Debt collecting with a sandwich board

The articles by Kate Carnell, Tim Reed and Roger Mendelson in the Winter 2017 issue of Inside Small Business highlight the problems of slow payers. Many readers will be all too familiar with customers who take pride in not paying until the steps of the court, or who are heading for bankruptcy and will only pay the creditors they absolutely need to. Going to court is, however, slow, time-consuming and expensive. But there is another way. Let me relate my two experiences on debt collecting with a homemade sandwich board.

A restaurant owed me $8000. I wrote on both boards in neat, big print, “The owners of this restaurant are refusing to pay me $8000 for the columns I turned in this restaurant.” At lunchtime, I started walking up and down on the public footpath outside the restaurant. The customers inside started waving, giving me the thumbs up and cheering. Motorists driving past honked and waved. I was handed the $8000 in cash within 20 minutes.

I did the same thing outside a firm of interior decorators who were refusing to pay about $2000. Again, those driving past waved and honked. This debtor was, however, made of sterner stuff. They called the sherriff.

The sherriff wasn’t a Wyatt Earp lookalike, she was a woman in her 40s in a smart blue uniform. She instructed me to move on. I refused, pointing out that I was on the public footpath and not obstructing it. The police were then called. Two officers duly arrived in a car. I explained the situation to them. They went into the decorator’s premises. A short time later I was called into the premises. The decorator gave me a cheque for the full amount, and the police suggested to the decorator that they wouldn’t be happy if it bounced. The decorator went bankrupt two weeks later.

This method of debt collection is quick, cheap and even fun. I’m not a lawyer, but if the amount of the debt is certain, and you can show that you’ve made considerable efforts to get it paid, your debtor is, I suspect, most unlikely to sue you, and even less likely to receive a favourable judgement. But if you’re unsure ask a lawyer (providing that the bill for the advice won’t exceed the amount of the debt).

Mike Darlow, commercial woodturner and author of The Practice of Woodturning and other titles on the craft

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