Hey cheesemakers, I know from talking to many of you that there are some folks in the cheese retail world who are serial crooks. They don’t just pay late by accident or in a pinch, but seem to consistently — as their way of doing business — not pay until leverage is placed upon them either by threat of a lawsuit or public embarrassment. Often a cheesemaker may even just give up with only partial payment of no payment at all.
What should be done about these people?
I just got an email from a cheesemaker who was asking me if I had any ideas about how to get a couple thousand dollars out of a retailer that was way past due. This retailer (not in SF, for the record) is a person who I know has done this to others. It makes me very sad to read that this is still going on, but also angry that word has not been able to spread in the cheese community that this person is a bad apple. These are not my stories to tell (at least not yet) because I do not have all the details but the same couple of names come up over and over.
Back when I reviewed zines, the publication I wrote for had a section for zinesters to write in and complain about people who didn’t pay their bills. Sometimes these people would write back and defend themselves but more often they would just slink away. While the original zine people often never got paid, at least it kept others from getting ripped off. Is there a place to share that info in the cheese world?
My favorite part of one cheese conference was going out to dinner with a few folks including a local (Bay Area) cheesemaker. The restaurant had family style seating and we were seated next to a local chef. After claiming he could say “I love cheese” in any language, he started talking about the cheese plate they serve. He bragged about how he only bought from one exclusive distributor and how he knew the owner personally.
The cheese world is small and it is notable that this distributor, who the chef was so proud to know, was not attending the conference in his own city. Our cheesemaker pulled out his card to hand to the chef. Chef looked honored. Then our cheesemaker said, “Next time you see (redacted), tell him to f***ing pay me!” We then all detailed our negative experiences with the distributor.
That was years ago but I see — from a quick internet search — that that guy is still out there doing cheese related events
So seriously, what can be done about these folks? Could the ACS facilitate a grievance committee or an arbitration board? Should cheesemakers be more willing to go public with these stories in order to save others? Would it be helpful for someone like me to compile stories?
If you want to share your thoughts anonymously, you can comment that way or email me at gordon.zola.edgar at gmail dot com.
Couple of things I always advise new/small cheese makers. Ask for cash or check- especially first order. If they can’t pay now, what makes you think they will pay in 30 days? Don’t be afraid to lose a sale that you will never be paid for. Don’t EVER sell them a second time with out getting paid for the first order.
Start taking credit cards. Really easy now with an iPhone/iPad and Square.
Take a look at there other suppliers and call the small guys like yourself.
Ask other retailers what “they hear” about the other guys. Most of all don’t be afraid to ask for your money. Be polite but persistant.
Those are good suggestions for sure. I will say that as a retailer we can get annoyed at a request for credit cards when we’ve been around 35 years with a rock solid record of payment and the company I’m buying from may not have existed 6 months ago. But then again, I’ve never been not sent product.
Still, I’m sure between the two of us we could brainstorm a few people that we have heard of who’ve been running this non-payment scam for a decade. I’m sure it’s mostly the small, out-of-state cheesemakers who get the shaft. and who knows what those non-payers are telling their customers? “We don’t carry that anymore because the quality went downhill.” or whatever.
Sadly this is all too prevelent in the food industry and it happens on all levels. I’ve always hoped that something could be done. The trap we (manufacturers, cheesemakers, distributors, etc.) fall into is the minute you stop selling to a customer, that said “buyer” (at whatever level) will pull the same thing on someone else and if your not in the account it becomes a real slow process if not impossible task to get your money. The Wine/Liquor industry has the ABC which if I’m not mistaken if you are delinquent in payment to anyone you’re cut off from being able to buy. Why couldn’t we do that?
yeah, that’s the worst part. Once you stop shipping the leverage for payment disappears. Unless you wanna get legal or violent.
I will admit that I worked many years ago for a North Bay company that was in financial distress. Almost all of our vendors had us on COD terms – and I certainly don’t blame them. I would send the check out, they would cash it, and once the money was in hand only then would they ship anything. Yeah, I didn’t work at that job long but I learned a hell of a lot.
I think that any small cheesemaker should do this with any new accounts. Retailers have to establish a certain level of trust, and most cheesemakers I know operate on a fairly slim margin – they can’t afford to be giving stuff away for free. Credit should only be extended if you have a history of timely and full payment already established. The minute a payment is late or a check bounces put them straight back on COD terms.