Credit Where Credit is Due

Josie Leavitt - July 21, 2014

I think it’s safe to say that bookstores and credit departments feel like they have an antagonistic relationship sometimes. We both need each other, so being friendly makes more sense. But often the issue of money and paying bills can be fraught on both sides. I have a friend who works in the credit department at a snowboard company and he shared with me some of the things that make him crazy. It was illuminating, to say the least. “If people would just be nice to me when I call about their owing us $10,000 for custom boards, it would be delightful.” He finds customers to be sometimes rude, evasive and generally unpleasant. I can say that I’ve often found some credit reps to be rude and sometimes unpleasant. So, below is a list of things that I think could change the nature of the credit rep/bookstore relationship for good.
– Sending reminders with the statement attached is actually very helpful for me. But do not threaten, directly or implied, that if the check doesn’t get processed by the last day of the month, I’ll go on credit hold.
– I will strive to pay my entire bill by the due date. I know there are stores out there that never miss an end of month bill. But I remember Avin Domintz (former head of the ABA) leading a 2% Solution workshop years ago who suggested taking as long as possible to pay your bills, up to 60 days, to stretch your funds. While I don’t agree with that strategy it brings up the next point.
– Not all publishers will put you on credit hold if you’re two weeks late. Know who these are and pay accordingly.
– Who is your credit rep? Get to know him or her. I am getting to know my Random House rep because I asked her if her workload doubled with the Penguin merger and she said, “Pretty much, yes.” We had a lovely chat and now I’m not afraid of taking her calls because she’s fun. I think credit reps can be demonized because we are at odds with what they represent: our ability to pay bills and the shame that comes with having a hard month and needing to juggle who to pay.
– Be honest with your rep. Rather than avoiding calls or emails, take the bull by the horns and do one of two things: actually pay the bill you’ve been forgetting to or tell them why you can’t pay the whole thing. Offer up a payment schedule and know that you might be on hold for a bit.
– Credit reps can send statements that include all available credits. Baker and Taylor comes to mind as the chief offender here: the monthly email reminders do not include any of the credits. Why? Surely this is easily accessible account info to include.
– This brings me to the thing that bothers me the most: emails that say how much I owe for everything I’ve purchased and not just what’s due by the end of this month. Please don’t make me do math every time I need to pay. If we’re talking about what’s due for July, then don’t include all my open invoices (which can sometimes be things that aren’t due for another month or two) in that email.
– Do not make me send an email every time I want credits applied to my account. Of course I want you to apply the credits! No bookstore is ever going to say: No, please don’t use my credits from returns to pay all or part of my bill, let me write you a check for the entire statement balance.
– Another thing to add to that: do not send me a statement with credits and debits that aren’t tallied up. Again, let your spreadsheet tally things up for me, so I don’t have to add up all the open invoices and then subtract the credits. Having to do that work for you is irritating and it’s often the part of the task that gets interrupted because we all get called away from our desks so much.
– Be nice to your credit rep. They have a hard job. They’re under the gun to collect this money and more often than not, they are extremely reasonable if you actually speak kindly to them and offer a solution. And, they have more control over your books getting shipped out than anyone else. So, it’s helpful to treat them with respect.
– Lastly, pay your bills on time and this won’t even be a problem. But, should you over-extend or have a big school delay their payment to you or you’re waiting for the event returns to get logged in the publisher’s system, be patient and honest.
As more and more publishers merge and we’re writing bigger checks to fewer companies, it’s going to be vital for all of us to have strong relationships with the credit departments. I know I’m planning on spending much of my day today making sure I’m all ready for the end of the month.

3 thoughts on “Credit Where Credit is Due

  1. SuzzyPC

    Josie, what a good post. Common sense & good advice which could keep every one pretty happy. (including the sales rep who is in the middle)

  2. Peter Glassman

    Good article, Josie. Having grown up as the child of manufacturer, I have always been aware of the credit reps (or accounts receivable person’s) viewpoint. Communication is key. So is treating them as a partner — just as you do your sales rep.
    I do, however, disagree with you about having the credits applied by the publisher. I want to decide when and how my credits are used — I may be wanting to hold off using them because they are meant to offset a bill that’s not due yet. I prefer to put my payments together on a spreadsheet, send them to my credit rep to make sure we’re on the same page, and then send in my payment.
    And that brings me to my final point: I ask my credit reps to email me a spreadsheet containing all open items — credits and invoices — on my account each month. They are happy to do it and it allows me to run totals quickly and see what I wish to pay now, later, etc.
    Having had my own store for 34 years and having been the bookkeeper for another independent before starting my store, I know that friendly helpful credit reps are to be valued and appreciated.

  3. Tami

    All these points are good. Plus : one publisher has past due notices programmed on auto send for Friday afternoons at 5 pm, and I can’t call to discuss until Monday morning. Whether I’m just late writing checks that month, I’ve missed something I should have paid, they haven’t credited a payment correctly, or whatever, I totally stew over it for 2 perfectly good weekend days.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *