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Business lunches and golf games are becoming scarce. People change jobs like undershirts. And trade relations are worse than ever. Hmm…

When I was new in the business, my boss told me “You have to have good relationships with the people who call on you. They are the ones who will make you or break you.”

And it was true. But today, top brass at retailers, brokers and manufacturers seem to work hard to prevent good personal relationships among trading partners.


Oh, I hear all the excuses for changing buyers and reps like undershirts. The brass wants its people exposed to all facets of the business. Or they’re afraid that if people get too friendly, there will be sweetheart deals.

When I hear the latter excuse, I often wonder if it’s because the brass played pinochle with company funds themselves years ago. So now they are afraid that their employees will try the same thing.

Johnny HarrisWhen I moved from a store job and became a buyer, a boss warned me I’d be offered all kinds of things by salespeople trying to get their lines in. He said that I’d be offered trips, the use of beach houses and money. I said “No way,” but he insisted it was true and that if it ever happened, I should tell my supervisor immediately.

It wasn’t long before a fish guy came in and offered me a percentage of commission if I’d take on his line. I stood right up and told him it was time for him to leave, and then I told my boss, who took me into the president’s office to tell him.

I’ve wondered sometimes if that wasn’t just set up to see what I would do. I guess I passed. But I can tell you this much: In all my years as a buyer, I was offered something inappropriate maybe twice, and both times I told the people to leave, and that I did not appreciate their offer.

Yet it’s gotten so you need to fill out a form to take someone out to lunch. That’s if you’re even allowed to do it at all. Did I get a free lunch once in awhile? Yes. Did I ever get a house or a car? No.

The fact is that trade relations today are probably worse than ever. People go in and out of jobs quickly. They rarely get a lunch or a golf game together. They don’t really know each other very well anymore. So when something goes wrong on a deal or whatever, there’s no inner reserve or relationship to fall back on. Arguments escalate more quickly, and they’re more likely to result in real business damage. And all because someone in a corner office is afraid that a cheeseburger, fries and a Coke from a vendor will sweeten up the buyer enough to grant special favors.

Two more points here. First, any buyer worth a damn isn’t going to be swayed by a lunch or a golf game. Good buyers know that their business, and their careers, can go South in a hurry if they start buying on anything but quality and price.


And second, don’t think for a minute that the folks in the corner office won’t hear about it if you accept big-ticket concert or game tickets from trading partners. Your “donor” will be filling out his company’s expense report, and your name will be listed under “Meals & Entertainment.” So when the presidents of the broker and your company get together for lunch (yes, they still can), it just may come up in conversation.


Johnny Harris

Johnny Harris

Johnny Harris, president of Johnny L. Harris Consulting, LLC, Fort Mill, S.C., can be reached at 803-984-2594 or at [email protected]

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