The economy was in a shambles. Unemployment in Chicago was at all-time records since the Great Depression. Banks weren't loaning money. Nobody was buying anything; we wondered if things would ever get better.
Just 6 months earlier, I and two other CPAs had started a side business, of which I put up all the capital and signed on the bank note. Jordy and Sandy Rubens were already successfully operating young men's stores and this venture would be a way to accumulate capital for my young family. Not.
The Arab countries shut off the oil in March 1979, the final kicker to an economy already weak. That was the month we opened and the beginning of the two scariest years of my life.
Only a year later, Sales were half what we conservatively had budgeted. I was behind 6 months on my rent; the mall was ready to close us up. All money had gone to pay suppliers, but we were falling behind there, too. There was no more capital.
Mike Panzer was a salesman who worked for Metro Clothing Company. He was one of our suppliers who told us our credit was shut down. Without asking, Mike suggested I fly to New York and talk to the "factors" or bankers who extend credit in the retail clothing industry.
Other than a plane ticket and hotel, what was there to lose?
This is where being a CPA was a blessing: My credentials gave me credibility you just can't buy, and I was able to put together the financials along with analyses and projections. I set appointments with all the folks I owed money to, and packed my best sport coat and slacks.
The men and women working for the banks were quite amazed that I had come personally to talk to them and tell them our story. Sales were tough, but the trend was up 20% over the previous year. I spoke their language, discussed the backgrounds of my partner CPAs and myself, and took them out to lunch, dinner, coffee, etc. to build the relationship away from the distractions of their office.
And so it worked. I had put a face to a name and number on an invoice. They gave me enough slack - along with regular phone call updates to them - to survive another year until the economy and the business took off, which it did.
Kennedy's Mens Fashions, Ltd., closed 20 years ago January after our lease ran out, but it gave me the financial foundation and personal freedom to create a national consulting practice which I pursue to this day in addition to my CPA practice.
And I owe all of that to the unsolicited advice from a guy named Mike Panzer, and the Grace of God.
Allan S. Boress, CPA, CVA is the author of 12 published books on marketing, selling and managing the business development process for CPAs. The "I-Hate-Selling" Book is available at www.ihateselling.com