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The Case of the Con and the Compromise

A customer tries for a discounted do-over after first cheaping out.

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“CAN WE TALK about these signs asap!” That was the message of a text received by Danielle Lewis, owner of DL Signs in Atlanta, with two photos attached. They showed a pair of simple signboards, drenched by the day’s earlier downpour, with some of the colors running down the boards.

Danielle remembered these signs and the sender of the text, Tad Mimlitz, owner of a new nursery, Green Thumbz, that had opened nearby. After turning down lamination due to the cost — “It’s only a three-day Arbor Day sale,” Mimlitz had said — he asked a second time, almost wistfully, “You sure I shouldn’t use them outside?”

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Real Deal scenarios are inspired by true stories, but are changed to sharpen the dilemmas involved and should not be confused with real people or places. Responses are peer-sourced opinions and are NOT a substitute for professional legal advice. Please contact your attorney if you any questions about an employee or customer situation in your own business.

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Created by ROLF L’MAO, Signs of the Times’ mascot. Email him at editor@signsofthetimes.com.

And sure enough, he had. Danielle sighed, took a deep breath and dialed.

“Yeah, thanks for calling me back,” Mimlitz said. “One of my employees misunderstood and put the signs outside today. All of our trees on sale are outside, so I can see how that might have happened.”

“How can I help you?” Danielle asked, shrugging her shoulders.

“Well, I was hoping you could replace the signs, you know,” Mimlitz replied. “By tomorrow morning, when I open at eight.”

“Replace?” Danielle started. “You mean a new order … a rush order, I suppose.” She looked at the wall clock: 5:12 p.m., her mind quickly mapping out what would have to be done by when.

“I was thinking more of a complimentary replacement,” Mimlitz said. “Like a warranty,” which was followed by a pause…

“But the signs aren’t covered by a warranty,” Danielle said. “I remember we talked about them being for indoor use only because they weren’t laminated.”

“Yeah, well, I knew about that,” Mimlitz said. “But like I said, one of my employees put them outside … To be honest, I’m a bit surprised they didn’t even hold up for one day —”

“Sir, you’re asking me to replace the signs overnight at my expense, and your company is where they were misused,” Danielle said carefully but confidently. “We’re not in a position to offer that.”

“I know, I know,” Mimlitz said, “It sounds like a big ask. I get that.” He paused again. “Can you give me a break on it, like at least half off?” he continued. “It’s a repeat job, so I’m guessing a lot of the work is already done.”

“Mr. Mimlitz, my shop closes in …” Danielle looked again at the clock, “45 minutes. To produce this admittedly ‘repeat’ job will take a couple of hours. And you need it delivered by 8 a.m. Pretty much the definition of a rush order.”

“Look,” Mimlitz said, his voice flattening. “What can you do for me, huh? I need the new signs just for tomorrow and the next day. They’re my only on-site promotion for the sale.”

“I’m not sure how much I can do for you, if anything,” Danielle replied. “Are you going to want lamination for these signs, which seem to belong outside?” She froze in a moment of slight panic having said that last part. She waited.

“Yeah, I guess —” Mimlitz said, then it sounded as though he covered his phone’s mouthpiece to swear, or something very near to it. “Yes,” he continued, then cleared his throat. “With the lamination.”

“That’s going to cost—”

“Yes, I know it’s going to cost more.” Mimlitz was losing patience. “So are we gonna play ball here or what? What’s this gonna set me back?”

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The Big Questions

  • How should Danielle reply to Mimlitz? Take the job or refuse it? If so, charge full price? Add the rush charge?
  • Or compromise to some extent, and if so, by how much?
Steven R.
Mobile, AL

We would replace at retail. Even though the customer was a bit overbearing, I doubt I’d add the rush charge. Sometimes a little goodwill goes a long way even when the customer is trying to take advantage.

Patty M.
Charlotte, NC

We would likely do a full-price order and waive the rush fee while explaining to the client that we are accommodating them by saving them $___ on the rush …. If the rush involves paying staff overtime and is truly inconvenient, that is taken into consideration. We often talk to the client about “when the cheap gets expensive” and firmly explain how that is clearly not the best option for their situation. Reasonable clients understand and unreasonable ones never will.

Paul L.
California

Full price plus rush fee. These types of customers only try to scam deals and never learn. There are plenty of customers out there that will pay normal prices and listen to the experts.

Florian P.
Vienna

I would compromise to some extent, depending on the volume of the order and how she calculated the price the first time. But with the lamination I would offer a discount of 15%. You never know what [and what other clients] the customer might bring you in the future …

Bobby J.
Joppa, MD
  1. Split the cost of the materials.
  2. Charge for the lamination.
  3. [If] I like working with them … no rush.
  4. Hard to work with, definite rush!
Diane
White River Junction, VT

You did his job exactly how he wanted it to save money on his end. His decisions blew it. He wants you to pay for his mistakes plus the laminating. I’d give him a text for a new job with lamination and rush pay. Your time and materials have to be considered and what other jobs you have to bump to get his new order done. If he gives you a negative review, answer it immediately with what happened.

Edward S.
Mt. Morris, MI

First and foremost … we would provide him with the sign(s) as needed (with required laminate) on time. The compromise would be that we would only charge at our costs (before profit) to replace his original sign: and then barter the extra costs (i.e., the rush charge, the required laminate cost and our profit) for his product or services at full price. The idea here is to cover my overhead costs with cash and barter the difference with trade dollars, which would save on his cash flow.

Cindy
Placerville, CA

Wow! That customer is truly amazing! If it was my shop I would explain that because the problem was with his employee it doesn’t constitute my signshop to pay to re-do those signs. He knew they were not to be used outside. Give him a price with a rush charge to reproduce those signs, laminated, and/or offer a “banner” type replacement that can stand the weather and he can store for future sales. Remain calm and respectful even though it seems his demeanor is very disrespectful. He seems like the type of customer that will always chisel on costs and quality and never really be satisfied, let alone give you a genuine “thank you.”

John R.
Lake County, IL

Accommodate the customer and add a little discount — it hurts but so does bad publicity from an unhappy customer — and of course don’t let them forget this falls on them and you cannot do this [again] in the future.

David H.
Bunkie, LA

10 to 1 he is the one that put the sign outside.

Chic P.
Hyannis, MA

Tell them to fry ice and go home.

Joe A.
Middletown, OH

This is a tough one. However, you’re in a position to control the narrative of the conversation. If they valued your expertise and appropriate recommendation there would be no issue to begin with. “We’re happy to help and make this right. With that in mind though in order to get this done we’ll need to put an expedited rush on this, but I will laminate them at cost. They’ll be ready by 7:30 tomorrow morning. Sound fair?”

Dan W.
South Sioux City, NE

I’d be pleasant and professional, but I’d quote the retail price plus the rush fee. If the customer can accept this, then it’s worth the company’s time. Not every customer is worth having; some are more of a headache than they are worth, but treat every customer fairly and consistently. This is a business and far too many customers try to get discounts that aren’t warranted. You wouldn’t go into Walmart or Target and walk up to checkout and say, “Hey can I pay half price for this? I’ve bought something similar before…” It can be maddening.

Bill T.
Davenport, IA

I like to come to a friendly offering without cheating myself, though I admit I often give too much.

I would figure up the price to do the job over with lamination and a rush charge. Then I’d offer to do the job for half payment and half store credit from Green Thumbz.

And I would require that it had no expiration date. This probably isn’t a good fix in a larger company; but as a smaller family-owned shop, I would consider this form of payment occasionally as long as I believe I’ll use their service or goods in the near future.

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Stephen R.
North Charleston, SC

My response would be different based on whether this was a first-time order or a regular customer. First-time customer is going to have to pay dearly upfront. Not sure I would trust this person after that conversation. He screwed up and wants you to pay for it.

If he is a returning customer that I have dealt with more than once in the past and paid well without trying to beat me up on pricing, I would do the signs for what it cost.

Sounds like this guy is a hard no and would have to pay in full in advance.

Frank M.
San Marcos, CA

There are certain people in this world that are just “different”. In this case, this guy is not going to be a good customer for you. Refer him out, or just drop him.
Your life will be better without him. You will spend way more time dealing with him than it will be worth. Get rid of him ASAP and spend the time on better customers.

Mieke M.
Westminster, CO

If this was a customer that has only ordered one thing from us or was always beating us up on price, I would not give a deal to them. However, if it was a customer that does a lot of business with us I would offer a small discount and express the importance of ordering the proper signage in the future to prevent this from happening again.

Don O.
Coquitlam BC, Canada

I would work out the true price for the rush/overtime job.

Quote them that with a 20% discount to ease their pain somewhat, telling them, “We wouldn’t want to profit from someone’s mistake.”

That leaves the customer a position where they would want to continue on as a customer. They will always have a need for signs, placards, price cards or vehicle wraps. Having a long term customer will more than make up for the one time 20% discount.

Peter B.
Huntington Beach, CA

This sign shop’s focus seems to be on who is right and what it will cost. Yes, the customer screwed up, but the sign shop is showing very little empathy for the customer’s situation. Getting into the blame game is always a lose-lose proposition. Customers should not be punished for their ignorance or carelessness. This is a chance to win a repeat customer.

The conversation needs to be solely on a solution to help the customer salvage their situation. Maybe they can print a banner or a decal to cover up the problem. Maybe a new sign can be delivered by 10 a.m., instead of eight. Sure the customer should pay for it but the shop doesn’t have to make the same level of profit as the first order.

Pulling off the impossible win is what makes this business exciting.

Robert B.
Oakdale, CT

It’s for a new company so the real question is … Are we going to see a substantial amount of work from them in the near future?

If the answer is a definite yes, then play ball. Maybe drop the rush charge or a small discount.

However, from the sound of the conversation they are ALWAYS going to look for the lowest price so charge away full price, plus lamination, plus a rush charge.

If they go away, then nothing lost.

Lisa H.
Mabelvale, AR

I would offer to do the project again plus the lamination at the cost of the new sign and lamination but not charge the rush fee. And could only guarantee delivery by 9 a.m. The sign company is “helping” the client out but not losing too much in costs.

This client will either appreciate the sign company for helping them out in a bind and become a more responsible and loyal client, or the client will never return, [in which case] who needs clients like this anyway?

Both the sign company and the client are in a win/win situation and sometimes a little good will will go a long way … Long term thinking here!

Michael B.
St Cloud, MN

In my opinion, this conversation went on too long. My answer would have been, “I’m sorry, but the soonest we can manufacture outdoor durable signs would be 3 business days due to lamination, dry time and printer availability, would you like us to proceed? If so I’ll email you a new proposal and design to sign off on. As you know we require 1/2 down and remainder on pickup/delivery.” He/she will respect you for your straightforwardness, if they don’t, move immediately on to your appreciative customers. End note: Always remember your time and sanity are important, Stick to your guns, especially on such a trivial order.

Jake
Randolph, VT

I’ve encountered similar situations multiple times and I don’t have a good solution. Even as a small 1-2 person shop, where most customers understand that people deserve a break after a long day of work, this scenario is a lose-lose situation. If you stick to your guns and say I can’t do it by tomorrow, he goes away pissed, will bad-mouth you both for producing a “low-quality product” (even though you produced exactly what he wanted, warned him about the drawbacks, and have clear documentation), and for not delivering what he wanted for “customer service.” If you cave and do what he wants, he will probably balk at the fair price to produce it, your production quality will probably suffer because you are rushing, he gets the ideas that you are a pushover, that queue-cutting is no big deal, and if you have anyone else working with you, they are now pissed because you stole their evening plans from them. Best choice is to stick to your guns and hope for the best.

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Christine A.
Texarkana, TX

Since this customer was advised to not put the sign outside and to purchase laminate, a discount would not be offered. It is not our practice to charge a rush fee, however; we do charge a delivery fee. As I always say, “If it weren’t for the last minute, none of us would have jobs.” Customers are constantly wanting signs at the last minute and we always try to accommodate their sign needs.

Ian M.
Bristol, RI

Mr. Customer, I am very sorry that there was a miscommunication on part of you and your employee, but as a business person you must understand that if someone misuses a product for example planting a tropical indoor plant out in the weather that you are not responsible for the item. And if you were clear as we were how to handle the item, that you can not warranty it for mis-use.

The cost of replacement is X and the overtime is Y but as we value your business, I would consider a small discount of Z to help you absorb what your employee cost you. I hope that you find my offer fair and although I understand your predicament, this is the best solution that I can offer at this late time.

Carl H.
Cincinnati

If it’s a repeat customer and you want to do more business with them, then you have to do the job and I would do it at a little above cost (which will be a huge discount) to potentially gain loyalty and make up your money on future sales.

If you don’t want to do business with them in the future, then you charge a fair price (which they probably won’t pay) or you just turn them down. I would probably go for the fair price option because if you just turn them down, then someone like this will probably do their best to smear your name and even though it won’t be true, it could hurt your business from those they know.

If someone is going to ask you to pay for something that they did wrong, then you most likely don’t want to do business with them.

After you are done with this, then you go buy a latex printer so you won’t have this problem in the future.

Kevin C.
Normal, IL

I don’t think I would have sold the customer signs that I knew would not be somewhat weatherproof. A few more questions at the point of sale would have likely prevented the problem. I would re-make the signs and make sure they were weatherproof (that might be a top lam or using a UV or solvent printer).

The cost of having an unhappy customer would be more than the cost of re-making the signs. An heroic gesture on your part will impress the customer and will lead to a good reference (or at least prevent a bad one) and more sales!

Jeffrey C.
Clearwater, FL

I would offer to do it again. But because of added laminate and shortened timeline, he would have to pay in full upfront. A rush charge would be added to the total. Then after figuring out the total cost I might add another 20%. And tell him because my company “feels” for his problems. I would reduce 20%.

Rocco G.
Pennsauken, NJ

I don’t do digital printing in house and so always order prints with lamination. I don’t give people the option. However, if I were in this position, I’d charge the customer full price plus whatever it costs for the overtime to complete their order. This is the typical cheapskate who was just shopping for the lowest price. They got what they paid for, and it bit them on the behind. Now he’s trying to get something for free.

I would at the least, run the CC before starting the order. In fact, it would probably be best to require cash (it’s company policy for rush orders because we’ve had too many people not pick them up). This is the type of person to go to the CC company and dispute the charge with the excuse that “the signs weren’t right in the first place.”

Davor F.
Croatia

Accept the rush order, charge it in full but no extra costs for rush order.

Ben P.
Seaford, DE

The type of customer we have all had more than once. Thankfully not typical. Pushing all the buttons hoping to get you to feel sorry for them. But I don’t feel sorry for him. It was explained that for the money he wanted to spend these signs were strictly indoor. Just because his employee made a mistake does not imply any kind of warranty or do over. Too bad.

That being said I would offer to do them over at the same price, plus the cost of laminate. Most of the work is done. So how hard could it be? I would not charge a rush fee. I very rarely do that anyway. The only thing I would demand is that they would have to come pick it the next morning.

My thoughts are always to strive and take the high road. I know customers can be a pain. But I have found gestures like this typically go a long way. If it doesn’t, what are you really out?

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