Thursday, March 25, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 69

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 34
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Dean Howley: 9 years old
Cassy Howley: 5 years old
Hank: The owner of the “Same Bat Channel Comic Shop” chain
Richard Ortwein and Chris Ball: Hank’s key employees


Late one night, Hank and I had negotiated a buy-out of his comic book store in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. This deal was set to be consummated if his two full-time employees would agree to come to work for me. Richard seemed ready but Chris refused my offer. I didn’t have any extra employees available to take over Hank’s store so the deal was off. My wife was glad. I was almost relieved because I knew that adding a second store wasn’t just double the work, it was much more than that. More employee issues to deal with, more government paperwork, and more stress.

By the next morning, the deal to buy Hank’s store wasn’t even in my thoughts anymore. But that didn’t last long. At ten o’clock, as I opened my store, the first person to come in was Chris Ball. He explained that he had changed his mind and he wanted to come to work for me. Although Chris had a key role to play in the “Same Bat Channel Comics” chain of stores, Hank had convinced him that the future was most likely more secure if he joined the “That’s Entertainment” team. Chris and I talked about my expectations for employees and what I had planned for the future, including my eventual retirement from active participation in the day-to-day operations of the store. We discussed his required salary and I agreed to continue paying him the same amount that he was earning while he was working for Hank. Chris said he’d be interested in the job.

I wasn’t convinced that this drastic change-of-heart was authentic. I was worried that if I agreed to buy Hank’s store, based on Chris’s agreement to come to work for me, there was no way to force Chris to actually follow through with his commitment. Once Hank had my money, Chris could just quit and I’d be stuck with another store and I wouldn’t have enough employees to handle the increased workload. I was still in the process of trying to find another full-time employee for my Worcester store and I wasn’t having much luck. I knew Hank pretty well and I trusted that this wasn’t a trick to get me to buy his store. Hank was a man of principle and an all-around nice person. My dilemma was that I didn’t know Chris well enough to really trust him yet. He might be doing this just to help Hank’s financial picture.

When we were done discussing a lot of the details, I told Chris that I’d think about this situation and I’d get back to him with my decision soon. I called Hank and told him about this new development. He assured me that Chris made this decision on his own. Hank didn’t have anything devious up his sleeve.

I called my wife and told her that the deal was back on. I was still uneasy about the decision but I trusted Hank enough to take the risk. After I closed the store I drove to Fitchburg and gave Hank a check for thirty thousand dollars. Hank used this money to pay off most of his debt to Diamond Comic Distributors and it allowed the rest of his comic book store chain to survive. Hank began removing his inventory that night. By the next morning I had enough of my inventory there and I was able to open this new store on time. The customers had no idea that there was going to be a change of ownership and everything went quite smoothly. Business was pretty good already but with a new “fresh” inventory and with a renewed enthusiasm of Richard Ortwein, business increased quite a bit. Within six months the store earned enough in profits that my entire purchase price was recovered.

Chris Ball spent much of his time at the Worcester store. I needed the help there and I wanted to spend time training him in the ways I wanted things run and my basic philosophy of business. Chris was a great employee. He worked hard at keeping our customers happy. He had a tremendous memory for details and was willing to do any task I needed done. After a few months had gone by I began to feel confident that Chris intended to stay with my company.

Next chapter: One of my favorite customers tells me an amazing story!

No comments:

Post a Comment