This is a true story. Only the names and the dialogue have been changed because of the elapsed time and my faulty memory.
Many years ago I met Herman Hoggball at a now-closed Indianapolis deli for a rare consulting opportunity.
“I’d like you to give us a report about our place in our industry,” Herman said.
“What do your salespeople tell you about what’s happening in the industry?” I asked.
“Those numb-skulls,” Herman laughed. “They’re useless parasites. They’re just order-takers. I wouldn’t trust anything they thought they knew.”
“Do you get together with your customers individually to find out what they want?” I inquired, munching my hot pastrami on rye with spicy mustard.
“Humph,” Herman humphed. “There’s no point talking to customers. All they blabber about is getting a lower price and faster delivery from me.”
“Doesn’t that make you ask yourself what you can do to get your price down and speeding up your response to orders?” I prodded.
“Those guys won’t be happy until I go broke,” he declared. “There’s no room for lower prices or faster delivery without a major overhaul of how we do the things we’ve been doing for years now.”
“Do you attend conferences and trade shows to see what’s going on with your customers and competitors?” I asked.
Herman replied with a scowl on his face, “A terrible waste of money. Everybody showing off and back-slapping. Fancy, expensive displays and glib presentations. Just makes me sick to be around those people.”
“How about the trade magazines? What do you learn from them about trends in your industry?” I mumbled, discouraged by how this was going.
“Those glossy rags?!” Herman exploded. “Nothing but wishful thinking and lies. Puff pieces written by and for dreamers, frauds, and public relations firms. I stopped subscribing to them years ago.”
We had now finished our lunches. I wish I could remember my exact words, but I declined the invitation to do a study of trends in Herman’s industry. In effect, I recall telling him there was no way that I, an outsider, could help a company owner too stupid to gather basic information through the least expensive and most effective means possible.
I never heard from Mr. Hoggball again and have no idea what happened with his company. Yet, this is indicative of many true stories I have about Indiana companies.
Yes, there are Hoosier firms with active programs to know their industry. They listen to their sales personnel. They communicate with their customers and their suppliers regularly. They study trade publications and participate in trade shows to gather important information.
Nonetheless, I have met many Indiana business leaders who are too arrogant or too sluggish to do what is necessary to keep their companies prosperous. They blame government for excessive regulation and taxation. They claim unfair competition from foreign lands, but they do not take the easy, sensible steps to succeed.