The cost isn't just about dollars...

… or Euro, or Yen, or Renminbi, or Pounds…

I’m sure it won’t surprise any of you to know we’re having trouble with non-paying stockists.

It’s just who I am that I inherently trust people. I believe they’ll do the right thing. I believe that if they place an order and agree to our payment terms, that they’ll pay… and that they’ll make it a priority to pay on time. I also work very hard at building meaningful relationships with our stockists, suppliers and manufacturers.

With this in mind, it absolutely crushes me when we get messed around. I AM this business. I gave up my job in banking to pursue this dream. I’ve had sleepless nights, shed tears, worked crazy hours and made HUGE sacrifices to do this. When someone tries to take advantage of Bento – and by association me – I take it personally.

Originally, I thought it was because I was a new addition to the industry. That people felt they could treat Bento like dirt because we weren’t big enough or important enough to have an adverse impact on them.

This morning however, I happened across this post by Isaac Likes, talking about how a fairly significant talent agency in New Zealand has been fined for not paying talent for jobs they’ve been booked for. (The true irony is that the fine was $10,000 for failing to pay just $258).

This afternoon, I was with one of my manufacturers and we got talking about finances. She mentioned in passing that tomorrow is the VCAT hearing for one of her clients who is a VERY substantial Australian label (trust me, you’ve heard of them).

They still haven’t paid her for two seasons ago… nor have they paid their denim manufacturer (whom we also share). Obviously they still have stores open, so they’ve got someone else making their stuff.

Although this won’t surprise many of you, it seems to be a revelation to some – WE ALL NEED EACH OTHER. My stockists actually need me as much as I need them. Ditto our suppliers and manufacturers.

Now if such ‘important’ players in the industry can go around messing businesses about, is it any wonder everyone is so distrusting of new folks?

Anyway, that’s not really my point. My point is that, the fashion industry is a small and close-knit place. And anywhere that is small and close-knit is typically gossipy. My manufacturer isn’t shy about telling people who isn’t paying. From now on, I’m going to be asking for trade references, so I hope other people aren’t going to be shy either. (Although sadly the industry seems to be too scared to say anything negative about anyone.)

The bottom line is that the actual $ figure isn’t the only cost associated with not paying someone. Your reputation can easily get damaged and you’ll end up with a bunch of people unwilling to do business with you. Moreover, those involved are likely to remember your actions and you never know where they might end up.

(Side note: I had the deep pleasure of removing an agency from consideration on a multi-million dollar project during my bank days due to them completely, consistently and continually failing to deliver on a project I’d managed in a role with a previous organisation that was worth substantially less).

To paraphrase an old saying – doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is a key sign of insanity. If these businesses can’t manage their finances well enough to pay their bills… well, something needs to change. Because that $ figure on the bottom of the bill won’t be the only thing that they end up paying.

I’ll finish this with one last thought: for those businesses who think it’s OK to mess around with talented, honest businesses like my manufacturer mentioned above… just remember: if they go under because folks like you don’t pay, they won’t have anything left to lose by telling the world and each and every one of their contacts about your poor behaviour.

And an angry person with nothing to lose is not someone you want to have upset. Haven’t you SEEN those horror movies?!

This post first appeared on http://backstageatbento.com and was republished with the approval of Samantha Hardman, founder of Bento.

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