, he’d stop buying from me.”

I could feel the blood beginning to boil in my face.   “What did you say?”

“I told him that when we first started doing business, he guaranteed us certain volumes, and we gave him an exclusive.  He has not come close to those volumes.  I am a businessman, and I am in business to make money.  I won’t let someone who’s not buying enough from me dictate what I can sell someone else.”

“So you’ll sell to me?”

“I will.”

He was the only one.  I had to find all new vendors.  It wasn’t that this was a problem so much as it was a pain in the ass.

Fred, however, was pissed.  “I’m going to call him, and tell him off.”

“No,” I said.  “You’ll just start a war that will make things more difficult for me.”

“I don’t care,” he said.  “This is my company.”

Fred always used the “my company” card when he was wrong.  If he was right about something, he’d sit and rationalize, employ logic and explain why he was right – and he’d convince you he was right, with an intelligent argument.

If he was wrong, he’d say “This is my company.”

So either way, he got his way.

The problem was that he was also afraid of confrontation, when the confrontation involved anyone who had a stronger personality than his.  If he could not subjugate you, he was sweet as sugar.

Unfortunately, without my even realizing it, he had subjugated me.  I thought I was still in control, but I was in control of absolutely nothing.

Eventually, though, I lined up all the vendors I’d be using, and Danny and I began testing products and developing specifications.  All the things we had done together at the last company, and said “If I had this to do all over again, I’d do it differently,” we did the way we wanted to.

It’s not very often that you get to do that.  We did.  And as we were building the line, there was a certain amount of pride.  Having done this once before, we were able to identify the specs we wanted, and get product manufactured exactly as we liked.  From a marketing standpoint, I knew exactly how I wanted to present everything, and exactly the angle I wanted to take.  And from a sales standpoint, I knew exactly how I wanted the product sold.

Assembling a network of sales reps across the country was, for me, a piece of cake.  There was a laundry list of people from my last job who had been let go over the years, and I knew them all fairly well.  Ultimately I had a network of people who were ready to start selling within just a few months, and by the late spring of 1996, the sales and engineering organizations were already built, the products were all sourced and named, and all that was left was to actually brand the product.

And find customers.

~ by Al on November 4, 2009.

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