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I Caught My Sales Rep Cheating On Me! Hybrid Working Gone Wild

Dear Stephen,

I own a textile convertor - more commonly referred to as just a “textile company” - like Luna, Mayer or Kravet (but not one of those). We design and sell fabric mostly to the A&D specifier community for COM use on office or home furniture. We also sell fabrics through graded in textile programs where we partner with manufacturers of office seating as an option for an upholstery choice. 

Some of our competitors have sold out to private equity companies and I have noticed those executive suites, once steady, are now revolving doors. People jumping to related products or just jumping out of our industry altogether. Still other converters have sold out to major furniture manufacturers, for instance Designtex to Steelcase and Maharam to Knoll. My company is still a family business, but I guess everyone has their price.

We have a hard time holding on to field sales representatives. Most of the textile companies pay about the same to salespeople - a generous non-retractable draw vs commission. Meaning if they leave or if I fire them and they have not hit their numbers, they do not have to pay back the dough they owe us. Fortunately, that rarely happens.

I am writing to share a story I bet you have not heard before. I am sharing it in anger mixed with humiliation, but so that other owners and managers, even HR people, know this can happen to them.  My employee was working two jobs at the same time!

We had a sales rep covering a territory in a major metropolitan area, working for us for only about six months, calling on existing A&D accounts. He was hybrid, working from the showroom occasionally but mostly from home. Business has been brisk, no red flags, no complaints. I have had more turnover than I like but my experience is that the employees are controlling the market right now, so I deal with it and don’t rock the boat. During NeoCon I accidentally found out that the sales rep on my payroll (on a W2, getting expenses and benefits) was also working as a sales representative for a major floor covering company! Yes, you read that right. He was working two jobs at the same time, I did not suspect a thing and my senior management here was oblivious.

When confronted with the offense he quit on the spot and even sent back the money we had paid him, but did not offer an apology or even an explanation.

Here is my question, should I go to the carpet company where he was double-up working and tell them about his integrity lapse? Does that make a tawdry situation worse? Have you ever heard of anything like this before? Who does something like this?


Red Faced Boss at a Loss


Dear Red Faced Loser,

Yes, over the years I have heard this story more times than you would guess. In fact, with today’s hybrid working environment employers are less able to keep track of what their employees are really doing. But the real question is, if your employee is working two jobs and you and your executive team are clueless, who is to blame – him or you?

Guess what, if some of you reading this wonder if your own employee may be working elsewhere, like this guy, chances are they are barely working at all. 

As someone who has sold furniture that goes into the office and recruits in that industry, I am baffled that manufacturers and dealers that sell products that furnish office interiors do not require their own employees to actually go into the office or showroom, and make sales calls from there! What is that about? Most of the manufacturers are in states that have had lenient Covid requirements allowing for people to return to the office two years ago! My unscientific poll tells me that many of you got Covid at NeoCon, my guess is you may naively think you have add-on immunity. No matter what you think, it's time to get your employees back to the office. That's because you sell office furniture! Got it? 

As for you, I appreciate your writing and sharing your story. Yes, you hired someone with little integrity, a pitiable person. He disgusts me, yet, part of this blame goes to you. Whoever was managing this person should be fired.

I will take a wild guess here, and say you are a second-generation owner - maybe you took over the business from your parents. One of our industry’s many spoiled rich kids, out of touch with your company and your customers and, obviously, your own sales force. Our industry is full of guys and gals like you. You’re away at your fancy vacation house, your eye is off the business ball and on the golf ball, and your employees know they can do what they want. So, they do. This one had two jobs, many are doing the minimum to get by.

That is why private equity is knocking at the door of the companies in our industry. To save people like you from yourself. That is also why you are not getting the prices you want when you go to sell, because the company is not well-run, and you have been using your business as your ATM. Textile convertors are a dime a dozen in our industry. Few of you manufacture anything and you all share the same mills. You should be working twice as hard and on top of your business.

I’m getting off on a tangent here, but every day I see people in my office who are currently employed but looking for a new job – a better job – which is fine, but it shouldn’t be to the detriment of their current employer. They should continue to be out there doing the job they are being paid for. Then, we set up interviews for them, usually in the middle of the day when they should be at work, and usually at one of your competitors. So, no excuses, I’m doing my job as a recruiter, but it’s all happening on your dime. Why not manage and guide your employees and know where they are and what they are doing. It’s beneficial for you and frankly it’s valuable for the employee because they’ll feel better about themselves and wind up being more successful. So, do I think these job seekers are terrible people for doing this, or do I think you are foolish for not getting your employees back in the office? What do you think?

To circle back to the original question as to whether you should tell employer #1, the carpet company, about this person’s transgression, the answer is NO, move past that and focus on getting your salespeople to realize that hybrid working is over in this industry, and to get back to real work, or get a new job!

Sincerely yours,