Some background. For those of you who don’t know, I’m not a full-time writer. I’m simply a freelancer who’s been lucky enough to have his words published in a city newspaper on a regular basis.
As far as regular jobs go, I used to go to sea to pay the mortgage, but I retired from that in 1998. Shortly thereafter, however, a friend who owned a machine shop asked if I’d come to work for him.
What I knew about metal, metal working, or machine shops would’ve fit nicely on the front side of a 3 x 5 card with room to spare, but what he wanted me to do had nothing to do with that side of the business.
He wanted me to organize his shop, track purchases and sales, get some files going, order materials and parts, keep track of inventory, ship parts, and do whatever else needed doing.
Eleven years later, I’m still doing those same things for another machine shop in the area that also manufactures a line of racing parts.
About four years ago, just after I’d started with this company, a salesman stopped in and said, “You must be the new guy.”
I was and we spent a few minutes getting acquainted. During that time, we made small talk and he never once mentioned his product line or the company he represented. We did, however, hit it off really well. He left me his card.
He sold nuts and bolts, screws and washers, studs and fasteners of all kinds and, every week thereafter, he stopped in to talk and we got to know each other a little better.
Our racing parts line uses a lot of fasteners and, one day, we were out of a certain screw, so I called him and placed an order. The next day, our parts arrived.
From that simple start came many more purchases until we reached the point where this salesman and his company were - and are - our primary suppliers.
The thing is, he never pushed. We simply became friends as two guys often do.
His prices were not always the lowest, but I could always depend on him and the company he represented. That kind of trust is the basis of most good things - business, personal or whatever and it was there between us from the start.
I’ll also add that, one evening, after my heart attack and while I was in intensive care, I got a phone call from him. He’d heard what had happened, tracked me down, and just wanted to know how I was doing.
Over time, we’d reached a point where we were talking about seeing each other socially. Maybe a lunch here and there, then getting together for dinner with our wives. It was a good friendship that was building into a better one.
In any life, you only meet a handful of individuals who will become true friends and, even when you do, that kind of relationship takes time. We had the time and we were headed there.
My friend was a strapping man. He was well over six feet tall and likely weighed in at over 230 pounds. His voice resonated when he talked and one of the many things I liked about him was that, when we spoke, he looked right at me.
About six months ago he came in and I noticed a slight stoop in his posture. He told me that he’d beaten prostate cancer years ago, but he now had some masses near his spine. Jokingly - and I remember these words as clearly I remember anything - he said: “They’ll probably kill me.”
They did. My friend, Tim Adair, just died of cancer and I’m nowhere near as calm about that as this column makes me appear to be.
There are two lessons here.
For any salespeople just starting out, here’s a practical one: Simply make friends. The rest will take care of itself.
Tim wasn’t a good salesman. He was something better. He was a good man - honest, reliable, and loyal - who happened to be a salesman.
Tim never “sold” me anything. He just let me know that he was there and, then, proved that he and his company were good for whatever they said they would do.
Earn that reputation and you’re golden.
The second lesson is one that’s as old as the hills.
Good friends are tough to come by and losing one hurts like hell.
Believe me, that’s one lesson you only need (or wish) to learn once.