© Baron Tayler
Published in ANVIL Magazine, October 1990.
If you read the story, "The Secret to BIG Profits," then you've already been let in on my most cherished "SECRET." Yes, I suppose by now many of you are riding around in your new stretch Mercedes limos, with the rear end custom-converted for your particular farriery needs. Some of you probably have chauffeurs. And the ones who've really made it even have another farrier (some poor, unfortunate soul who doesn't know "THE SECRET") doing all the scut work for you, while you stand there all cool and clean, talking to your customers and supervising your "apprentice's" work.
Well, that's all nice and good for those of you who have made it, but there is one small thing I forgot to mention in that last story of mine. Even using the "SECRET," you still won't make any money if you let your accounts receivable get outta control. (Translation: You can be the best farrier in the world, charge exorbitant, but justifiable rates, and still starve if you don't get paid!) So, not wanting the responsibility of any farriers starving to death being on my shoulders, I'm gonna tell you all how I took care of collecting the money I was owed.
I was fresh out of farrier college - still so wet behind the ears you could do a load of wash. But I was bursting with enthusiasm, ready to save the hooves of all equinedom. Like all new farriers I had to establish a customer base, and so bought an answering machine, had cards printed up, bought a large map of the county, a red pen, and started to drive every single road in the county. I stopped at every house, farm, barn and paddock that looked like it might have a horse nearby. Then I found the owner, made some small talk for a while, and eventually steered the conversation around to hoof care. If the owner was satisfied with the service he was receiving, fine, I just gave him my card and asked him to keep me in mind if some sort of emergency came along. If they weren't satisfied, or didn't have a farrier, I'd try to nab myself a new client.
Things went along in this fashion for about six months, and I was establishing a fairly respectable client base, but it was the hard way. I hadn't been able to land any large stables. They all seemed to have a regular farrier. Then, one day, I finally got the call I'd been waiting for. A fair-sized (26 horse) stable located very close to my house needed farrier work done. I drove right out there, re-introduced myself, and asked the owner (a woman) what needed to be done. She explained that her regular farrier's back had given out and it was doubful that he could return, so she was trying a few farriers to find a replacement. We went into the field; she selected five horses for me to shoe, and I went to it.
To say I was nervous would be an understatement! This was my big opportunity, and I wasn't going to blow it. I took my time, prepared each hoof correctly, and fitted every shoe so it looked like a photo in one of my farrier manuals. When finished, she inspected my work, indicated she liked it, paid me (cash), and said she'd call me in a few weeks.
To make a long story short, she called me back a few more times, and I did a few more horses each time. Eventually I ended up doing the whole stable, and she had switched over to paying me by check. I felt we had a fairly solid relationship by then, and since my system is to schedule the horses for shoeing every six weeks, I would simply call the day before. I'd tell her which horses I would do the next day, she would leave them in the paddock, and I would come and do them. If she wasn't home when I was done, a self-addressed envelope with a bill was left behind.
Because a farrier's life is easier (and more profitable) if the traveling is reduced, I slowly rearranged the horses at this stable so they would all fall due at the same time. This gave me three straight days of work at one location. The second time I finished all the horses at once was when I ran into problems. She wasn't home, so as usual left the (rather sizable) bill and envelope taped to her door. A few days went by and the check didn't arrive. So I gave her a call. Her answering machine answered. This went on for a few days and when I finally reached her, she apologized profusely and promised to mail the check immediately.
Now I'm sure your mothers didn't raise any fools. I know mine didn't. You know what happened next. Nothing. No check. So I dropped by the stable to collect my money in person. I guess she sensed me coming, because she wasn't there. It took a few more unannounced visits before I finally caught up with her, and when I did, well, you know the act. "You didn't receive the check? Well, I don't know why. I mailed it the same day I spoke with you. The postal service is so unreliable...." Right. And she gave me a "replacement" check.
About ten days later I received a check in the mail. No, it wasn't the "original" check she claimed to have mailed me, but the one she gave me in person. Across it in big red letters was stamped a message from her bank, "INSUFFICIENT FUNDS." I was beginning to get upset. Keep in mind that this was my first (and at the time only) big stable, so I desperately didn't want to lose the business by alienating the owner. But things weren't looking good. So I went back, showed the owner here bounced check, which she looked at in pure horror as she excitedly explained that "it must be a bank error. I've never bounced a check before! Those banking people are so unreliable...." Uh-huh. But, being the soft-hearted fool I was, I took another check to replace the replacement check.
Guess what I received in the mail about ten days later. That's right. Only this time the red letters said "ACCOUNT CLOSED." That did it. I was learning fast, and my soft heart was hardening rapidly. I had now reached one of those crucial points in my career where I had to make concise, bold decisions, and carry them out, no matter what the obstacles. I decided that AN EXAMPLE HAD TO BE MADE.
So I formulated a brilliant (if I do say so myself) plan and with the help of a friend, we carried it out. This, my fellow farriers, is what we did: I knew that the stable owner was looking for a new horse with very specific qualities. My friend placed an ad in the newspaper describing a horse for sale which, coincidentally, had all of these qualities, and at a very reasonable price. Two days after the ad started running, who do you think called to inquire about the horse? That's right! And so the bait was taken. My friend gave the stable owner directions to her "farm," which would be at least a two-hour trip each way, and encouraged the stable owner to bring her trailer along so as to save the extra trip when she purchased the horse.
The next morning I waited down the street from the stable entrance until I saw the owner pull away with her trailer in tow. I then went to the stable and pulled the shoes off all of the horses, being careful to keep each horse's shoes wired together and labeled by name. This took about two hours. When I was finished, I put all of the shoes in a pile and took a picture of them. This done, I loaded the shoes into my trailer and left.
The stable owner, if she followed the directions to my friend's "farm," ended up on some dirt road in the middle of nowhere. Calls to the telephone number in the ad did no good, because it was a pay phone. So she returned home. And I waited for a call.
Sure enough, that evening around feeding time I received a call from a rather angry and distraught stable owner. "What have you done?" she asked. I told her it was obvious, wasn't it? Due to her lack of payment, I had repossessed the shoes. Well, she became angrier than a wet hen. She threatened to sue me, and just about everything else you can think of. When she ran out of steam (which took quite awhile), I reminded her that writing checks on a closed account is a criminal offense, and that she might want to reconsider her position. (I was really starting to warm up to this!)
Finally she asked me what it would take to get her horses' shoes back. I told her that when I showed up tomorrow, I wanted her to pay me in advance, in cash, the money she owed me to shoe the horses originally, in addition to the money she would owe me for reshoeing them. (I mentioned there would be no charge for the work performed repossessing the shoes!) She agreed, and that is precisely what came to pass.
Needless to say, word of what happened spread quickly through the area, and I never had another problem collecting money I was owed. And that photograph I took? I had an enlargement made, and I taped it inside my trailer where it was very visible. Those who already knew the story didn't have to ask. And those who didn't know the story soon heard it from someone who did. I never said a word. The photo said it all.
And that, my friends, is how I made sure that when someone said, "The check is in the mail," I damn well knew it was!
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