It was the Spring of 1981, the country was in dire straits, with a newly elected President trying to get the country over double-digit inflation, double-digit interest rates and gasoline approaching $4 a gallon. The major distraction, I mean entertainment, was the upcoming wedding of Britain’s Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. I wasn’t paying any attention to it, but I knew it was a big deal.
I was managing a nursery and garden center in upstate New York, relieved that President Regan was turning the economic tide. It was before all the troubles of his later presidency, and after the failure of a genuinely nice peanut farmer’s attempt at it. Times were still tough, and many businesses were struggling, not just the one I was running. The wedding consumed the news.
One day I called a “major supplier of pottery” to place a Summer order. Instead of the usual receptionist answering, the one who knew me as a good customer, a man answered. He told me that the “major supplier of pottery” had gone out of business. Times were tough, he said. We didn’t make it. Shocking news!
I recovered enough to inquire, while I hate to take advantage of someone when they are down, if there were any great deals to be had on their inventory. I offered to buy a few pallets of things if the price was right. He told me no, it had all been wholesaled to K Mart. There was nothing left. He was there just cleaning up the last few things before locking the door for good. I extended my condolences and hung up.
I’d spoken to a real person, who had a complex story, and I believed it. I called a competitor and placed an order with them. Several times over the next month or so I told people about the sad closing of a “major supplier of pottery” to their disbelief. But, I’m a credible guy, I had a story to back it up, so eventually they believed me.
Until one day a salesman said it wasn’t true. The “major supplier of pottery” was still open, he’d been there last week. He said they were concerned someone was spreading a false rumor – was it me? Eventually, we got to the bottom of the story.
Little did I know, but I’d called on the actual wedding day of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, just as the TV coverage started. All the staff at the pottery place were in the lounge watching the wedding. A parttime joker in the warehouse answered the phone and, rather than do his job or disturb anyone, told me that “we’re closed” lie. And I told five people who told ten, and on until a “major supplier of pottery” was reeling from the backlash of negative business news.
I apologized, they fired the guy, and the economy eventually improved, for awhile, anyway. I offer this as a warning. While the hoopla about another Royal wedding rages, there is an opportunity for people to misrepresent their company, their actions and their intentions. I’ll double check everything I hear that day. Forewarned is forearmed . . .