I started my career in printing November 16th, 1992.  That was the day I accepted a job offer to help a guy start up his franchise print shop location.  Neither of us had any real printing experience to speak of so it was going to be an interesting ride.  While he had worked at the Minneapolis Star tribune, it was as VP of HR, not anything to do with printing.  My experience at the time was limited to BUYING printing, which gave me a familiarity with many of the terms, but still not much of an idea how to actually MAKE anything.

From then until August of 2001, myself and the owner worked to bring our store to a model of efficiency.  Our sales were on the low end for our franchise, but our margins were on the top end.  That meant we made money. The franchiser kept adding ‘things’ that we ‘had’ to offer, so our costs kept increasing, but we still made money.  Then one day in early 2001 the owner got really sick.  Like deathly sick and was out of the store for about 6 months.  He almost died about 4 times due to a staph infection.  For those 6 months I  was more or less the acting owner.  I had to take checks to get signed by the owner or his wife, but I ran everything as if it were mine.  It wasn’t hard because I always ran it as if it were mine.  I cared about the business. Sales dropped since he was the outside sales, but we still held firm.

When he finally came back he just didn’t have the zeal to continue.  He went thru the motions but you could tell that fighting for his life had exhausted him and he wanted out.  That is when I decided to try my hand at being an actual owner instead of second fiddle.  Months of negotiations and signing everything I ever had away, I managed to secure a loan and purchased the store.  Then one month later the twin towers were hit and my world crashed.  Over night my business volume dropped 60%.  Even the BEST margins in the world couldn’t survive that hit. After a few months of still being in shock, hoping that things would return to normal, it became clear that they weren’t. Hours were changed,  expenses were re-examined and I tried to renegotiate my loan.  (That one was a big fat no) Slowly sales started to creep back up, offering me hope.  I hired a sales guy to try and get us back into the black. Credit cards became my friend and a paycheck became something I didn’t see very often, but I kept on.  Things had to get better, didn’t they?  I had my brother working for me as well as 4 other people all depending on me to find a way to turn this around. Meanwhile credit card bills continued to mount. The rate slowed down, but the new sales guy wasn’t doing well enough to stop it.

Flash forward to late 2008.  I finally decided that while I was a pretty good manager, I was a crappy owner.  Credit card debt wasn’t at its limit but I was already deeper than I had an ability to pay.  And my SBA loan was HUGE and inflexible.  This was admitting defeat, which was a big deal for me.  I hate to lose, and this was losing on a grand scale. The business was closed. I closed shop, sold off my customer list to a neighboring store that I knew would treat them well, sold as much equipment as I could then talked with a lawyer and entered that realm of Chapter 7.  Most of my business debts were small and just written off.  The credit card companies just wrote off what they were owed but the SBC lender was trying to get blood from a stone.  They were demanding over $200k from me, which of course I didn’t have.  We had reaffirmed our personal debts (house and car payment) as my wife was still working and we could cover those untilI could secure a job. We made an offer to the SBA lender to remove the lien on our house.  The uncertainty of them foreclosing was playing hell with my family and my marriage.  So with a loan from one relative and a gift from another, plus cashing in my 401k, we made an offer.  It was rejected and in return they demanded the $200k again.  If I HAD $200k I would have still been operating, so not sure what the disconnect there was. Finally we had to force their hand and give them a last offer that was increased by about $6000 (from selling a lot of personal stuff) or we would surrender the house. With the cratered housing market, they would have only realized a small gain from selling it, but we would be done.  Perhaps homeless, but at least we wouldn’t have the sword of the lender threatening to take the house at some future unspecified date.  They blinked and took our offer, we were free.

Now what?  It is now 2009 and I need a job.  All I know is printing but none of the companies I know are hiring.  I send resumes but get nowhere. I keep seeing ads for a Print Center Manager at Office Max so I keep sending my resume.  not looking for retail, but a job is a job. With my background they should be begging me to come there, but I get no calls. Finally I call one of the stores directly and ask him if he has seen my resume in response to his ad.  He tells  me that he hasn’t seen them and that they all get filtered thru their corporate office. So I send it to him directly and get a call the next day for an interview.  He wanted to hire me on the spot but said he was afraid that with my experience level I would bolt in an instant. So I had to promise him I would stay at least 6 months and I got the job.  (Office Max stories were few and far between but they are coming) Perhaps a week later, I get a call from my current employer, whom I had applied with at the time.  Figures. I told him on the phone that I was appreciative of the call back but I had just started at Office Max and had promised that I would give them at least 6 months.  He said that he could understand and appreciated that I appeared to be a mad of my word.  He then asked if he could call me 6 months from then.  I said sure, thinking that was it.

Today will mark the 8th year at my current place of employment, which isn’t Office Max.  6 months to the date of my hire there, the owner of my current place called me.  I was frankly pretty shocked that he remembered.  He had said that when he checked my references every one of my prior bosses said that I could walk  on water and that he would be a fool to not hire me.  Oh great, now I have THAT to live up to!  Anyway, I went and met with him and within an hour I had a new job.  I gave notice at Office Max but worked at my new place when I wasn’t on shift there.  Busy times.  For what happened next, go see my post on how I thwarted a coup.


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