The Rock

“For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man.”

2 Corinthians 8:21

What would you say is the most important trait of the people in your life? How would you describe the people closest to you? Does loving, kind and generous come to mind? Is that enough? What about integrity and trust? If you are like most of us, trust is at the top of the list for those true, deep relationships.

Without trust, is there really a relationship?

How would you describe Trust? Is there a word you can you think of to replace the word trust? How about confidence? Faith or hope? Would caring or reliability explain how we trust each other? Trust is one of those words that stands alone. Like describing a color or a beautiful sunrise, words alone cannot explain what trust is. Isn’t Trust something we just know or feel; our “gut” feeling? Is that gnawing in our gut, really about trust? Describing words like trust is like trying to describe something green. While there is a myriad of variations, green is green, but we can’t explain it without a comparison to another color or something green.

The two words that seem to fit trust for me are relationship and love. Not the friendship kinda’ love, but the unconditional love that a parent has for a child. More than just friendship or acquaintance, but the deep, best friend kind of a relationship we reserve for those special few. Hopefully we all have those friends we would trust with our lives, or the lives of our families. That’s the kind of relationship scripture tells us Jesus wants to have with us.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.

 Proverbs 3:5

Aren’t all great relationships built on trust? Trust cannot happen without a relationship, and relationships only exists through empathy, love and compassion for one another. It is when we take our focus off ourselves and concentrate on others, we find their trust. We are all vulnerable at times; helping others when they are vulnerable, builds trust with one another. Without trust, there is only friendship or acquaintance.

When we first meet someone, we don’t automatically find trust. It takes time and devotion to build history and understanding with one another. While most of us have some trust when we meet someone new; typically, it is not that “Lay Down My Life for You!” kind of trust. Most of us have faith others will do “the right Thing.” It is only when we to see our new acquaintance earn our trust over time, our relationship grows strong. Trust is not about one big event, instead, we develop trust in small actions added to one another over time. When our trust is broken, it’s next to impossible to revive, if it can be rebuilt at all.

In my early twenties, with the prospect of a growing family and little mouths to feed. We made the decision to change jobs. Leaving my beloved music industry to become a representative for a regional home appliance distributor. It was a dramatic change; leaving an industry that was second nature to me, for a job calling on refrigerator and TV dealers in southern Iowa and Illinois. After my first year, the company made a change in territory management and added the “river cities” in southern Iowa and Illinois to my territory.

Change never caused anxiety for me, the new business would be a welcomed and exciting addition. No longer would my territory consist of the smaller “Mom & Pop” dealers in towns like Ottumwa, Oskaloosa and Grinnell. Finally, there were sprawling metro areas like Burlington, Keokuk and Muscatine. Probably not considered cities by most, for this Iowa boy, these sprawling towns were almost as exciting as my hometown, Des Moines.

With the bigger cities, came BIG dealers! Well that’s what everyone told me. The part they left out was BIG dealers carry “tier one” brands like Zenith, RCA, Maytag and Amana. While my products, Quasar, Panasonic and Gibson were great, they were “tier two”. It was almost an insult for a tier two guy to call on a tier one dealer. Added to my frustration, was finding out the owners of those BIG dealerships, were all exceptionally busy. Keeping up with their hordes of customers made them hard to pin down. That’s who Bob was, a BIG, busy, Tier One Dealer.

Owner of a huge appliance and furniture store in one of the bigger river cities, Bob was a third-generation proprietor of an entrenched merchant family. His store was so big, it even had an elevator, something almost unheard of in any store in his town, or most others in Iowa.

Bob’s family had started the business decades earlier with an extreme focus on serving customer needs as a “Pay as You Go” sales company. Everything in the store could be bought with weekly payments; no credit required. Truly, trusting strangers was their unique value-add in the small community. “A happy customer always shops here first!” Bob would constantly proclaim with a huge smile. It always impressed me that Bob’s dealership was such a benefactor for the area. If your refrigerator broke, you could get the latest greatest model with no money down and weekly payments.

Meeting with the sales rep who had the territory before me, we talked about all the dealers and all the towns. When we got to Bob, the rep made it clear it would be a waste of time and energy to even call on Bob once. “That guy’s a jerk! No time for anyone, he takes pleasure in belittling anyone he talks to.” The rep continued, “besides, he doesn’t need anything we sell, and you’ll NEVER sell him anything!” The rep might as well have just smacked me with a glove and challenged me to a duel at sunrise. The game was now afoot!

Planning my next week’s travel, Bob was at the top of the list. Arriving in town the night before. After checking into my hotel, it was time to cruise by Bob’s store and get the “lay of the land” before my cold call the next day.

Driving by the closed store a little after 9 p.m., it looked dark and deserted. The store was a classic small-town storefront on main street, all brick, five stories tall and it seemed as deep as it was tall. Looking in through the storefront window it was pitch black; except for a single light leaking onto the showroom floor from a room hidden to the street. Thinking that the store didn’t seem so huge, it was back to the hotel to prepare for the big day.

Early morning breakfasts in Iowa were the best. Farm fresh everything; eggs, cheese, hash browns, pancakes and all the trimmings. Small town hotel restaurants were superb people observation venues. Watching regulars, travelers and visitors intermingling in a festival of morning ritual. A travel tradition when preparing my strategies for the day. This day had no strategy, just resolve. Resolve to knock this big bird off his perch. With a deep breath and a full stomach, it was off to meet the day!

Walking in the front door of the store, there was the loud clang of a bell hanging atop the door. With that, everyone in the store turned to give me the once over. No customers were in the store this early, just a gaggle of hungry salesmen by a coffee machine; coffee cup in one hand and cigarette in the other. Making my way through the long showroom with refrigerators lined up both sides, most of the salesmen turned away, figuring out that they weren’t going to sell me anything. Except for that one eager guy that squeezed through the crowd. With a nervous smile, voice trembling, saying “Welcome, are you looking for a white refrigerator or is our new Avocado more to your liking?” Shaking hands, his nerves were made more obvious with the dampness of his palm. Asking, “Is Bob in,” my question seemed to increase his anxiety.

Almost whispering, he quivered back, “Mr. Hettinger is in his office, but he’s not seeing anyone today.” With that, a short stout man appeared from the back office where the light was the night before. “Tommy, who the hell is that?” he grumbled, walking closer, sporting a Charlie Chaplin mustache, the charred remains of a cigarette hanging off his lower lip. Refilling a paper coffee cup, ashes falling in the cup he continued yelling… “Tell that !#&#! to get the hell out of here! We don’t need any of his crap!” Slamming the door as he swaggered back into the office.

“That’s Bob,” Tommy said with a humiliated smile. Spending the next hour talking to Tommy, he told me that Bob was his uncle. It seemed Tommy’s dad couldn’t work with Bob and sent Tommy in to learn the family business.

It’s still not clear to me why; walking out the door and hearing myself shout back, “thanks Tommy, see you in two weeks!” made me think … “What was that?” Possibly some deep seeded competitive ambition? Looking back today, it seems it was more divine intervention. Spending the rest of the week in my territory, staring at the windshield of my car between stops, Tommy’s puzzled face looking back at me, always brought a smile.

Two weeks on the dot, that bell above the door clanged, as it did twice a month, for the next year. Always the same scene, a gaggle of salesmen, Tommy always emerging to greet me. As time went on, Tommy looked happy to see me. We would share stories about selling appliances. Tommy would spice up our talks with tales of his uncle and his latest victims of vitriol. When, and where possible, it became my mission to teach Tommy whatever possible. Occasionally, Bob would pop out onto the floor shouting some disparagement at me like, “how are sales?!” or “we sold thirty refrigerators yesterday, about you!?” Realizing that this one dealer was selling more in one day than my whole territory did in a week, was frustrating. Bob knew my sales numbers and truly enjoyed the provocation, seeming to feed off the cheap shots and my unwillingness to push back. Bob would spend more time on the floor when it was my day to show up. Like a peacock, strutting around, showing off this and that, while relentlessly teasing me. As we got to know each other, it was easy to see that he really knew his stuff. It wasn’t just hot air he was blowing; Bob clearly knew the cold hard facts of the appliance world.

One day walking in the door, with the clanging of the bell, starting out just like the rest. Except on this day, Bob was on the floor waiting for me. “Come back to my office, I gotta’ ask you something.” Bewildered, feeling like a peasant going into the King’s court; or a pig going to slaughter, wondering what prank Bob had up his sleeve. Walking into the dimly lit, smokey room, bookcases lining the walls; each one overstuffed with three ring binders crammed in every nook and cranny. Sitting behind a huge desk covered in newspapers, a massive ash tray off to one side, looking as if it had never been emptied. A green banker’s lamp shedding light on Bob’s latest ad. Brushing away cigarette ash he asked, “what do you think of this week’s ad?” Full of doubt, my first thought was, what’s the joke, where’s the trap? After looking things over it seemed legit, it was a great ad.

Bob didn’t know that as a kid, my Dad taught me ad composition as part of my job helping with his business. Like Bob, my skills were strong. Pointing out a few flow issues with his layout seemed to impress Bob.

Well, from that day forward my visits at Bob’s store always started in his office, we became close friends as he always sought my advice. It was my pleasure and honor to help. Little steps that built a strong, trusting relationship.

A year and half after hearing that bell clang the first time, sitting in Bob’s office, going over the latest ad. He reclined in his chair, looking me in the eye questioning “What the Hell do you do this for?” Shaking his head in confusion, “You come here like clockwork; helping with my ads. Why?” You might think that question was expected, it wasn’t. Looking for words to say, my mouth just started moving, saying, “Well, I want you to know what kind of service and support you’ll get when you’re my dealer.” Pushing back the humiliation of my sappy comment and surprised to see a small tear in Bob’s eye. He barked, “I think you’re nuts! But I’m glad you started coming in.”

You’ve probably already guessed, Bob continued to be a great friend and a revered mentor. In the following year, Bob became one of my biggest dealers and my favorite success story.

Like my relationship with Bob, Trust is built one small step at a time. When we build our relationships on a rock of trust; the foundation will support you through every storm in life. The rock of Bob’s and my relationship was built in trust, it was only after building that relationship, Bob could trust me. He knew that my focus was on him, his business, and most important; his customers. Bob had comfort knowing he could trust me with the business his family had entrusted to him.

“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock …”

 Matthew 7:24-25

The rock that Jesus taught us to stand on, to build our house on, is that rock of trust. We are not to build our house on our confidence, our faith or our hope in Him or in each other. We are to build our relationships on Trust. Trust in each other and Trust in Him.

Always Love!

3 thoughts on “The Rock

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom. Thankful to have met you and your beautiful wife. Love ya both. ❤

  2. I’m just now getting to reading this. It is very well written. They way you wrote the story about Bob kept me on the edge of my seat waiting to see what happened. And there is so much truth in this article. 🙂

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