Thursday, October 23, 2014


My horse has been called stubborn.  His real name is Sam.  When I first met him, he reminded me of Dick Butkus. In three years,  I have learned that attitude is pretty much everything.

I bought Sam before we could move into the farm where he would eventually live.  His first residence under my ownership was a boarding stable.  For some reason, the boarding stable owner decided that Sam needed some socializing and tossed him into a paddock with several residents that included an already-established lead mare who was one mean horse.  She had no trouble biting and kicking all of the other horses in the paddock and there was no question of her dominance. 

Sam was the new horse and was ostracized from the herd at first.  This is normal until a new horse can establish its position within the herd.  There really is a pecking order and new horses have to fight their way into it. 

A few days after he arrived, though, Sam was moving around with the rest of the herd.  All of the horses except for the lead mare left him alone to do whatever he liked.  The mare would move all the other horses out of the way by pinning her ears, then biting and kicking if necessary.  Each time she tried this on Sam, though,  she accomplished nothing.  I watched her pin her ears, bite him, turn and threaten and then actually kick him.  He ignored her.  Nothing bothered him.  He didn’t fight, threaten or react and was apparently unaware of her actions.  Eventually, she gave up and left him alone.

Horses learn fast.  Teaching them is pretty easy once you’re aware that all you have to do is create a pressure situation where only one answer is right.  At first, a horse will try every option and when it happens upon the correct one, it is rewarded with a release of pressure.  After two or three lessons, the horse stops trying every other option and does exactly what it is supposed to.

Sam is a little bit different.  He and I have developed a beautiful working relationship.  For most of the work that we do from the ground, I don’t even need a halter or rope.  He knows what to do and does it perfectly. 
He has limits.  I use a halter to walk him down to a pasture or to the trailer if we are going to ride.  I’ve done this for three years.  Sam is not supposed to eat grass when the halter is on him.  I yank hard on the halter rope when he does that.  It hurts a little and reminds him not to do that.

Remember the learning thing?  After a few hard bumps, most horses would realize that it hurts when they try to graze.  They stop doing it.  Sam is not most horses.  I lead him from the paddock at least four days a week.  He tries to graze at least three times per trip or six times per round trip.  At an average of thirty weeks without snow times six hard bumps per round trip times four days per week, you can figure that Sam gets bumped hard as a correction for trying to graze at least 720 times per year. 

He hasn’t stopped trying.

Neither have I.  You see, it takes someone to do the bumping. 

To keep trying the same thing with the expectation of a different result is someone’s definition of insanity.  There are times, though, that we keep trying for a different reason.  I keep bumping my horse.  If I don’t, he will eat grass.  That is something I won’t allow while he is under halter.

I keep going to work, too.  At times, it might be viewed as insanity, since the drive is the same each day, the arrival and departure times are pretty close and I do a lot of the same things, often at the same times.  While I have rarely judged myself as being successful, I have to keep doing this job because other people depend on it and I depend on the income. 

I am beginning to rethink the whole insanity definition.  Sam doesn’t really care.  Or maybe he realizes that we’re both just awfully stubborn.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

You're the expert

I recently received an email from a customer.  She was asking for personalizations on the backs of some jackets and her closing comment was, “I really don’t know what is the best size for the names on the backs.  Please give me an opinion because you’re the experts.”

My first reaction?  “Tell me what you would like.”  (I have edited that particular comment, which had far more words and far more emotional content.)

A couple of days ago we had another distributor visit the shop to talk about a design going on some caps.  We were discussing the options he had along with the client’s ultimate choice which really was the least attractive choice in my opinion.  I realize that this is all subjective.  We try to do what the customers want.  Both our customer and I laughed about the final choice and then he got serious and said “The customer is always right.” 

I disagreed.   “Not really.  In fact, hardly ever.”

The truth is that no matter how long we have been in business, twenty two years on November 2, we will never be experts in the eyes of some of our customers.  They will always give us recommendations as to how best to embroider a garment, how the design should be created, what we should do on the front, back or sleeve of a shirt and how we can get more customers.  While it is true that I don’t know everything, sometimes I wish that someone would find me a little bit knowledgeable.    

The dark recesses of my brain tend to gnaw on small incidents like the above and alter the form and content into usable and more digestible lint bits.  Sometimes the lint gets together and forms a hairball which then makes its way to the front of my brain where it is dispensed as, well, understanding.  This occurred a few thoughtful days after my encounter with the distributor who claimed that the customer is always right.  It goes like this.

In my mind, I rule the embroidery world.  My years of working with apparel and material and designs qualify me to have the last say in all matters embroidery.  Customers will ask for advice and accept it without question.  I am the expert as it were.  If there is a problem with a design, I’ll fix it.  If the customer changes their mind after I’ve done a design, they willingly pay for my time to make the changes.

Sadly, most customers only call me an expert when they wish to offer up an opinion.  A translation of “You’re the expert” would go like this:  “Let’s see if you can guess what I really want and then I’ll tell you afterward if you are right or wrong.”   The setup time and the sample time have no value to them.  The adjustments that have to be made should be simple, after all.

Once upon a time, I was asking one of our customers to pay a little bit faster than their norm of around seventy days.  Rather than face that particular issue and apologize, the customer came up with one of the worst responses ever, in the history of the world.  He said, “At least I give you projects to do.”

He is no longer a customer. 

These days, the people that we choose to work with value the services that we provide.  I don’t expect for the world to operate with me at the center of the embroidery expertise.  I also can’t do away with the little guessing games taking place in certain clients’ minds.  I do, however, choose when to keep a customer and when to toss them back into the pool of available clients.  Other decorators may see them as a good bet. 

Heck, we all have to be right at least once in awhile.