Cliff Oxford’s Take: When the Bank Threatens to Freeze Your Credit Line

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Good Tuesday Morning,

CLIFF’S TAKE  

You want to talk about a real crisis? It’s not a wall or Amazon blinking on NY. It’s in Jackson, Mississippi, where a company is on the brink of having its credit line frozen and seeing its 950 employees thrown on the street. So what do you do? First, you don’t call. You get face-to-face with the bank’s decision maker, and you buy time. I drove to Jackson to get everybody in the same room.

The bank was ready with numbers to make its case with spreadsheets galore. We know how this movie turns out – the numbers are not usually on our side at this point, so I spoke up and asked if we could get two weeks to find a solution. The bank pointed out that the company had already been given two years to find a solution. My response was, Well, you’ve got our full attention now, so give us a chance to find a solution that works for all of us. The bankers said they would decide later, which is better than a no.

The bank was right – the numbers were a mess: Expenses too high, receivables too high, inventory too high and nothing in focus. All in all, they were essentially paying back the credit line with the credit line. Trying to find a positive, I bragged about payables – hardly anything over 45 days. The bank’s biggest worry was inventory spoils, items that never sold. In fact, the company had more than $2 million of inventory sitting in a warehouse. I pulled the CEO aside and said, What the hell? Can you unload it at a discount? He replied it would hurt the brand. I said, Screw the brand – you are trying to survive here. It took the company one call to unload it all to a discount store for 30 cents on the dollar, and we pledged every cent to the bank.

The bank never gave a hard answer on giving us two weeks but it did give us one week, which at least covered Thursday’s payroll. Live to fight another day. I got with the CEO and came up with a back-up plan, which by the way included refusing to turn over the check from the inventory fire sale until we got clarity on the credit line or we needed the check to make payroll – like swapping hostages.

The next day the CEO called me and asked what I’d done? The bank had just offered to refinance the credit line and lower the payment to make it work. I told the CEO to take the offer because the truth was I had not done a thing. Two days later the bank was in the headlines: “Sold.” We were lucky. Wild guess is the bankers decided to punt and let the next owners deal with it. I felt like dancing on a pony keg.

Want more Cliff? Check out his podcast conversation with HomTex CEO Jerry Wooten, an Oxford Center member who shares his remarkable story of fouling up and fighting back.

STARTUPS

When Gary Hirshberg, founder of Stonyfield Farms, started mentoring Emily Darchuk, founder of Wheyward Spirit, which makes liquor from dairy products, one of the first questions Hirshberg  asked was, “What are you living on now?” Darchuk responded, “Hopes and dreams and laughter and, sometimes, fumes…I am wrapping up student business competitions. I want to look at funding but I want to personally remove as much risk as possible.”

“Good for you,” said Hirshberg, “I wish even just 10 percent of the companies I work with thought like this.”

A new “post-breakup concierge service” seeks to simplify the logistical and emotional nightmare that is ending a relationship: “Onward’s customized packages start at $99 for 10-day assistance, which includes housing placement, moving/packing, storage, as well as ‘strategies and discounts for self-care.’ Pricier packages involve weekly scheduled check-ins and personalized neighborhood guides with recommendations on restaurants, bars, gyms, health studios, even meet-ups. To get the word out, Onward partnered with female organizations, yoga and meditation studios, as well as women-only spaces such as The Wing. The company already received ‘a lot’ of referrals by people who recommend it to friends who need extra support.

“If one can easily hire a wedding planner or funeral director, then why not a breakup handler? Heartache deserves the same level of care, say Onward co-founders Lindsay Meck, 34, and Mika Leonard, 33.”

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MARKETING

Fortnite is the most popular online game in the world. It’s so popular some fans pay just to watch gamers livestream their sessions. Fortnite doesn’t feature in-game ads, but brands are finding ways to market on the platform. UberEats teamed with Ninja, the game’s most famous player, for a promotion that “linked a level of discount to the number of ‘kills’ Ninja made during a match. It was meant to be extended over a week, but the discount was redeemed so many times that the fast-food delivery service ended it after one day.

According to Christophe Jammet, director of social media and mobile at innovation consultancy DDG, “It’s easy for consumer brands to justify this sort of partnership due to the sheer reach and level of engagement that someone like Ninja garners across multiple platforms like Twitch and Youtube, making it quite easy to activate the audience and get them to either build affinity for the sponsor brand or onboard new customers using promotions.”

ENERGY

The Keystone Pipeline faces another setback as a judge has blocked much of the work from continuing: “Brian Morris ruled that TransCanada cannot do most work to prepare for construction, including setting up camps for workers who would build the pipeline if it is allowed to move forward…TransCanada said the injunction put its investment in 700 workers and its ability to retain the skilled laborers at risk. If the workers left to pursue other opportunities, it would make it impossible to begin construction in 2019.”

HUMAN RESOURCES

Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms recently banned the “salary box” on city job applications so prospective employees will not have to disclose previous earnings: “Bottoms said it is an effort to level the playing field so that all people can maximize their paycheck…[The mayor] says it’s an extension of ‘ban the box’ which took the question of criminal history off applications.”

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Millennial Matt needs to know: What is the best chicken joint or diner in Atlanta? He tried chicken and waffles for the first time when he visited a friend in Athens and is getting another craving. We want to hear from the readers and highlight local businesses. Your comments could be featured in tomorrow’s Morning Report. Send responses to mattg@oxfordcenter.com.

CANNABUSINESS

Many doctors attest to the therapeutic effects of CBD oil, and a few Detroit drinking establishments introduced it in beverages until local health officials killed the vibe: “‘It was fun for a minute,’ Ale Mary’s owner Nick Ritts said a few days after removing drinks including the Mellow Melon cocktail (made with muddled strawberries, simple syrup, Tito’s vodka and Melon Sprig soda) and others from the menu. ‘It was crazy. We were selling so many of them.’

“Multiple changes in laws and regulations at the state and federal level in the past year appear to have created confusion in Michigan, leading to perceptions that it was OK for businesses to serve CBD-infused food and drinks. But the Oakland County Health Division and the Detroit Health Department both took action shortly after they began to be publicized, making clear that it’s not OK.”

SPOTLIGHT

Thursday on Mind Your Business, Loren’s guest will be Drew Greenblatt, who bought Marlin Steel, a manufacturer of metal bagel baskets, in 1998. Two things went wrong: First, the low-carb Atkins diet surged, which meant people started eating fewer bagels and chains started buying fewer baskets. Then Chinese manufacturers started selling the baskets for less than it cost Marlin just to buy its steel.

So Greenblatt reinvented the company, somehow pivoting to supply custom-engineered containers to manufacturers in the aerospace, defense, medical and automotive industries. We’ll talk about how he did it, why his factory has never had a bigger backlog, why he can’t find enough employees, and what he sees for American manufacturing. The show airs Thursday at 1:00 p.m. ET on SiriusXM 132.

And that’s what’s ahead.

Please send comments and suggestions to mattg@oxfordcenter.com and lfeldman@oxfordcenter.com.

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