Myrna and I finished a book last spring that we want to get published this fall but can’t come up with the right title and sub-title. I am posting the first chapter along with a few suggestions for the titles. Please let us know what you prefer and if we choose your name or one that you agree with we will put you in a draw for a copy. Thanks.
Some of the names to date include:
Trade Secrets – How the Chameleon helped Joe the plumber overcome relationship problems at home and work.
Blue Collars to Green Backs – The Chameleon helps Joe and his wife change colour so the business is more profitable and business relationships stronger
Trading secrets – building a business and saving your marriage
Fire the Wife? 1
“Fire Betty? You have to be kidding, how do you fire your wife? I’m not going to let a few unhappy employees create a problem in my marriage,” Joe said to himself.
“On the other hand, how can I run a successful company if all my good employees leave? I thought I had faced just about every problem that running a business can create, but this is unbelievable.”
These were the thoughts that kept Joe from appreciating the comfortable reed chair, its back to a white stucco wall that reflected the warmth of the early spring sun. A full palette of vibrant flowers surrounded the attractive deck at the Lakeview Resort. They sweetened the transition from the man-made structure to the soft and natural beauty of the surrounding grounds, lit now by sunlight filtering down though high pine trees.
The magnificent jewel-like lake reflected high hills and mountains in the distance, providing a surreal backdrop. The sunshine warming the deck had long since melted the ice in Joe’s tea. Oblivious to the magnificence of the world around him, he continued to mull over this latest business challenge.
Joe had never planned to own his own business, but when the pulp milled closed and he couldn’t find another job in town, he was faced with three options—find a different career, find a job in another community, or start his own shop.
Joe ruled out changing careers—he couldn’t think of anything he would rather do. He was a journeyman plumber by trade and enjoyed the work.
He had taken years to build a meaningful life with friends and family—people who depended on him—in a community he and Betty considered their own.
On top of that, there was no plumbing shop in town. Joe had always found it easy to moonlight, doing small jobs for extra money while working at the mill. In the past year or so, he had been so busy he’d had to refer work to his co-workers, so he felt the transition into his own plumbing business would be easy.
He talked it over with Betty, and together they decided to go into business.
Joe spent several days trying to think up a unique and catchy name, but in the end he registered Joe’s Plumbing and Heating. He painted “A flush always beats a full house” on the side of his old van, along with his name and phone number, and he was in business. Joe put in long hard days building the business and doing all the fieldwork while Betty still held down her job and spent the evenings doing the books and paying the bills.
The first few years presented more than their share of struggles, but Joe was sure the bumps in the road would smooth out and it would soon be clear sailing all the way to the bank.
Suddenly it was twelve years later, and although those first bumps had long since been smoothed out, and Betty now worked full time in the business as well, the challenges seemed to always be quickly replaced with new larger ones. Although they were becoming richer on paper, rising inventory, the need for more trucks, tools, and equipment and the ever-increasing receivables seemed to keep the cash at bay.
Occasionally, Joe thought he would sooner have his old job back with its regular hours, weekends off, paid holidays, routine work, steady paycheques and no worries about cash flow, customers, employees or suppliers.
But he realized that in reality, Joe’s Plumbing and Heating was providing them with a good life. The business had grown into a successful venture, thanks in large part to the life breathed into the town by a resort, convention centre, and a golf course, which had opened on the outskirts of the city ten years ago.
Joe’s Plumbing and Heating won a number of the resort’s ongoing maintenance contracts based on Joe’s competitive pricing due to the lower overhead of being local. He kept the contracts over the years because of his personal service and the relationships he developed with his clients, and because of Betty’s close attention to detail in controlling costs.
When the need for heating and air conditioning services in town increased, Joe had hired Bob, an old buddy with the necessary trade tickets, to expand the business. As the local economy improved, the demand for these services and other goods increased, so Joe bought the abandoned tire store at the end of Main Street and expanded again.
Using the back of the building for his shop, he began filling the front with related retail products such as fireplaces, barbeques, and specialty kitchen and bath fixtures—finally expanding into a line of spas and pools as well.
At this point, with almost two dozen trades people employed, Joe had promoted Frank, one of his plumbers, to manage the plumbing side, with Bob managing the heating and air conditioning side. They soon convinced Joe to hire Leigh as their first fulltime salesperson.
Leigh was present at every community event, especially anything to do with art or music. Leigh also made some changes in the front office. He built new displays that showed the products off better, making the place look more professional. He modified the small drab office he was given into a pleasant place to meet clients with some nicely placed local photos. Soon the sales were rolling in faster than Joe had imagined.
As retail sales and service increased, Joe promoted Leigh to the position of sales manager and put him in charge of finding new products as well as hiring and managing a new salesperson. As they continued to grow, a second salesperson was added under Leigh to take on some speciality products. Now the challenge was to keep all these people focused on the business and working as a team.
That was when something started to come to a head with Betty. Last year Joe became frustrated because a number of clients had expressed dissatisfaction with their service. He tried to make the division managers see the importance of keeping the customers happy, but they argued that they were so busy they had trouble keeping the bigger contracts running smoothly and could not take men away to deal with small warranty or repair issues.
This finally resulted in creating an independent service department focused only on service. The service department not only cleaned up the backlog of warranty items and performed service and repair work for their regular customers; they also added several large service contracts. The department soon became a significant profit center as well.
Joe’s Plumbing and Heating was still growing and successful, yet Joe occasionally resented the time the business demanded from him. Despite having good managers, he often spent sixty to seventy hours a week reviewing estimates, dealing with financial problems, checking on crews, meeting with owners and solving a never-ending stream of other challenges.
“Yes,” Joe said to himself as he soaked in the spring sunlight warming the deck, “The business is doing well, but is it really worth the price?”
Joe’s frown eased and a small smile broke on his lips as he thought back to some of the problems he had faced that had seemed at the time so fatal to his business. He had held on and overcome them. He remembered the particularly tough times in the first few years when he seemed to be constantly on the verge of bankruptcy.
He reflected on the stress he and Betty had experienced when they thought they were going to lose the house after a large customer had gone broke still owing them a substantial sum of money. He remembered how depressed he had become and how Betty’s faith in him and her hard work had helped them work through it.
Then the smile faded as his mind returned to the problem at hand. This was definitely the most difficult challenge he had faced. “How can I fire my wife and still maintain a good marriage?” She would be devastated and life would not be easy. He recalled the old adage, “happy wife, happy life” and the knot in the pit of his stomach got tighter.
Joe was the official sole owner of the business, but he considered Betty an equal partner as she had worked countless days and evenings. He had especially liked her ability to collect the outstanding bills; she was straightforward, tough-minded and assertive, so she didn’t mind asking for money, a part of the job Joe didn’t like.
Betty’s hard work and determination had been as instrumental in their success as his had been. She still managed the office and supervised a full-time qualified bookkeeper, a receptionist, and any other employee she thought was in need of some direction.
But it was Betty’s aggressiveness and the way she spoke her mind that had created tension between herself and the managers. The breaking point had come yesterday, culminating in Bob, Frank and Leigh taking Joe aside and stating that either Betty had to leave the company, or they would.
Joe felt cornered and could not see a clear way out. He tried to reason with the managers, but to no avail. And he knew if he approached Betty, she would confront the managers directly, making things even more difficult.
For the first time in all these years of business, Joe felt alone in deciding what he should do. He just wanted to run away and in fact had done just that. He came to the Lakeview Resort, supposedly to look at a renovation job, but the truth was he just wanted to spend the morning sitting alone on the patio.
He found it most serene here, as his mind came back to the pines and he looked out over the quiet lake. This was a place where he could think about the problem without interruption.
Joe was deep in thought when a stranger sat down at the next table and tried to strike up a conversation. Joe was annoyed, so his answers were curt. But the fellow had a gentle and pleasant manner and he soon had Joe engaged in a conversation about his business. Joe felt an immediate sense of trust, and before he realized it, he had relayed this entire story to the stranger.
As Joe spoke, the old fellow sat silently, stroking his short white beard, until Joe finished his narration. After some time the stranger spoke.
“So you are afraid that if you don’t get Betty out of the office, your managers will leave the company. You believe that if that happens, you will not be able to handle the extra work load, and they could take a lot of your business with them and become your competition, is that right?”
“Yes,” Joe said, still staring out at the lake.
“On the other hand, Betty will feel betrayed and hurt if you tell her they want her to leave since she is as much a part of the company as you are. Is that right?”
“That about sums it up.” Again Joe’s gaze did not stray from the distant vista. He thought the stranger had summarized the problem so succinctly that it almost trivialized it.
“It sounds to me like you need a consultant or to at least be part of a mastermind group,” the older man said quietly.
That snapped Joe’s eyes free of the horizon and they seemed to smoulder as he turned to the old man. “Sir, I don’t mean to be rude, but I work very hard in my business, and I’ve been very successful over the years. I don’t know what you know about business, but I resent someone telling me that I need someone else or a mastermind group, whatever that is to tell me what to do.”
Joe rose from his chair and slid it back against the wall. “I want to thank you for your time, but I must be going now.” With that, Joe started to walk away.
In his same thoughtful tone, the old man said, “I wish you well with this dilemma. Just remember, the seed of your success lies in the heart of your weakness.”
Joe felt anxious as he suddenly realized how much he had shared about his business with a stranger. That white-haired old man probably did not know the first thing about plumbing or running a company. He was probably just some tourist here on his three-week vacation from a large union job and didn’t have the foggiest idea what it is like to be front and center on the firing line.
“I bet he never had to make a payroll,” Joe muttered to himself, upset for letting his guard down so easily with someone he had never met before.
Joe was still steaming two miles down the road and cursing the old man under his breath. Rocks shot out from the tires as he brought the pickup to a halt on the gravel shoulder.
Checking for traffic, he turned the truck around and headed back to the resort. Joe was not sure if he should give the old man a piece of his mind or apologize for his rudeness, but it was the last comment the old fellow had made that piqued his interest.
Joe let the small smile creep across his face again when he saw the old man still sitting on the patio. He opted for a quick apology for his abruptness, then, without sitting, asked what the man had meant by his last comment.
“Remember the old saying, ‘Dance with the girl who brung ya’?” the old man smiled up at Joe.
Joe nodded, concluding that perhaps not all the kindly old gentleman’s pipes were connected. He tried to smile again, but it was weak. Joe was too tired to run and too scared to sit, so he just stood there looking down at the stranger.
“So if I understand you,” Joe paused, “I should stand by Betty. But how do I do that without it costing me all my managers? And just what is a mastermind group anyway?”
The old man continued smiling and looked up at him. “Sit down I will tell you.” He said.