Thank-You for the Card

 

Mark Matteson
Contributing Writer
Sparking Success

Since I was 14 years old, I have always had a plan. For a while in my youth, I forgot the plan and was temporarily sidetracked. After leaving the military, I had a dream of becoming an HVAC technician, a skill that no one could take away from me. It meant security.

While waiting for my opportunity, I drove big-rig trucks and started a little service company. One warm spring night at a party, a guy I knew from high school, Pat, told me about his business. He was a wheeler-dealer with a knack for making money. There is a Pat at every high school. That particular evening, he told me how much money he was making as a chimney sweep. He said, “We should work together.” “Let’s do it.” I replied.

I waited for his call, but it never came. Then it dawned on me, how hard could it be? It was a glorified janitorial service, complete with top hat and tails! I went to the library and found two books on the subject. I read them both several times, learned what I needed to begin, and then made some calls. My first calls were to Mom and Sis; that was two down. I was 21 years old, energetic, driven, and covered in creosote. I could do this, find a need and fill it.

I made two big mistakes early on. The first mistake I made was my business’ name. I had business cards printed up before learning it was a bad name, “Ye Olde English Chimney Sweep!” The clever one-man shops go for names like “AAA Plumbing” or “AArd Pest Control”. Why? The yellow pages, man! The first company listing is the first one called. I wasn’t too bright. Half my calls would come from yellow page advertising and “Y” is at the end! Hey, I was 21.

My second mistake was starting a winter-time service business in the spring, when no one cares about cleaning their wood stoves and inserts. Chimney sweeps in the Northwest earn 80 percent of their annual revenue from September to February. It was mid-April, but nothing could deter me from succeeding. This was MY business and I was having fun. I knocked on doors, mailed out flyers, and asked for referrals.

By my second year in business, I had over 250 regular customers. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I had a brainstorm, Christmas postcards. My wife took a picture of me in full sartorial splendor and covered in creosote, standing in front of my red Chevy van with the mock chimney on top. My Christmas postcard was born. It read: “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Sootfully Yours, Mark Matteson.” I sent one to each of my 250 regular customers. 

Just after Christmas, a fellow we will call John called. “Come on out, my wood stove needs cleaning,” he said. According to my records, I had just cleaned his wood stove in September. But hey, he was a loyal customer and repeat business is what it’s all about! So out I went. He was glad to see me, cheerful and smiling. I did my creosote disappearing act. Afterward, enjoying a cup of coffee at his kitchen table, I noticed my postcard on his refrigerator. “Hey, you got my card.”, I commented.

Wearing a slightly sad but grateful expression, he said something I have never forgotten, “Yes, I did. Thanks for the card. It was the only one I received this year.” Driving home I thought of the song “Eleanor Rigby” by the Beatles. Never underestimate the power of a thank-you card. The lesson hit me like a two-by-four across the forehead. You just never know.

 

 

Everyone from eight to eighty-eight is looking for three things: appreciation, respect and understanding. What are you doing to offer that to others?

—Mark Matteson

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