Losing the “Good” Fight

By Lyle Hill

I don’t like to lose. Whether it was a sporting event in my younger years, a job I was competing for in my adult years or a simple game of cards or Scrabble now, I want to win. And I think it is quite safe to say that most, if not all, of us would rather win than lose at anything. Yet now, I feel compelled to share my failure with you. My commitment to honesty and transparency demands it.

An e-mail I received (edited/shortened slightly) reads:

Mr. Hill, hello. My name is Kevin Bricking and my wife and I are the proud, second-generation owners of Carmel Glass & Mirror in Carmel, Ind. I am writing you on your favorite subject … surcharges! We just received two cases of mirror from a regular supplier of ours. We were billed $900 for the energy surcharges plus $134 for the silver surcharge and about $165 in diesel fuel surcharges. The supplier of these mirrors is not very far from our shop. All of these surcharges were for two stock cases of mirror. So if I break that down per case, it would be approximately $600 per case. I was told by the supplier that if I had ordered nine cases, the surcharges would have only been $266 per case. What a deal! I also asked the supplier if I was paying for diesel for their entire fleet and I was told “don’t try to make sense of surcharges.” I understand everyone needs to make money and prices are up. But why can’t someone just stand up and say “these are our prices and get away from this whole surcharge nonsense!” I always look forward to your articles, and I know you are probably tired of writing about it, but please keep fighting the good fight for all of us little guys. Thanks again.

While I don’t know Kevin Bricking personally, I have heard of Carmel Glass & Mirror and I know they have an excellent reputation. However, being a skeptical person, I asked Kevin to send me a copy of the invoice and he did. I also asked him if I could use his e-mail for this column and he graciously said “yes.” However, as much as I respect and admire people like Kevin and his wife, I cannot continue to, as he put it, “fight the good fight” because I have already lost this fight.

When the “surcharge” matter first started, it made a little bit of sense to me. Energy prices had surged dramatically in a short period of time and because a lot of people thought the cost of energy would soon fall back into a more normal range, we didn’t object too much. As Kevin put it, we all understand the need to raise prices from time to time. And why put out all new price schedules for what was thought to be a temporary matter. But when energy prices fell, the surcharges did not go away. They fluctuated a bit, but did not disappear. Soon the manufacturers and wholesalers realized what an opportunity they had to raise prices without really formally announcing an increase.

I made a few calls after I received Kevin’s e-mail to make sure I was current with what’s going on. First, the surcharge is alive and well, though there is not much consistency. Some suppliers charge a flat surcharge rate for all items purchased, others charge a percentage of the sale price for the surcharge. In other words, if you buy something that costs $10 a square foot and the company has a 10% surcharge factor, your surcharge is $1. But if you buy an item that sells for $20 a square foot, your surcharge is $2 and it has absolutely nothing to do with the size, weight, or any other factor. Come on, this is not a surcharge, this is price increase camouflaged as a surcharge. The variations on this are numerous. As one person told me, there is absolutely no actual relationship between the cost of energy and the surcharges being used.

The fact is that just like bad habits and lies, if they are allowed to go on long enough, the bad habits become common practice and lies become truth. Same thing with the surcharges. They are here to stay. I surrender … I have lost what Kevin referred to as the “good fight.” I hate to lose … but I have and I’m sorry.

Lyle R. Hill is president of Glass.com®, an information portal and job generation company for the glass industry. Hill has more than 50 years’ experience in the glass and metal industry and can be reached at lhill@glass.com

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