DECATUR, GA., - My Story, Part X.
During the next 18 months there were many ups and downs. The rep. business barely paid the overhead and expenses, and between draperies, sunglasses and a lawsuit instituted by my ex-partner to collect the money I had borrowed from him when we started the company, I was still stuggling to make ends meet. My partner's perception was that I was getting rich with the business, and he sued, thinking he would hit pay dirt. He was wrong. I was forced to file bankruptcy, and I gave up the condominium because the monthly income was too unstable. Now we became renters in a less than desirable apartment and neighborhood. Everyday led to a new scheme to conjure up business, and each time I shoveled one shovelful of dirt out of the hole, two fell back into it. I yearned for stability and permanence which were ever elusive as the days turned into weeks and months. Chasing people to collect what they owed my was counter-productive, because it took away face-to-face selling time.
The business instability was wreaking havoc on my marriage, and economic survival subsumed the days and time. My wife wanted a divorce, we were miserable, and I felt like it was the most practical thing to do, and the feeling of being trapped was getting to me. So, I agreed, and we liquidated the condominium, e.g., we gave it to the bank in the bankruptcy. And, the debt to my partner went away, however, my credit was no longer. Not good for someone who made his living selling nationally. Pay as you go became the modis operandi bit by bit, piece by piece. I was spoiled, and now I had to scratch for every nickel. I was operating on two tracks.
One, pure survival, like selling swimming-pool franchises at night on the telephone, leaving drapery samples in stores where I could get leads for drapery orders, and selling off samples left-over from the showroom for cash to eat, and operate. I sold from booths at the flea-markets on weekends, and lots I can't even remember, I'm sure. The second track was trolling for something that could turn into a long-term gig. Nothing surfaced that appeared to be long lasting, nor that which I could do for little or no investment. No money... made the cheese much more binding.
Now it was time to figure out how to make a living without air travel, and I had to cobble together some way to use my selling skills, and not fly all over the country so much. The Atlanta department stores were full of old sales pros selling to them, and yourstruly needed a new revenue stream desperately. Trying to cobble together some lines, with existing business was more, and more impossible. I talked to at least a hundred people looking for leads, ideas, referrals, none of which produced the slightest glimmer of hope. I can't recall how long I was in this state, but there came a time when I decided selling things was going to have to become a thing of the past for me. It is all I had ever done; but, for now, I had to find a new way to make a living.
Hold down the overhead is what I did. They say that necessity is the mother of invention and that is what I was able to do. After a weekend of scanning the want-ads I decided to meet with an employment agency within 10 minutes of my apartment. So, bright and early I went to a typical 10-12 desk employment agency and interviewed with the owner who had just bought the franchise about 10-12 months earlier. I agreed to work on straight commission at 40% of the income I brought in on new business. A telephone, a desk, and a decent office looked like a good new start even though I knew not what I was doing. I would figure it out!
I knew when I met the owner that the way they were operating the employment agency, that it was not possible to make money the way it was setup. So, I put my thinking-cap on and went to work. The first problem is that there were 15-20 applicants coming in to interview to be selected to go out to the client ad they saw for secretarial and clerical jobs in the morning every day. We had tons of unqualified candidates looking for jobs they were often not qualified for, and that was a terrible waste of interviewing time, and telephone calls, and advertising money. In no time I convinced my new boss to forget about what he had been doing, and to find the skills the clients needed by telephone recruitment without advertising. If we wanted to meet someone face-to-face we would set up proper professional appointments. I went down to the library and checked out one national advertising directory, and the Thomas Register for two weeks. I found two people who had worked for me at Max Factor to be recruiters for us, and in a couple of weeks I had totally reorganized this man's business.
My background was in cosmetics and I had interfaced with the NY ad agencies most of my career thus far. My first success came when I placed an ad rep. at BBD&O which grossed $12,000, my share being $4,000 dollars of that. Theoritically, there was a franchise fee which I argued the agency owner had no claim on it. This was a telephone sale which I completed exclusively using their telephone, and my own reputation with the client. Amazingly, this stroke of luck allowed me to reinvent this operation into something the owner had no real concept of beginning to do.
I renogiated my new bosses' position with the franchise owner, and it turned out that she and I had several business owners that we knew in common. So, instead of being a regular employment agency I turned the operation around and made it an executive search recruiting firm. We used the owner's surname as its moniker. I stayed with this relationship until I could not convince the owner to make it a partnership. In the course of the negotiations he fired me the day before Thanksgiving, and I had to squabble over the commission due me, but I prevailed. As I departed to my cardtable in my apartment and pondered how to close a deal before Christmas I knew I had my work cut out for me. In the executive search business there are very few new deals closed with money in hand between Turkey Day and New Year's, but this year I put one together, a small one, $6500 dollars net net. Eureka!
Now the child-support, rent, and tax repayments could be met, and I could survive without the wolf being at the door. In this period I put together a common name, Omega Search, which I used for almost three years. At the same time I recruited under the name of Charles Bernard & Associates, Inc., as I built my own entity. This corporation was started around 1979, and I built it into five separate corporations which were sold at various times, the largest one, Xukor, around 2002. The Omega search story is next, and it helped me determine how I could build an information services conglomerate.