I recently had another lunch confab — this time in Wetumpka — with another former high school classmate. There were a few differences between this meeting and the one a couple of months ago with the guy who’s doing the charity work with Rebuilding Together-Central Alabama.
The friend I met in Wetumpka had also been a roommate of mine in college, and I’d been in his wedding in 1973 (he and his wife are still married). Accordingly, we’d stayed in touch in the ensuing decades.
However, he and his business partner had also recently closed down their business after 38 years.
The chronology of their business almost seems to be a forgotten tale in these days. My friend had returned to Montgomery after briefly attending Troy State to work full time with a national supply company headquartered in Cleveland which sold its products to other businesses. He took classes at Auburn University in Montgomery at night.
His wife got a degree in education and took a job at a local school, the only employer she ever had.
He encountered another local salesman for another company headquartered in Chicago and they got to know each other, although their sales routes and accounts rarely meant their paths crossed.
Ultimately, they decided to go into business together but they made sure to do some extensive preliminary research about the viability of such a local business. Initial inquiries to key accounts were encouraging.
They opened their new business in early 1981 and the enterprise was profitable within months. Their accounts were within about a 50-mile radius of Montgomery.
From what I could determine, they ran their business in a methodical and responsible manner. Their unassuming office and warehouse was located in a complex in east Montgomery that housed numerous small businesses.
They didn’t get overextended in their business and over the years I never heard my friend talk about any aspirations to expand to other locations. I don’t think they had a website.
In other words, it would appear to most observers they simply succeeded locally the old-fashioned way. Their business worked because of their dedication to ethics and appropriate service to their customers.
The business stopped delivering supplies to its accounts at the end of September. As I understand it, the partners didn’t try to sell their enterprise to someone else; they simply used the last three months of 2018 to finish up the financial aspects of going out of business.
My friend’s wife is now semi-retired after becoming the head of her department at her school.
These days, the notion of spending an entire working life in one type of sales career field seems somewhat rare.
The thing is, we all probably know plenty of other folks, many of whom had college degrees, who’ve made major career changes for voluntary or involuntary reasons.
For many of us — I’m including myself in this category since I switched from over 30 years in the sales field to full-time journalism — our experience in the working world becomes at times a careening quest for security, stability and survival. I happened to get lucky when I was hired at the Tribune.
So in an era of big-box retailers, behemoth online sites and billionaire business owners who act like rock stars, it seems somewhat refreshing to be able to cite friends who have had working careers that weren’t complicated or frenetic. They just did their respective jobs in a straightforward, honest manner for decades and they were successful.
There are times I wish I’d had that kind of work experience as well.