The collection side of the business can be a most unpleasant chore — especially if you have a customer who has a death grip on his or her money.

I’ve asked a few “regulars” at the HVACR Forum on to tell their horror stories. The “Diceman” had this tale of woe.

“I did a sub job for a general contractor — a remodel for a well-known local business. The general contractor was no one I knew from past experience, but I figured working for a well-known company would be OK.

“They subbed me to do the HVAC installation. After a while, the general contractor guys — very young and inexperienced, with cute little ties on and all — are checking on things. I asked them what part of the construction they did. One said, ‘We don’t do anything, just sub it all out.’

“I never did get paid. I hounded these guys until their phone got disconnected. The well-known business owner claimed no responsibility in the matter, either.”

The Bigger They Are…

Bruce Kintz relayed the story of a customer who could afford to pay — but simply refused to.

“He had a dead compressor. It was under parts warranty, but he had to pay the labor and material. I quoted him the price and he said to fix it that day. I said it would be a little bit more for me to install it that day, but he said, ‘Do it.’ I told him I needed payment when the job was done. He said OK.

“Upon completion, I went to the door to be paid and he said, ‘Bill me.’ I called my boss and he said if the customer would not pay, I should rip the compressor out. The customer said if I touched his unit he would call the police. My boss said, ‘Do it.’ The man called the police.

“The cop said we had every right to remove it because he refused to pay. So the guy said he would pay me, but I told him I had more work in removing the compressor, and he would have to pay for that too.

“He paid me and tried to sue us later, but his lawyer told him we were within our rights.”

“Jumpin’ Jack Flash” had another story involving the police. The owner of a local eatery needed his walk-in cooler repaired — fast. The contractor did the work, but the owner did not want to pay.

“I told him I would remove my parts if I wasn’t paid. He said he’d call the cops if I tried. I started to remove that compressor. Sure enough, the cops arrived. They told me they would throw me in jail and impound my truck.

“About a year later I get a call from the same business. The guy says he bought the business from his brother and needed some work done. I told him I was owed money from there, and I wanted it first before I did any work. He paid the outstanding balance.

“I arrived at the job and saw the old owner’s car parked out back. I asked the new owner where his brother was hiding. I decided to get into my truck and leave. Who should appear but the long lost brother running out of the place after me! The guy had burned other local contractors, too. He ran out of options and had to try calling us all again to fix his stuff.”

How have you handled your slow-to-pay accounts? Drop me a line.

John Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 248-244-1294, 248-362-0317 (fax), or

Publication date: 07/07/2003