Bing Blog

Puttin' on that holiday mailbag, recession-style

Holiday Cards

Christmas, they say, comes but once a year and while this is good news for our wallets, it's probably a bit of a bummer for the snail-mail guys. For it's during this season that all kinds of business people haul out their paper envelopes, cards and stamps and set the air a-humming with jolly wishes.

There seem to be fewer such this year, which is either a sign of the market conditions in which we live, where every little financial outlay, even postage, must be scrutinzed, or evidence that I'm less popular than I used to be. Most evident in their absence are the lengthy, one-size-fits-all newsletters that people used to send, updating friends, family and assorted associates about the interesting doings of their clan. "Betsy has left the coven and is now celebrating her "solstice" with us, and little Harry recently was awarded the lead in his middle-school production of Annie!" Perhaps folks are using e-mail for that kind of thing now.

Still, there's a cornucopia of good stuff to enjoy.

There are the cards from colleagues that are, as always, very much appreciated. In vogue this year are pictures of kids, puppies and kitties. A fair number of holiday salutations share portraits of the offspring and assorted family mammals with absolutely no evidence of adult life at all. In this economy, the message seems to be: "You may not be interested in me personally at all, but here are my dependents. Aren't they cute? Some go to private schools or are headed for an expensive college education. The point is, I'm a human being that has a real existence outside of my professional function. Please don't fire me." Or maybe that's just my imagination.

Second on the stack are the lovely missives from people who either a) do not sign their cards but leave the printed message as sufficient to contain their best wishes or b) sign it quite illegibly and bear no informative return address. These I keep in a very special place in my credenza, for re-use next year.

There are, of course, the law, consulting or insurance firms who do a mass holiday mailing, with each member of the organization scrawling their weeny name in a corner of an acceptably deracinated card that conveys all non-denominational jollies of the season. One just came from the out-of-house counsel we just fired. Here's another from the management consulting firm that engineered a bunch of our industry's recent layoffs! So toasty.

I particularly enjoyed the tiny calendar in its faux-leather holder sent to me by my broker. The fact that we're still talking to each other means my 2008 was not as bad as some others.

But the one that most expressed the merry vibrations of this particular holiday season came from the air conditioning guy who installed the AC machines in my apartment not long ago. I'm going to call him Sidney Roth, although that is not his name. On one sheet of very simple letterhead almost Dickensian in its stark functionality, the following holiday message in 16-point Times Roman is sent to all his clients:

To: All Non-Contract Service Accounts Effective January 1, 2009, all services will be terminated. Our new policy for services will be "Payment upon completion of service" (COD). Our field technicians will receive the applicable service charges while at your residence once your call is completed. A formal invoice indicating your payment will be mailed the work day following the service visit.

As always, we appreciate your patronage. Sidney Roth Company Services Dept.

I imagine that last bit - the part about how they appreciate our patronage? - was added by some thoughtful assistant to provide a softer touch. It doesn't seem all that sincere in the context. What I get from the mailing is a very clear image of a working man, sitting behind his scarred and battered desk, looking at a bunch of invoices that are 91 days past due. All his clients owe him a ton of money. And nobody is paying, not at least until they see how things look come January 1.

"The hell with this," he says to himself. "No more free lunch."

Of all the holiday communications I've received this year, this one feels the most appropriate. Holiday schmoliday. Gotta get paid, right?

11 Comments Add Comment

Sidney's letter is a sober reminder (do we need more reminders) of how things really are and how optimistic we are about 2009 and beyond, but still I prefer Sidney's kind of letters than the corny xmas cards showing the wife, kids and pets, or the updates on what the family has been doing, who the hell cares!! something is wrong with that people,,they are first on my list of people to be axed from payroll next year!!!!

Maybe Mr. Roth is managing his resources more tightly to afford a seminar in marketing strategies. Or maybe it's a preview of things to come.

Let us know if the field technicians have to count your cash before opening the toolbox.

I like that you don't get a receipt until the next day.

i sent a pic of GM, AIG and Fanny Mae stocks with my xmas cards - you know, former family members that used to bring 15% joy every year. who wants a picture of me crying anyway.......

My township tax assessor chose the week before Christmas to send out notice that my house has been reassessed and my taxes are going up. May he receive all the warmth and good cheer that he deserves for the holidays.

Sidney Roth probably became a HVAC journeyman with a big company that went belly up.

Sid's supposed problem might be that he was paid as an hourly employee devoid of any paper work to prepare.

As a contractor, he must be a manager, accountant, public relations expert, buyer, licensed, banker, planner, and paymaster etc..

His hourly rate is probably only a small fraction of what it was when he worked as an employee.

His total hours of work as a contractor require three times the work load he had as an employee.

He drives a truck with heavy tools and must carry tools and parts to the heights and depths required by the business operations.

Working the New York business district he's privy to the well manicured and pedicured staff that stiffed him.

He decided to deal with them in language they disdain, but understand--no pay, no work.

Sid believes in faith; but, only if there is evidence to confirm it!


You must live in an affluent hood for any service contractor to bill the next day. Where I come from its 50% upfront and the other 50% is due the same day the job is done...Roth could have done this multiple ways without alienating his clients. I think a quiet line at the bottom of his estimates would have sufficed. What do I know, I'm just in upper bottom management (kinda) trying to claw my way to an office with a window and multi-line phone.

He's not billing the next day, David. He's giving you the receipt the next day, from money you paid the day before. Maybe he's waiting for the check to clear. I just thought the letter from the service department saying there would be no more service was pretty funny.

In the spirit of Sidney Roth......

To: The IRS

Effective January 1, 2009, all tax payments will be terminated.

My new policy for payments will be “Payment upon completion of service” (COD).

Your field technician (income tax, property tax etc.) will receive a credit once an applicable and supportive service is rendered directly to me (as opposed to paying for someone in Ohio to continue to work 6 months of the year but get paid for 12).

A formal invoice indicating service provided will be required from you prior to payment being mailed.

As always, I appreciate your willingness to ensure government doesn’t impede on my inalienable right to property (as inferred in the Declaration of Independence).

Insert Name Here Company Services Dept.

I admit, I was confused by the statement (addressed to non-contract accounts) that "all services will be terminated." If there was no contract for services, what was there to be terminated?

Thanks for clearing this up for me! I thought I was having a senior moment, and missed something.

Perhaps this is what 2009 will be like? Scott Adams will have a field day with it!

I got a card from Terry at the transmission shop that I've mentioned before around here. It thanked me for my business. I had a complete transmission rebuild about a year ago, and since then 3 return visits for warranty work (some of it pretty major). It went right up on the piano with all of the other cards we received this year, many from senders I have become less familiar with.

Best of the season to you, Bing and everyone here. Mike