Recently on a professional forum, I fell into a thread concerning a difficult store owner. I had my own sad story to share, and did so.

Soon, however, I realized I’d only contributed to a vague panic. Some people were saying they would not take orders from the store, based on the negative feedback some others were sharing. (Some people had had good experiences with the store.)

Here’s what I had to say about that:

I want to urge people not to necessarily blow off an order because of my not-so-hot experience.

First, you should never accept another person’s version of events at face value–even mine!! I had a bad experience, and some other people did. But that can be a function of many different things.

I know someone who used to badmouth a particular company, one that I had dealings with, too. She said horrible things about them on public forums. Still does!

I, on the other hand never had any problems.

I finally heard the back story on that other person.

Not only were many of the things she said untrue, which is bad enough. But the artist caused a lot of the problems herself.

It turns out the artist was so difficult to deal with, the company quit ordering from her–even though they were very successful selling her work.

My cautionary tale was to encourage you all to think about worst-case scenarios–then develop sound business practices that will protect you. Business practices that still allow you to grow and run your business the way you want to.

This particular buyer may be having a difficult time right now–money may be tight, or there may be family or health problems. Or maybe she just doesn’t do well with artists who are “too obliging”–she may need firm boundaries. Whatever! She may NOT be a problem buyer for someone else.

I also realize if I’d followed my own rules, and stood my ground, I may not have had so much trouble. I could at least have nipped it in the bud sooner. I think I enabled her, in a way.

She liked the work, but she was conflicted. Usually, if there is one or two issues with a potential customer, it’s good salesmanship to reassure the buyer and overcome objections–up to a point. Beyond that, you are dealing with something else, something unsaid. Something more than a simple objection or to. Try to force the issue, and you are going down a path you may regret later.

In this case, she was extremely conflicted. I would reassure her on one point. She would immediately raise another. I would back off, and she would come back with enthusiasm. But when I started to actively sell again, she would retreat and find fault again.

That was my warning sign. I should have listened to my gut.

In hindsight, I should have immediately gone back and stood by my rules. No custom orders on the first order. No exchanges on custom orders. No messing with the show special–it has to be ordered at the show, and that’s what makes it “special”. No defending my prices–I know what my work is worth.

Bending rules should be for highly enthusiastic customers who need a little push to fully commit. Bending rules for extremely ambivalent customers always comes back to bite me.

I hope I’m saying this the right way. I was happy to hear that my issues with her weren’t just “me”. But I also don’t want to paint her with a permanent brush of bad will.

Listen to what others have to say about a difficult store. Put your rules and terms in place, and stick to them. Proceed with caution.

Then make up your own mind about the situation.