Finding a Nut Every So Often

By Lyle Hill

I answered the phone after its third ring and offered up my usual salutation.

“Hill,” he began,” I want you to know that I have had it. Can’t go on any longer. I’m canceling my subscription to USGlass magazine, turning off the phones, locking the doors and selling the building. I’m done.”

Earl Dubovik, known by many as “Earl the Squirrel Dubovik,” calls me about once a year. Typically, he calls to rant about something that has happened in the industry or about something I’ve written in this fine family-oriented magazine. He’s a bit odd, but I have always thought of him as harmless.

“It’s nice to hear from you, Earl. It has been a while. But what’s this talk about ‘not going on any longer and shutting down’? Has something happened? Are you having health issues?”

Earl picked up his nickname when he was in his early 20s. He had bushy, reddish hair, and after he added a bushy mustache and matching beard, he was tagged with the nickname mainly because … well … because he looked like a squirrel.

“I’m fine physically, but I can’t take it anymore. And it makes no sense for me to continue because all I’m doing is losing money and starting to lose my mind as well.”

The Squirrel … I mean Earl … inherited his business from his father about five years ago. He had more or less grown up working for his father and was considered by those he worked with to be an excellent technician. Unfortunately for the business, he had little experience with managing an operation, and he doesn’t take criticism or advice well. His father had been successful, and Earl has maintained a good reputation and customer base but has struggled financially.

“I’m sorry to hear this, Earl. I know things have been difficult for everyone these past couple of years, but if you’re losing money and struggling in other ways, maybe it’s time to think about doing something else. What do you think is your biggest problem, though? Not enough help? Bad competition? Just what is it?”

A lot of people didn’t give Earl much of a chance of making it after he inherited the business. His demise had been predicted for years, but somehow, despite himself, he managed to get by. Every time I talk to Earl, a saying that my father Lyle Alvin (who never missed an opportunity to drop a cliché on me) used to say comes to mind. It went … “even a blind squirrel will find a nut every so often.” Apparently, Earl has continued to stumble across enough nuts to keep it going but now wants to hang it up.

“It’s the suppliers, Hill. You wrote about it just a month ago. You know that article about soda bottle deposits, old cars and gasoline prices? The article was kinda sappy, but as you stated, prices for our products are up between 30-50%, and that stupid energy charge thing is almost double as well. I can’t absorb that. I’m through.”

“Earl, as I recall, your nearest competitor is about 50 miles from you. You have a sufficient and efficient shop, and your employees are competent people. Have I got that right?”

I had actually visited Earl’s shop a few years ago, and it was well-equipped and in a great location. The town where they are located has a solid population base and is experiencing some growth. I thought it was an ideal setup.

“So what, Hill? I have to give the employees raises because of inflation, and my material costs are almost double what they were when I took over. I can’t afford to keep the doors open.”

“Earl, stay with me here. I think maybe I can help you find a nut.”

“What are you talking about, Hill? I don’t need a nut. I need help, and that’s why I called you in the first place.”

“Okay, Earl. Forget the nut thing and answer one question for me. When was the last time you raised your prices?”

“Lyle, I have never raised my prices. I can’t raise my prices. All of my customers will go somewhere else.”

I had a strange feeling that this was the answer I was going to get and concluded that the nut Earl was about to find might be a big one.

“Earl, are you sitting down?”

“Yes”

“Good. Now pay attention for just a second. You can change prices, and your customers will not leave you if you explain why you are doing so.”

“Are you sure, Hill?”

“Absolutely positive Earl, and I think you will be surprised at the responses. No one likes to get a price increase, but in these times, shops like yours don’t have a choice. It is a matter of survival. I’ll even help you figure it out.”

“Okay then, I’ll do it. And what was that thing about a nut or something? What does a price increase have to do with nuts?”

“Forget about the nut thing, Earl. I don’t know what I was thinking. I just want you to remember that price changes are an okay thing and are a natural part of doing business. They have to be timely, reasonable and competitive, of course. And if handled professionally, no one will ever think you’re nuts.”

“There you go again with the nut thing, Hill. Is there something you’re not telling me?”

“Nutting, Earl. Absolutely nutting at all.”

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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