The thing about small businesses is… they’re small. A typical day in my quilt studio has me ordering new fabrics, paying invoices, cutting new orders, printing packing slips, shipping, planning new quilt kits, uploading new products online (yes, I built this website!), organizing sales… all while my Gammill Statler hums in the background stitching together a client’s quilt sandwich. Most small business owners and side hustlers do it all and operate on razor thin margins. That’s my story. So, when a call came for a “big” quilting gig, I gave the caller my attention, even though it sounded like the project was outside my wheelhouse. Mr. Mainstreet needed large swaths of fabric quilted for garments that he planned to mass produce. It would require materials thicker than I was comfortable using on my Gammill, but I was willing to take a look and at least give it some consideration.
Calendar input: 2:00-3:00, John Mainstreet, Thursday, September 21, 2023.
I was excited—something new. It was also timely; I’d been working hard to boost the long arm side of my quilting business. I sent Mr. Mainstreet a text confirming our appointment and cleared my calendar for that day. The morning of the appointment I tidied up the studio and put an extra hustle in my step to knock off early—I wanted the studio as quiet as possible while I met with Mr. Mainstreet. Around 1:45, I turned off the Gammill and quietly worked on invoices while I waited.
Around 2:15, I called Mr. Mainstreet’s cell. Voicemail was full. I texted him around 2:20. Maybe he’d been in an accident, had an emergency…
“I’m checking to make sure you have the right address. Our appointment was set for 2:00. Let me know if you need to reschedule.”
Nothing. No return call. No return text. Crickets.
I was annoyed, of course! I’d made an exception to consider a project that I’m not set up to do. I researched whether my machine could handle the heavy load. I gussied up the shop. The time spent getting ready for Mr. Mainstreet was considerable. I let his rudeness bubble to a slow boil that afternoon, and then forced myself to let it go. As my husband loves to say, “You can’t teach pigs how to whistle.” I soon forgot all about Mr. Mainstreet.
Until two months later…when he called again.
“Hey, this is John.”
Still wasn’t ringing any bells—I’d long forgotten about the stander-upper.
“I called awhile back about the puffer shirts I’m making.”
AH! RING A LING! I knew exactly who he was!
“How can I help you?”
“Yeah, I wanted to come by to show you what I need. The person who was going to make my puffer material couldn’t do it…”
Part of me wanted to tear into him. From the context of his call, I was gathering that he’d made a deal with someone else to do his project **after** he made the appointment with me. Without so much as a courtesy call to cancel, he had left me hanging. To him, I was completely irrelevant once he secured a deal with someone else. His need was met; he’d moved on without a second thought about the silly little appointment he had with me two months ago.
I get it, and “dems the breaks” in business. He owed me nothing and expecting the courtesy of a cancellation call was my problem, not his. But here he was again asking for my time. I listened while he yammered. It was clear that he had no conscience over standing me up. It was as if he didn’t even remember making the hour-long appointment. He was desperate. He came short of begging me to help him. Someone, it appeared, had put him in a jam and couldn’t produce what he needed.
After a long pause on my end and careful, albeit quick, consideration, I snapped. “I’m sorry. I’m slammed with work and don’t have time to take a look at what you need. And when things calm down [after Christmas], I can’t take on a project that could damage my machine.”
It was partially true, I was slammed. But the steady flow of work—easy, straight line quilting on several yards of fabric with new bundles dropped off weekly—would have been nice. But here was a man who lacked the manners to answer my call or shoot me a quick text. I could only imagine the nightmare I’d face when it was time for him to pay me for my work, the future appointments he’d break, and the complete disregard for my time.
He blew it. Or maybe I blew it. But I don’t believe in coincidences. Mr. Mainstreet was put in my path as a reminder of what it looks like to disregard everyone around me after my own needs are met. I’m reminded of how much it affects a business’ bottom line if I don’t show up. When I don’t call to cancel, or have the courtesy to return a text, I’m saying that person, or that person’s ball-busting hard work, is irrelevant and doesn’t matter. Mr. Mainstreet was a harsh reminder of the importance of manners. If I’m ever Mr. Mainstreet in the future, know now that I’m sorry. I know better and there’s no excuse. As for me being Mr. Mainstreet in the past, I hope you’ll forgive me. That was ugly and not how I’d like to be remembered. To Mr. Mainstreet himself, THANK YOU for being a reminder of how ugly it looks to be a self-centered stander-upper.