To Catch a Thief

Looking around my truck recently, I noticed that the premium reversible-angle air drill that I stock was missing. I started my search in the same way I always do when I can’t find a tool I know I have. First, I rechecked the ceiling air-tool couplers that hold my display air tools, with no success. OK, maybe it’s behind another tool on the shelves. A thorough inspection bore no fruit. Hmm, I know — maybe I never put it back on display the last time I sold one; it must be with my backup inventory. You guessed it, not there either.

I stopped to confirm with my computer that I did indeed have one on hand. Next, I checked the drawer where I keep boxes for display tools and found the box for the drill. Alright, I am not crazy. I lifted the empty box to discover the rattle inside of the chuck key. Sometimes customers don’t care about a box, but they always want their chuck key … that confirms it — I’ve been robbed!

The suspects passed before my mind’s eye like a police lineup. We all have a few people on our route that we don’t trust fully, and they came to mind first. There are also those that act suspiciously on the truck whose body language while handling tools seems to indicate their intentions may not be pure (they always seem to handle and inspect sockets in particular for an inordinate amount of time). Eventually they depart and you make sure you still have your boxers on … can’t let them steal your dignity too!

Like all great hunters, my next move was to set a trap. I positioned a small pick set right by the door of the truck that would be easy to pick up as well as desired by just about any tech. It was fine until I checked it before arriving at one of my “suspect” shops. Hey, it was gone! I reached back in my mind and called the last customer who had handled it about three stops earlier. I asked him if he had set it down somewhere else because it was on a tool he wanted to see. He remembered replacing it when finished, so I thought of who had been on the truck since.

I backtracked one shop and saw a good customer/friend of more than 20 years and asked if it had fallen out on the driveway where he was standing. He said no, and then I told him about the drill and indicated my suspicions about a newly hired coworker of his. He also had misgivings about the tech, and I asked him to go inside and see if he could peek into this guy’s toolbox. Thirty seconds later he came out with you-know-what in his hand. A quick check of the warranty card confirms we have our thief!

I go in and tell the guy that there is a problem, and he asks, “Did my check bounce again?” No, we have bigger issues at hand and I tell him about the drill, which he initially denies. Eventually he owns up, and I also find the picks and a few other stolen tools. He begs me not to tell his coworkers, but it is too late for that. I take him outside to discuss the situation and he is shaking and visibly upset — too bad!

“Aren’t you going to hit me?” he asked. No, it’s not about the money; he has violated my space and shown disrespect to me.

“What are you going to tell your young son, who you have spoken about so proudly, happened to your job?” I asked. His face went totally ashen. He was fired the next day and as of this writing I am still waiting to see if he makes good for the rest of the money he owes me. This guy had only been there for six weeks and didn’t know anything about me or the type of person I am. In my mind, I am respected by my clients and a valued resource.

As a professional courtesy I called the other tool guy who stops at the shop to inform him of what happened. The tone in his voice was of surprise; not about the thief, but that I would call to let him know. I found his reaction to be supremely disappointing. I know we are competitors and fight and scratch for every sale, but beyond that I feel the line blurs and we need to watch each other’s back. Just as the guys at that shop are happy to know they no longer work with a thief, each of us holds an obligation to warn our tool-selling brothers and sisters about those customers that have proven untrustworthy.

I am not suggesting that you besmirch someone’s reputation unfairly and without proof, but to practice caveat seller (my “let the seller beware” variation of the Latin expression caveat emptor for “let the buyer beware”).

My faith in the goodness of people remains unshaken. It is, in fact, stronger after seeing my customers in that shop rally around me. There is much to be said for integrity, personal ethics and righteousness in each person’s life. I challenge all of us to take these core personal values and let them permeate every aspect of our business lives as well.