Upon arriving in the town of Barerra near the border of
NSW and Victoria, I glanced, again, at my list of appointments. My itinerary was
to call on all the architects in this town, the government departments, the
flooring contractors, inspect two large flooring installations and maintain
contacts with the end-users of our PVC floor coverings.
The first visit in Barrera was at a flooring shop run by
Frank Cleary. It was at the edge of the town and Frank was an old friend of
mine. I had supported him for a long time because he always made me feel
welcome. There was a friendly smile, a cup of coffee and intense
listening to any new knowledge I had to pass on and he happily accepted
new catalogues and samples. It was amazing how few flooring retailers treated
visiting company representatives as part of their team!
‘It’s just a rep!’ they would mutter when they saw
somebody in a business suit and holding a folder enter their establishment and they would continue with
whatever they were doing. Obviously they considered people like me an
interruption to their work!
However, Frank Cleary was different. He would sit down
with me and we discuss his business and I would point out where I could
help him with a special discount when his competition was too tough or I might
offer to recommend him to a builder to help him win a contract that way.
On this visit, however, he informed me that things had
been very quiet. ‘There is a large building project in town, Peter, and despite
our keenest tender, somebody from out of town is quoting cheaper, with a different
brand of flooring - I don’t know how they do it!’
Since business was quiet due to a downturn in the
economy, I realised how much he needed to win this contract. And he certainly
needed my help. Plus, of course, I wanted to see my own brand of flooring
I thought about this and hit on an idea: ‘I tell you what
we could do’ I exclaimed. ‘My company could donate 10 sqm of a Safety Flooring
as a test installation. We always do this when a client needs convincing. This
offer is only available to you! Your competitor from out of town will not be
able to offer the same. Would this help you?’ I asked.
‘My word it would’ he sighed with relief and his
tiredness seemed to disappear. He clearly saw the proverbial light at the end
of the tunnel.
‘Also, mention that, if you win the contract, you would
train the maintenance staff in the proper cleaning procedures, thereby ensuring
that the ongoing maintenance costs are kept to a minimum.’
‘Hang on - who would do the training?’ he sounded alarmed
as he did not wish to promise more than he could keep. He was truly a decent businessman.
I touched him soothingly on the shoulder: ‘I would come
from Melbourne, upon your completion of the installation, and conduct a
training seminar for the cleaners. As you know, I always have floor cleaning
equipment, like a buffing machine, in my car. For now, Frank, follow up your
original tender for the project with a “Letter of Amendment” and list the
extras we just discussed. I shall speak later on today to the manager of the
project and recommend you.’
‘This may help’ Frank said quietly.
I had known Frank for almost 30 years and was aware that
he would have liked to have sold his business and retire as he was getting on
in years. But he had no son or other family members to hand over his business
to. He was a bit tired but had to keep going, competing with big and
well-established businesses from as far as Sydney. In my opinion, he belonged
to a disappearing breed of flooring contractors: hard working, doing their own
installations, giving good customer service, and yet being squeezed hard by big
and rough-working competitors.
My next call in Barerra was to the large private hospital
where Carl Boswell was the maintenance engineer. Right from our first meeting,
about two years earlier, we had gotten on extremely well. So much so that at
Christmas time I always brought him a bottle of wine or company give-aways,
small attention-getting trinkets, like an attractive-looking ball point pen or
a set of golf balls. In return, Carl would present me with a Christmas pudding
that he’d cooked himself, as he was also a qualified chef and in charge of the
The hospital, Star of the Sea, was run by nuns and always
had a peaceful atmosphere. So, with pleasant expectations, I entered the hospital and asked at the
reception for Carl Boswell.
‘He will be with you in a moment’, announced a serene
lady at the reception. She had a very friendly face, with a happy smile that
seemed to radiate cheerfulness. This was in marked contrast to some other
health institutions, where the receptionists were overburdened and their smiles
strained. Still, they all were doing a good job and doing it with dedication. I
thanked her and relaxed.
A sister came by, clearly in a hurry, but stopped
suddenly and asked me: ‘Are you the representative of the manufacturer we got
the new vinyl flooring from?’
Realising that she was in a hurry, I answered ‘Yes. I am
Peter Frederick and call here regularly to make sure everything is alright
flooring-wise.’ I tried to hand her my business card.
‘Well, we are not happy with the floor - it stains
terribly in the operating theatres. They are full of iodine stains. Terrible.’
And then she rushed off and was gone.
This surprise attack had taken my breath away and I had
to gather my wits to say: ‘I am sorry to hear that you are not happy with our
vinyl flooring but frankly, iodine will stain any flooring. There is, however,
such a thing as iodine stain remover and I shall give your maintenance
engineer, Carl Boswell, the details!’
But I had not been able to voice this because, like I
said, she was long gone. Just by uttering an accusation whilst rushing past, she had
deflated me somewhat. I felt this was terrible: being wronged and unable to
defend myself! I must have shown a long face, because when Carl arrived he went
out of his way to welcome me and cheer me up.
‘Nice to see you again, Peter! How are things with you?
Are you having a good day?’
‘Well, just so-so, Carl, and how is your day?’
‘We are very busy at the moment,’ he explained as we
walked automatically to the hospital canteen. ‘As you know, I am also in charge
of the kitchen and do the cooking plus I’m in charge of the hospital cleaners.’
‘Then you probably get two pay packets, I guess.’ I had
found my cheerfulness again. This had made Carl laugh and when we arrived at the staff canteen, we went through a well practised routine - Carl
filled up the coffee mugs from an enormous container whilst I selected scones
for both of us.
‘There was this lady, Carl, who rushed past me and
criticised our flooring for accepting iodine stains and before I could reply
she was gone.’ Carl giggled and waved a resigned hand - he was used to
rough stuff. ‘Are you are aware that there are very good iodine stain
We had continued talking ‘business’ and I handed him an
information sheet on stain removers. ‘Here is one company you could try.’
Carl was a man of action. He excused himself for a moment
and went to the nearest phone. Coming back to his coffee and scone he smiled.
‘I have just phoned the company you recommended and they are sending me a
sample bottle to try out.’
‘Here is something for you, Carl,’ I said, reaching into
my carry case. ‘It's French wine, all the way from Burgundy - for you - with
best wishes from our company and me. Thank you for all your cooperation and
hospitality during the year.’ Carl, a keen connoisseur, perused the label with
‘Well, thanks, Peter! This is a real surprise! I shall
enjoy it with my family, if I get a spare minute with them!’ He giggled in
expectation at the thought of sipping it.
Suddenly he jumped up, rushed into the kitchen which was
adjacent to the staff canteen and returned with a great smile on his face. In
his hands he carried a Christmas pudding! ‘Here is something for you, Peter. I
cooked it myself.’
I knew from the previous years that his Christmas puddings
were always very tasty and I accepted his gift with humble gratitude. After
all, I knew of no other company representatives receiving a Christmas present
from a hospital! It’s always the other way round.
‘Thank you very much, Carl, but you didn’t have to do
this - I wasn’t expecting anything . . .’
Carl laughed and took the drained coffee cups to a
special tray for washing up. ‘You deserve it, Peter. Whenever I need help,
advice or whatever, I can always count on you. You’ve never let me down.’
We took the lift to the second floor, where new vinyl
floorings had just been installed. It looked great; smooth like a billiard
table because Carl took care to supervise the subfloor preparations as I had
advised. Only when the concrete was smooth ‘as per the Australian Standard’ and
therefore to his satisfaction, did he let the flooring installer proceed with
the next part of installation, the actual PVC.
Carl was a smart man! Normally, tradesmen were let loose
with a minimum of supervision - and an installation could go wrong in a big
way. This always amazed me as the installation of flooring is a major project
and the costs are massive. Therefore, I have always felt that tradesmen should
be supervised with the utmost attention. But in Carl’s hospital, everything,
whether flooring or cooking, was perfect. He made sure of that!
We looked into the operating theatres: The good doctors
had been very generous with the iodine. They were obviously splashing it about with wild abandon. They
must shower in it, I thought, judging by the enormous stains on the floor. Of
course, nobody can tell a doctor how much to use. In Europe, however, they use
another substance, chlorhexidine, which is colourless and leaves no marks.
‘I guess our doctors believe that sterility has to be
seen to be effective!’ Carl muttered.
After discussing with Carl the excellent installations, I
met with his cleaners who wanted to know some details regarding cleaning
methods. I left that friendly hospital in high spirits. I always did.