There are times in the life of every business when a challenge threatens to cripple the venture.  It is during these times that a strong will and the ability to make tough decisions can create either greater rewards or doom the company to failure.

 Our company, Final Embrace, has faced two such sink/swim issues.  Each caused us to dig deep and find solutions that ultimately made us stronger and more profitable.

Our company started out making Treasured Memory Bears from precious clothing.  As the main fabric artist, I would take clothing sent by a family and turn it into a teddy bear.  Later, we got into the quilted cot cover business.

A casket/urn rep visited the funeral home where I worked and saw the bears I was making.  He asked if I’d ever considered making quilted cot covers.  I tried one and decided they would be a good product to make.

With no experience in sales and few connections in the funeral industry, I decided to sell our covers through the rep.  He would travel his territory, selling quilted covers along with the urns and caskets he also peddled.

It started out great.  He would order a few every week.  We’d ship them out under his name and send him a bill.  He paid quickly.  We were glad to have someone suggest a product and then be willing to sell them.

But then the orders started coming in faster than the checks to pay for them.  At one point, we had a six-month delay between order and payment.  And while we were still able to pay for materials, I was sewing my fingers off and not getting compensated for the effort.

Something had to change.

My business partner, a funeral director named Michael, told me to stop sending covers until the rep paid the full bill.  He didn’t want us to further extend ourselves.  But terminating credit meant we would lose our only sales venue and reduced the likelihood that our rep would ever honor thousands of dollars in debt.

After a few weeks, we made a difficult decision:  we would discontinue shipments unless they were paid in advance.  We also created our own website.

Launching was a big risk.  I’d never operated a business with multiple clients.  I had no idea how we’d get the word out.  We didn’t know if funeral directors in Ohio or California or anywhere else would want a quilted cover.

Demanding payment ahead of time slowed the orders from our rep.  With less product to sell, he had less income coming in and we waited quite a bit longer for our money.

Interestingly, the website took off.  Press releases to the trades brought more visitors to our site.  FDs in Ohio and Calfornia DID like our covers.

In time, we asked the rep to join us by selling our labeled product and letting us handle billing.  His commissions went to pay his back debt.  Renewed by this intelligent approach to his difficulties, he threw himself into the task and sold so many covers that his account was cleared and we were sending HIM checks in less than three months.

Better yet, annual sales increased 900%. 

It was the first gut-wrenching decision I had to make:  lose the company because our only client wasn’t paying or find other clients in the unfamiliar world of sales.