Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Bill Collector

Only the most high tech methods are used in the business offices of
South Pork Ranch LLC

That would be me.

The bill collector, the one who decides who owes for which product, how much do they owe and when is payment due. Just another of the many fashionable hats I wear here.

Fortunately, 99% of our customers pay their bills in a timely manner. But recently I've had a couple that make me want to ARGHHHHHHHHH. Our collection process is simple. An individual will order some meat, perhaps a 1/2 hog or whole beef. We give them all the financial info. They give us a $100 deposit to hold their meat which is then applied to their final bill

They pay the locker when they pick up their meat,  cut up the way they want and this runs them about 80 cents per pound. Then we bill them the hanging weight of the animal minus the deposit. Our pork sells for $3.25 a pound and our beef is $4.25.

Then they send us payment. And like I said, most send it right away. When they do not, the note I write on the second billing statement ( at least one month later) will go like this:

"Hi! I know you're busy and things get overlooked but at your earliest convenience would you send us payment for the ______?'  Thanks so much

The next letter (and I usually give folks another couple weeks) goes like this:

Hi. Haven't received your payment yet. Please send ASAP. Thanks

The third letter will go out a couple of weeks after that. Please note I have sent THIRD letters to only 3 customers in the last 10 years. Many times folks will send payment just as my second notice is hitting the mail box for delivery.

Payment is past due . Send Immediately.

If payment still doesn't arrive I will call them. If they are having finacial problems I'll work with them and take partial payments. We've been known to take $10 a month, just as long as people make good effort we're happy. We truly understand how hard it is to feed a family, or how devestating it is to lose a job. But if they don't return our calls or if no payments at all, even a small portion of the total bill, I will send send a third letter and suggest small claims court. I have only done this twice in ten years. The first time was two years ago and payment in full appeared quickly. "Quickly" as in 6 months after the individual had picked up and presumably eaten the meat she ordered. Needless to say, we won't provide her any more product .

This past year we had problems with a restaurant paying us. Keep in mind this is the ONLY time we had trouble with a restaurant and we sold direct to over 12 restaurants for a period over three years While providing to this particular eatery, they were often weeks behind in payment, then it became months. Then they called and said they had new management and would send payment in full.

They did not.

More letters from me and many phone calls as well and then the small claims court suggestion. They sent approximately 1/3 of what they owed us. The bill now 18 months old. The remaining  amount was just under the amount required to file in small claims court in Cook County. Hmmmm, seems like the restauarants owner had played this game before. Hiring a lawyer would have cost us more than the amount due. So like so many other small business have to do when they've been screwed treated unfairly...we wrote off the balance as bad debt.

Yes, I could list the restaurants name here in my blog but why take the chance of being taken to court for slander? Instead we'll just tuck the whole experience into our "lessons learned" bucket. From now on all restauarants will have to pay COD. But since we rarely deliver anymore direct to restaurants the issue is DOA.

The experience did not sour us though on other customers who are the cream of any retailers crop. Often folks will send payment BEFORE I send the final bill. Many times our customers leave MORE money in the till than they owe and often our new customers come directly from referrals made by present customers.

Our bad apples are indeed minute. So tell me, other small farmers out there. How do you handle sales and payment for your carcass meat ? Would love to hear your experiences, your requirements for deposits and payments if you'd like to share. Write a post about it and link to it from my blog if you wish or just leave info in the comment area. Can't wait to hear from you.


  1. We don't sell, so I suppose I don't have a dog in this hunt (or a hog in that freezer), but when we buy OUR meat, we pay the farmer either before the animal is delivered to the butcher or the day it's delivered. And the butcher shop here doesn't release the meat until payment is received. I find absolutely NOTHING wrong with providing/receiving payment for items as they are received. I know this may not work out with commercial enterprises (like your restaurants), but it seems that with individuals it should be the norm. Why WOULDN'T a person want to pay immediately (unless they think they WON'T be able to pay in the future). Just my opinionated opinion!

  2. I am not a farmer, either. When i bought the half a pig and later half a cow from a nearby farmer, she had me call the processors to discuss the cuts i wanted, she picked it up at the locker for me, and i paid her in full (she has a winter CSA meeting place in the next town over, and i met up with her there to take the meat delivery).

    For the ne'er do well restaurant, i can understand why you don't want to list their name here in Blogland. But, you CAN have a deadbeat list in your store where you list the names and places of business that have not been good payers. Some years back, one store had a posterboard sign reading BAD CHECKS and stapled onto it were all the bad checks they received. This was back when the banks would send you back the bad check. It hung directly behind the cashier so everyone paying up could easily read the person's name. If the person made good on the payment, the bad check was removed.

    No slander at all, just the facts, ma'am.

    When i worked in banking, there was a restaurant in particular that was a notorious slow pay place. Creditors would stand in line behind the person making a deposit so they could hopefully get some of their money due. I made it a point to avoid eating at that restaurant, despite really liking the food.

    Taking something and not paying for it is stealing. Can't you claim the amount the restaurant took without paying as petit larceny? Doesn't seem right that what's due you is considered "too small." What's crumbs to one can be a feast to another. Grrrrr

  3. Wow I always assume people will be honorable. Silly me.

  4. I only sell live animals and require (cash unless I know them personally) payment before they leave property. I have finally put up a sign that sheep and goats are not for sale since I had so many people just dropping by at their convience (they noticed animals in the pasture). Nothing like stopping whatever you are doing to go out to the gate because of a honking horn since they figure if I have 30 sheep they must be for sale. It was so bad a few years ago that I could not even keep any for myself. I have a few previous customers that will call to see if I have anything available.

    If I were you I would insist on COD and they pay locker for processing. But if you are delivering to the locker for them that might not work. Maybe require a larger deposit. Good luck.

  5. Give them a hint by sending them the link to your piglet castration blog. That might be an eye opener to hurry up the payment!;)

  6. Carolyn. Our burcher too requires full payment for the processing part when the meat is picked up. Requiring the $100 deposit is new to our farm, used to be just $50. I was concerned about raiding it but our customers said they thought $50 was too low all along!

  7. Meghan. Some farmers we know pick up the meat and deliver it and we have done that a couple of times but with just two of us we'd be delivering a couple days a week, days we can't spare from the farm. Another reason we may hire help this spring

  8. Judie, my husband used to trust everyone and I trusted no one. Then we married and vies changed. Basically we both see the glass half full most of the time and our customers are trusted since they act trustworthy 99% of the time. Wait, all of them are 100% trustworthy 99% of the time or soemthing like that

  9. Tombstone. In the early years we did not require a deposit and when animals would go to the locker, some customers would change their minds and we'd be left holding the bag so to speak. Since we now reguire a non-refundable deposit from all NEW customers, no one ever backs out. Always living and learning

  10. This is the exact reason we don't sell meat though begged. I can't take the pressure. LOL Around here, people pay live weight for the animal plus shipping to the butcher before delivery. Then after that the contract is with the butcher and the customer. I'd suggest you have a conversion with the butcher and they not allow the meat off the premises if not paid for. That is the way it is here.

    If they don't have the money then, they aren't likely to have it because they should have been saving for it all along. Otherwise they can come buy a portion of meat from your store.

    In our businesses, people don't get their product until paid for unless they are along standing customer and we have a few. It is the same with any store and you are a business and a store.

  11. Always seems to be one bad orange in the Japanese orange box.

    The 100$ deposit is essential. We are thinking of going semi CSA. I.E. takeing orders, and deposits, several months before delivery date.

  12. Holly, even though we've had a rare individual or two who have been less than honest we have had literlly HUNDREDS over the last ten years who have paid very well. earing so many folks say "Thank you" for our meat had made even the occasional snafu, worth the trouble.

  13. Art. Go for it! It really is a great way to sell extra meat. My best advice. Document every phone call and or email you make to a customer. It really helsp in the long run

  14. I forgot to ask are your prices for live weight, hanging weight or Cut and Wrapped weight?

    Here when I have animals butchered, I have someone come here, he then takes carcass to locker so there is one more person involved.

  15. My late father was honest and paid his bills on time. He ingrained this into all his kids. Thus, it makes me angry when "check is in the mail" is said.

    Pay your bills on time, people