July 26 marked the ten year anniversary of the official beginning of my company, Myers & Associates, LLC. In “Part One” of this story, I devoted most of the post discussing my management of Eagle Sign in which things didn’t go particularly well and we ended up selling the company. In this installment, I’ll talk a bit about my termination at Eagle and then move on to the genesis and development of M&A.
I was asked once by a Human Resources representative why I stayed on at Eagle Sign after the sale, given how vulnerable a position I probably was going to be in. That was a very good question, and I’m still not sure I have a good answer. The new owner and I knew one another but not at all well. That hurts things like trust and communication, and the lack of those things certainly made for an uncomfortable transition from one management entity to another. My tenure with the new one lasted somewhere around six weeks.
When my termination came, there was a sense in which I wasn’t even particularly surprised. He’d nearly stopped communicating with me altogether by then. It was over literally in a minute or two. He never did tell me his reasons why.
When you get summarily fired like this, it really messes with your emotions. You feel a mixture of hurt, embarrassment, anger, and fear. Your confidence can get destroyed too, if you let it. I had a pretty good friend that I had gotten to know through WSA (World Sign Associates), and upon hearing that I had been fired he said something to me that was part encouragement, part warning: “You’re a confident, competent guy,” he said. “Don’t let this take you down.” He went on to say how guys sometimes never recover from things like this. He’d seen it happen. I never forgot what he said, and later on there was more than once when I thought it might happen to me.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about getting fired is that ex-employees always get thrown under the bus, and they get no chance for rebuttal. I was hearing bits and pieces from friends that still worked there about why I was fired, and I was also hearing about all sorts of other things I was being blamed for. You just have to swallow hard and take it. And you have to move on.
At first I wasn’t worried at all about getting a new job. I thought I had a great resume, and finding a new position would be an easy thing. I really thought I’d find a new position inside a month. Two WSA companies contacted me right away when they heard about my termination. One sounded like a great position, but it was going to necessitate an out of state move and I had to turn it down. The other was a possible new sales territory for a WSA vendor member company, but they ended up not being able to make it happen.
Eventually I realized that the job search was going to take awhile. It was at that time that I first conceived of starting a business. My thought was I could do something while I was looking for a “real job” and continue to run it part-time even after I got a new position. For that reason, it made sense to do something that involved internet based distribution. I also wanted to do something that I already knew, so I went into electrical products that could be used in automotive fleet maintenance. Meanwhile, I spent a lot of time at the CareerBuilder and Monster websites. I sent out a lot of resumes.
In the Fall of 2006, I took a position with a small Texas based company that was attempting to establish a new territory in the Northern Midwest. It didn’t go anywhere, and after six months they couldn’t afford to keep me on anymore. So I offered to continue to work for them as an independent manufacturers’ rep. They thought it was a great idea. Unfortunately, within a month they put in place a new sales manager, and he reassigned what little business I had in the territory to someone else. That was the end of that.
At some earlier point I had begun to consider the possibility of starting a manufacturers’ representative agency. A manufacturers’ rep is an independent, commission-only compensated salesman. Electrical product sales via my website were non-existent so far, and I thought maybe this might be a better course to pursue.
I mentioned to my pal Vinnie what I was thinking about. Vinnie was very familiar with rep firms, having actually worked for one once. “A rep firm?”, he said. “That’s just nuts!” He was right, of course. A rep firm, if you are starting from scratch, usually takes around three years to start making a profit. Most guys don’t have the wherewithal to last that long with no income. I sure didn’t, and Vinnie knew it. But I just didn’t think I had anything to lose by that point. I’d just try it and keep doing everything else I was doing until I found that elusive “real job.”
I spent most of 2007 trying to figure out who and what I could represent. I was still working in automotive fleet maintenance, and at one point nearly my entire line card was made up of automotive maintenance lines. Everything from shop management software to zip ties. Over the next few years, I moved from that into industrial maintenance, and found myself selling lubricants and eventually adhesives.
I had some success with some of this stuff, but what really saved my fledgling little company was when I agreed to be a sub-contractor for another rep agency that was involved in doing retail service in the building materials industry. They only needed me for maybe twenty hours a week, and I’d be covering a territory I was already traveling in anyway. At the very least, I figured, this would be a way to cover my expenses.
So, in January of 2008, I started doing retail service for this agency. That stopped the financial bleeding we’d been experiencing throughout most of 2007. I was still selling automotive shop management software and electrical products, and, of course, I was still looking for a “real job.”
On three different occasions, I thought I had finally secured a “real job”, too. In each case, I had been given plenty of reason to believe I was going to be offered the position. Twice things went so far along as to involve salary negotiations. In one case, I was actually asked to come to the Quad Cities to meet the District Manager’s supervisor, something that was only supposed to happen if you were going to be hired.
For whatever reason, none of these positions panned out.
They were all sweet positions, too. Especially the last one: The salary was substantially higher than where I was at when I left Eagle, the benefits were great, and it came with a company car and expenses, too. I hated losing that one.
Employment opportunities weren’t the only things I was looking for, either. I was looking for opportunities to represent other companies in my business as well. I knew that if we landed one with substantial existing business in our territory, we would be in great shape and I wouldn’t have to worry so much about finding a “real job.” I had a couple of fantastic interviews with a manufacturer that was looking for a rep in our area, and I was pretty sure the line was ours. They had existing business in the territory that was generating around $35,000.00 per year in commissions. I knew if we added that to our current revenues, we would be in great shape indeed. They ended up going with a larger rep firm out of Kansas City, people that they had met subsequent to their meetings with me.
The day after I found out that we’d lost the line, I had to work a contractor luncheon event in the very city in which the manufacturer was located. Instead of coming to this city to sign a rep contract with a lucrative new line, I came there to work a stupid lunch event. It was a very long lunch. A long day, actually. I was pretty low. That’s about the most discouraged I ever got, even more so than when I’d found out I’d come in second place in a job search.
A Change In Assessment
But slowly things kept progressing. By 2010 my original retail service contract had doubled in size, and almost 20% of our revenue was coming from lighting and adhesive sales. My recollection is that I was still looking for a job throughout 2010. Then something odd happened.
I quit looking. I didn’t really think about it. I just stopped looking for a job.
Maybe it was that I didn’t think I could find one. Maybe it was because I enjoyed what I was doing and was making enough money to survive. I’m not sure. All I know is that after nearly five years of search, I stopped looking for that “real job.” I already had one.
In 2011, our electrical product sales took off like a rocket. And we started a new venture: M&A Moving and Hauling. That same year, another independent rep I knew in retail service decided to retire. He recommended my agency to the several companies he represented at the time, and they all took me on by early in 2012. The same year, we took on a new industrial line, and with all the new business we ended up at more than double our revenues from 2010.
We’ve had some very good years since then, and we’re very thankful.
Reflections On These Ten Years
Like everything else, things in business are always changing. Early in 2015, after three years of operation, we shut down the moving business due to increased insurance costs. We got out of fleet maintenance a long time ago, and our electrical product sales have all but disappeared. Today’s M&A looks far different than it did when we started, and it will no doubt look far different in the future. One of the great advantages of being in business is the freedom to try new things. Sometimes they’re successful. Sometimes…well, not so much. That’s part of being an entrepreneur.
I’ve always thought that if anyone wanted me to speak about entrepreneurship, I’d have to confess that I’m not the “visionary” that many people think of when people think of entrepreneurs. Those guys are busy designing the next I-Phone, the next solar microgrid, or the next hyper-popular social media site.
Me? I’m just a guy that had to keep moving forward while he was looking for a “real job.”