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American Towman Magazine Presents the Week in TowingSeptember 19 - September 25, 2018

Harvesting Value from Your Mistakes

6 7cef3By Don G. Archer

When we think of learning, generally we think about our time at school and the process: history timelines, multiplication tables, proper punctuation and grammar, etc.

Some learn through listening, others through observation, and many rely on hands-on experience for concepts to really sink in.

The quickest and most valuable lessons don't come from these timeworn methods. We are conditioned to either continue doing something or stop doing it based upon the consequences of our actions.

That is to say: We learn most from our mistakes.

How many times have you made the wrong choice when dealing with a disgruntled customer? Have you allowed a toxic employee to stay on too long because you "needed" him or her? What about not taking responsibility for your mistakes or the mistakes of your employees?

These all have real-world consequences. However, if you share what you've learned, there's a chance others can avoid making the same mistakes.

One mistake I made that included real-world consequences was when to cut my losses.

It was an overnight recovery on a 53' refrigerated trailer full of dairy products. It was being stored on a warehouse lot where some asphalt had given way. One of the trailer legs was completely buried and the trailer was resting on one corner.

When my guys arrived, they rigged it and pulled it out of the hole; but in haste, they chose the lower-rated strap. It didn't stand up to the load and broke, sending the trailer back to the ground. It was a horrible mistake that could have resulted in a much worse outcome ... and clearly our fault.

I received a call from the dairy company the next morning asking how we were going to pay for the damages.

(This was one of the largest dairy companies in our area, having been around for almost 90 years. They had dozens of trucks and supplied us with loads of work, so my goal was to keep them happy.)

I assumed the damages were limited to the trailer hitting the ground when the strap broke; I quickly learned that they expected me to pay for damages to the products on the trailer. They were suggesting that due to the impact from our mistake, hundreds of gallons of milk and other items had been compromised.

I wasn't aware of any spillage, so I told the company representative that I would have to talk with my operators on the scene and get back with him.

A discussion with my guys resulted in a denial of causing the mess and photographs taken before they even touched the trailer. The images clearly showed that there was spillage before we had arrived.

I took what they provided at face value and now had a decision to make.

To some of you, smarter than I, deciding what to do in this situation might be easy. Suck up the loss and drive on. Why would you bite the hand that feeds you? In hindsight, you are right ... I should have accepted it as a cost of doing business.

I didn't.

I believed my guys were telling the truth. I believed the photos were legit—taken before they started—as is our standard procedure, but I reacted out of paranoia.

Slowly, suspicion began growing in my mind and I started to think the dairy company was using the leverage they had over me to get me to pay for their mistake. It was their lot that had given way, and I had successfully deluded myself into believing we had definitive proof that the initial impact caused the bulk of damage.

What did it matter if I was right? Did I believe the principal of the thing mattered more than the business I received from them? That's the only answer I can come up with, because when I called the company rep back I told him we were only partially responsible. This didn't sit well, and in the end I lost them as a customer.

Rather than hanging a lantern on our mistake and squabbling over peanuts, I should have apologized profusely and accepted full responsibility.

A lesson I learned the hard way that I will never forget.

American Towman Field Editor-Midwest Don G. Archer is also a multi-published author, educator and speaker helping others to build and start successful towing businesses around the country at Don and his wife, Brenda, formerly owned and operated Broadway Wrecker in Jefferson City, Mo. E-mail him direct at
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