Marketing Minute – Fence Line

Published Thursday, September, 10, 2009

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t get along with some people. Do you ever feel that way? I don’t know why it is; perhaps it’s a temperament or some kind of chemical thing.

About 15 years ago, my wife and I built our dream home on a beautiful lot in a new neighborhood just north of Indianapolis. Despite all the troubles we had with our builder, we were pleased with our new home and couldn’t wait to move in.

Our move went well and we began getting acquainted with our new surroundings and our new neighbors. Imagine how excited I was to find out that one of our next-door neighbors was also originally from Pittsburgh. My head immediately filled with visions of Steeler Super Bowl parties, Primanti sandwiches, street hockey and all that goes with the indelible black and gold. Pittsburgh’ers are prideful people; you certainly have come to know that if you read this column regularly. And if you don’t read it regularly, you should.

Shortly after moving in, I recall my parents coming for a visit to give the proverbial seal of approval to the new digs. Mom and Dad arrived and began to survey the homestead. Since I am a carbon copy of my mother, it shouldn’t surprise you that she quickly met my new neighbors and also dragged my father over to the fence to meet them. While my mother is just like me, my dad is the polar opposite. He is slower to speak, a man of few words and not into other peoples’ business.

Despite what looked like a good start, our growing family never could get out of the starting block with these neighbors. My wife and I grieved the relationship that we never had and always wanted. We had always hoped for a Dick Van Dyke show type of relationship; you know, the one where the side door to the house was always open and a hot pot of coffee waited to be shared?

Fast forward – our next door neighbors moved away.

Fifteen years after we moved in, with the neighbors now gone and my parents back for one of their infrequent visits, a “Paul Harvey moment” occurred. My “man of few words” father was into one of his extremely rare storytelling moods. No, this isn’t the story about him winning the Pennsylvania state swimming title, where his relay team had to swim with a wooden gun above the water (which we just found out about this year). No, it was a story about a time 15 years earlier when my mother dragged him to the fence to meet our new neighbors from Pittsburgh. Seems this wasn’t the first time my dad had met this family. Coincidentally, my neighbor happened to have her mom and dad visiting from Pittsburgh that same weekend and invited them to meet my parents as well. Oddly enough, my dad already knew her father. Some years ago, her dad had worked for my dad on a construction project back in Pittsburgh. My father was not pleased with this guy’s performance and he fired him. Because her dad had a position that historically, was considered “unfireable,” the firing was with much fanfare – unforgettable.

Well, that explains the mystery of all these years! How could my father have forgotten some 15 years ago to tell Ruth and me about what just happened at the fence in order to prepare and enlighten us about his history with this family? I know he probably didn’t think it was a big deal, nor did he want to taint our opinion of them. But it sure would have saved us some agony and torment over trying to figure out what was wrong with us and why we couldn’t develop that relationship.

OK, here is my takeaway on this one:

Don’t quickly assume the blame or responsibility for everything that doesn’t go as you hoped it would go. There may be some unusual extenuating circumstances that control the situation. In my case, I had little to do with the issue, but had to live with the results. Had I known, things might have been different. In business, relationships may never take off and prosper; some are doomed to failure. One of the key decisions in football is when to punt the ball. It is OK and often good strategy to occasionally punt on a bad business relationship; it gives you more time to spend on profitable ones!

Jeff Pinyot is founder and vice president of business development for ECO Parking Lights. He can be reached at jspinyot@ECOParkinglights.com

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