The other day I went into the grocery store for a few items (which somehow always multiplies into at least half a cart). Among those items was a greeting card. I stuck the card near my purse in the upper portion of the cart so it wouldn’t wrinkle. When I discovered all lines were full and that the self-checkout was empty, I headed there instead. I quickly checked myself out, bagged my groceries and headed to the car. Just as I finished putting the final bags in the car, I noticed that dang greeting card sitting in the front of the cart, not bagged and ultimately, not paid for. Here in lies the dilemma. Do I go back in and pay for this card even though I’m already all the way to my car, no one knows I haven’t paid for it and I certainly didn’t intend to steal it? Or do I just throw it in the car and promise to do something good for someone else later on down the line? Of course, I can even further rationalize my potential “stealing” by the argument that the store is charging like $4.00 for something which is in essence a freaking piece of paper! It’s not going to hurt them one bit if they don’t get my money. It’s probably like losing a quarter to them and I’m sure I’ve overpaid at least that and then some a time or two when they rang up the prices wrong. Right???
No, not right. I went back inside and paid for the card. I’ve often wondered how many people would do the same thing but I realize it is irrelevant to the fact that this is the right thing to do and I just can’t shake that feeling. I can tell you, hands down, that I was given this ridiculously annoying streak of honesty from my Dad (the elder Who of Special Moments). He would go back into the store for something like that every time, without question. He probably doesn’t even run that little dialogue in his head – he just goes straight in and pays for it. Because it is the right thing to do. And for my Dad – that’s pretty much all that matters.
This is an interesting trait to have when you run a business. Honesty in business is definitely a good thing for anyone and certainly something that I would assume most people hope for. But when you’re a true to the bone, no questions asked, painfully honest company it can sometimes cost you some business and/or cost you more to do business.
I thought about this as I paid for my greeting card and the many times that honesty has been a hard pill to swallow. Like the time we got to bid on a 1000 person catering event when we desperately needed this kind of business. The recession was upon us and not many people were doing large catered parties. I remember how hard we worked to create the best price. We cut as much profit off as we could and planned to labor ourselves even just to find a way to get some overhead money in and keep the employees on the payroll. But we lost that bid. That happens. You can’t win them all but the piece that really got us was that we were out bid by 35%. 35%!?!? We couldn’t even imagine how that was possible and we knew we would have been losing money to try to do it at that price. Well, months later we happen to be talking to someone who had been at the event and on the planning committee. When we asked about the event and the chosen caterer, she sheepishly said that it didn’t work out too well. Turns out that caterer only brought enough servings for 650 guests. (Pretty easy to do the math on that one…bid for 1000 at 35% less and bring 35% less food). We couldn’t believe that a fellow competitor would outbid other caterers under the pretense that they would supply 1000 servings when they only intended to bring 650. Totally dishonest. But at the end of the day, their checkbook had revenues that ours did not. Personally, I sure hope there was a repercussion but I will never really know. All I learned that day though was that honesty can be painfully expensive.
I’ll admit that was an extreme example (and I think you can still sense the bitterness). But that commitment to do the right thing gets in the way almost daily! Case in point, the other day we all stood around analyzing the quantity of food that was going to a customer. We were a little bit short on a protein. The yield after cooking was less than we expected and it just wasn’t quite enough. It was potentially not even noticeable to the customer, but we knew it was less then what they had paid for. And in the book of Al and therefore Special Moments, that fell into the not quite right category. So, off we went to the store to do the right thing. To buy the additional protein and get it cooking. The cost of being honest often means a longer workday and more expenses then you budgeted for.
My intent when I sat down to blog about my honesty experiences was not to toot the “we are the greatest” horn for everyone. But more to share the realities of what’s it’s like to live day in and day out in a family business. I’m sure everyone has some things that Mom and Dad taught them over the years that echoes in their brains. Some of those things, you’ve probably long since tossed out the window. (I don’t have to eat the crust of the bread Mom…it is NOT where all the nutrients are.) But some of those lessons stay with you and become a part of who you are. In spite of the often frustrating curse of an honest spirit, I’m glad to have kept that trait and that our family still uses it every day in our business. It makes it easier to sleep at night, lets me look people in the eye and I never have to watch my back. But even better for me is when I get to say, “Of course I paid for the greeting card, Dad.”