Our award-winning columnist, Jeff Dearduff, advises bakers to do their research before getting involved with any equipment buyers, even if they portray good intentions.

Seller Beware

We go through life intending to be honest and forthright in our personal affairs, as well as in our business dealings. Integrity is a trait that many have within and many admire in others. Our industry is loaded with honest people who have a level of integrity that stands tall against the best of the best.

Then there are the others.

To use a word I picked up from our military, there are some “bad actors.” Yes, our industry is sprinkled with a few people who are less than honest.

Most of us tend to see people for their face value, always giving them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe, we’re a little too trusting in the beginning. I don’t want to ever change my initial perception to see the good in people, but I recently came across some situations that make me wonder if I should be more skeptical. If I change my approach when meeting new people, however, the good folks could fall into the same bucket as the not-so-good ones.

This bothers me.

My doubts started after a fellow baker tried to move some equipment that he would no longer use in his plant. As it does in our industry, word got around that this baker had been approached by someone he didn’t know, but the man seemed like a nice person with some good intentions. They started talking about the equipment, and the potential buyer seemed very interested in acquiring it for a project he was putting together for himself.

The discussions lasted for a couple months, going hot, then cold, then hot again. The baker considered this buyer as legit and allowed him to have what was basically a first right of refusal. However, the talks dragged on and on.

One day the buyer asked if he could check out the equipment. The baker agreed to allow the buyer to send in some folks on his behalf. Some pictures were taken, some questions were asked, some details were shared and the deal seemed to be nearing the closing. Because the baker was confident that the buyer had good intentions, even more details were shared between the two parties, and the deal looked like it was going good.

Then all hell broke loose.

One day, a friend of the baker called to ask about some equipment he saw on a Web site that fit the description of the units from the baker’s plant. After a quick discussion, the baker went to the particular Web site and, low and behold, there was his bakery blasted all over not just one, but maybe 40 or more sites.

To make matters worse, an e-mail advertisement had been shot out to hundreds, possibly thousands, of addresses detailing all of the information the baker had shared with the original buyer. In addition, the advertisement implied that this equipment dealer had authorization to sell for the baker. A quick conversation ensued between the parties, and it was ordered to have these advertisements removed immediately.

Now the story comes together. The baker learned that Mr. “Good Intentions” was fronting for a dealer with whom the baker had issues in the past and planned to avoid in the future.

While Mr. “Good Intentions” may have been a pawn in a game, he is now attached to an apparent attempt at deception and has now joined that very small fraternity of “bad actors” in the baking industry.

So why do people have to act this way? How can they have such a lack of integrity that they can swindle or be swindled into deals like this? Why do they think they will get away with conducting bad actions in an industry that is so tight knit?

Perhaps most importantly, how do we control this type of situation in the future?

The best advice I have ever received is to always do a little research on those people who you don’t know before you engage in something that could affect your family, your life or your career. This action can be as easy as asking the person to provide some references where similar activities or transactions have been conducted. With that, you must take due diligence and make the phone calls. By doing so, you are not doubting anyone’s integrity - you’re just protecting yourself. It’s just like hiring a new employee. References may not change your mind on the person, but they do provide some additional insight on their character.

If you are a baker who wants to be more informed on these types of situations in the future, maybe its time you join one of the major industry associations. Networking with others, even if they are competitors, can save you a lot of heartache in the long run. Through simple conversations at these events or through more formal presentations, you can be tipped off to those people who have a good track record and learn to avoid those who don’t.

Remember, this is a small industry and word gets around faster than you will ever imagine.

As the saying goes, caveat venditor, which means “seller beware.”

Jeff Dearduff, j.dearduff@comcast.net