Race Does Matter

Dr. Cornell West wrote a book entitled, ‘Race Matters.’ I started reading the book but couldn’t get through the first chapter.  Too many unnecessary big-ass words. The joy of reading is lost when I have to look up every other word and then have to go back and reread the same thing trying to fit my new vocabulary word in context.

I started to read the book because of the title. The title is intriguing.  So, is the book about matters that relate to race? Or, is the book a discussion about how race matters in everything? I don’t know but both are relevant topics for a book.

For people of color, particularly African Americans, race matters, in everything we do are trying to do.  Entrepreneurial adventures are no different. 

When you walk into a room and I’m completely focused on entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs of color, you don’t know of your meeting mates are friends or foes. You don’t know if you will be benefitting or harmed by your status as a person of color. What’s important is that you are confident, not hostile but confident.  You may be viewed as arrogant or hostile because you are confident but remain confident.  You will be challenged; remain confident.  Your meeting mates may be hostile, you remain confident.  Be sure you know your objectives and don’t be distracted by bullshit, just remain confident.

There are a lot of situations that can share with you, some are included in this blog, some won’t make the cut. I’ll share this one, and probably more about Blue Diamond. 

I mentioned in an earlier post that I must get estimates on my repair, renovation and construction cost the stores.  There are a lot of pieces to the repair puzzle.  Let me hit few. This will help me understanding where I am with the project and help you understand why I’m bringing up, “Race Matter.”

You already know that the stores are raggedy as shit, or should I more appropriately say, in disrepair?  Here is some of what we will have to do:

All stores will require their fuel distribution systems to be replaced, some sooner than others but all will need to be replaced.  The fuel distribution system includes the underground tanks, the pumps, lines that deliver the fuel from the tanks the pumps and the electrical components that drive the system.  The point of sale devices and system is also tied to the fuel distribution system.

All the canopies will need work; all of them will need to be reimagined with the Texaco brand or some other brand. All will need new lighting, cleaning and or painting.

Every store will need to be repaired, new plumbing, new lights, new floors, and painting.  I have a graphics package that I will want at all stores so they will all look alike. I’m working on branding the stores differently than the gasoline brand and to do that I need consistency across all the stores.

Some stores will be completely torn down and rebuilt.  Right now, that number is at least 4 out of the 14 stores being bought. The raze and rebuild is a request from Texas to get them branded Texaco. More about that in a different post.

That is a lotta work for a lotta store.  For me to make a thoughtful offer to the seller, I need to know how much it’s going to cost to repair and or replace those stores.

My approach to getting the estimates is to contact vendors directly, get them to sign non-disclosure agreements, tell them about the stores, then let them do their work. Pretty simple, right? Well, it should be. 

How did I identify prospective contractors?  Having done this before I know what kind of equipment I want, that’s fuel distribution equipment.  It’s Gilbarco. I used Gilbarco pumps and the related POS equipment in Kokelbug.  I will use the same equipment again since I’m familiar with the functionality of the equipment and had no issues with equipment. It is widely used by many petroleum retail and c-store operators and, and there are discounts offered for stores branded by major oil companies.  There are many brands of equipment that are widely used; I just like Gilbarco.

I Googled and tried to find the companies that I used before hoping they would be around.  I had good relationships and recreating those relationships would be an ideal situation.  Uh, no luck so I went to the Gilbarco website to see who the authorized dealers were.  I specifically looked for Dallas-based dealers.  My thought was that Dallas, even though it is in a “red state” might have more progressive companies that wouldn’t get caught up in the bullshit of race, at least too much.  Fortunately, there we Dallas or San Antonio-based companies with field offices in East Texas. Probably an ideal situation, probably.

I made calls to three vendors and my initial request was for an NDA to be signed, well, at 2 of the 3 companies.  Only 2 companies replied to the messages that I left and the inquiries I placed on their respective websites.  One of the responding vendors was asking that same fucking question, “who are you represent?”  They weren’t asking about which brand; the assumption they were making is that it wasn’t my company.  Then they asked if they could get back to me.  When they called back the sales guy says, “our CEO said we don’t sign NDA.” I wanted to say, “dude, fuck you.” 

The other company did call and said, “absolutely” we will sign the NDA.  They have an office in Longview TX, headquartered in San Antonio and with a major office in DFW.  After I provided these guys the stores’ list on a Wednesday, they were our surveying stores Friday with a plan to provide me an estimate within a week.   I met the guy at the first site he was to survey. For me, it’s important for me to know who I’m doing business with.  Your body language will tell me more about you than what you say to me.  This guy was cool.  I explain the scope of work, timing and answered any questions he had. 

I also stopped by a store that was under construction to ask about who the general contractor was.  The store is owned by a major competitor. Normally, not too cool to share your plan with somebody who might carry water for a competitor but my thought was the contractor might be large enough that having them work on my project might not be that big of a deal.

When I entered the store, a redneck fucker looked up at me with contempt and said, “how can I help you?”  I said I’m looking for the GC.  I might have a job for them.  This fucker said, “I’m the GC.”  I said, “ok, you have a card? I’ll give you a call and share what we’re trying to do.”  I wasn’t gonna share shit with that mutha fucka but to my mantra, ‘don’t be hostile, be confident,’ I stayed true.  He says, “I don’t have them with me, they’re in the truck.’  So, I punked his bitch ass and said, “here, here’s my card. Call me and I’ll give you more information.”  I don’t know what the fuck he was expecting but clearly we weren’t prepared for me to complete the “interview” with me having a card and being serious!

I walked the fuck out like a mutha fucking boss. I bet I hadn’t taken 15 steps out the door and another fucker walked up to me and says, “Hey, I’m the GC.”  Ain’t that a bitch?   He introduced himself and pulls out his business card. It clearly said, “Project Manager.”  This guy goes on to tell me about the number of stores they build and the different companies they build stores for.  It would have made an impression on me if he hadn’t been standing right by the other racist fucker and kept his fucking mouth closed while the other had his Klan hat on.

I told him what we’re looking to do with respect to a raze and rebuild a couple of stores.  He went on to ask me about was, what size stores, what brand, and a bunch of other shit that I be damn if I was going to share.  What I did tell him was that I would reach out and get him an NDA and we could in a little greater detail. That will never happen.  We will compete directly with several of company whose store they were doing the construction for.  That’s a little too close and the company is large enough to fuck my deal up.  Hell, if I play my cards right, I could end up selling my stores to them.  Fuck that!

So, the guys surveying the stores were specific contractors for the gasoline island and the related equipment and the canopy. They don’t do any “store” construction of renovation.  They would be subcontractor for the raze and rebuild stores. My challenge now is to find a contractor for the design and rebuild for the stores I am going to teardown and that can coordinate the renovations for the other stores.  Renovations are easy; I mean technically speaking but have a consistent them from store to store is better managed with a GC who can make that happen.  I mean, I don’t have time to be a GC for a project this big.

Here is the fucked-up part of this post.

I had spoken with a Dallas-based company a couple of months ago trying to identify the person who responsible for “sales.”  I had a contact on LinkedIn that worked for this company as an engineer.  I knew the owner of the company from my past life.  He has grown his company into three divisions including design, construction and something else that I can’t recall.  When I dealt with them before, it was a design/build firm with a primary focus on c-stores.   They actually bid on two of my previous stores. They were far too expensive and I passed in favor of a smaller, much more nimble firm.

Fast-forward to now.  When I initially spoke to the “head sales guy” a couple of months ago, I was specific in my ask.  I asked him about being an equipment supplier as well as a contractor.  He said they didn’t do that type work; they were strictly a design firm.  I just said ok.  I didn’t think too much about it.  My thought was that they had gotten away from the construction business.  I went so far as to confirm that the owner was the same; it was and I just said fuck it. 

After I had my meeting with Chevron/Texaco and understood that they were going to require the raze and rebuild of a few stores for them to branded Texaco, I knew I would need a “design” firm to lay the stores out and draw the plans.  I put a mental pin there to circle back to this firm.

As I have proceeded down the path of coming up with an offer for the seller and I’m trying to get my costs together, I sent the guy an email and gave him a quick call about executing an NDA so we could talk about the “design” services.  I went to the company website to confirm his email address.  When I was on the website this time, I realize the original ‘design/build’ firm that I had dealt with previously was still in business. They had just spent the design portion off to a different company and the construction company was a standalone company, both still headed by the same guy.  I don’t know how I missed this but I did.

I got the NDA executed and forwarded the guy the store list highlighting the raze and rebuild stores as well as the renovation stores.  The reason is what I stated earlier.  I want the store design and the graphics to be consistent across all the stores.  I told him that in the email and asked him about the construction company doing the work.  He emails me back and says the construction is “not bidding any new jobs.”  That’s not really a big deal, especially given the clients referenced on the website.  They are building more than c-stores.  Congrats to him.  I may get a chance to tell the owner that. I’m sure he will remember me.  I doubt very seriously he has bid c-stores for more than 2 African Americans. I doubt it seriously.

We scheduled a call and he invited another person from his firm to join us. We had a time scheduled say, 2:30p and he requested we move it to 4p because he had a meeting pop-up all of sudden that he needed to take.  Not a big deal, cool.  At 4p, I dial in and he and his colleague are already on the phone.  Cool again. I like people that are on time.  I introduce myself and they said, “Hi” then there was silence.  I’m thinking, ‘this is awkward’ so after about 30 seconds or so I said, “are you expecting other people to join?” They said, “no.”  Then I said, “neither am I.”  It’s just me.  Then, dead fucking silence.  At this point, I’m confused as fuck. I’m expecting some kind of sales pitch or the introduction of the other person on the call or some heavy breathing or something.  Dead fucking silence.

I started talking, explaining what my needs are and what I need from them.  They didn’t seem energized or give any sales pitch or acknowledging that they can do the work that I’m requested.  I keep talking, asking them, what they need from me, like surveys, store signs, possible QSRs (Quick Serve Restaurants) and the like.  The guy says, “yes, that’s what we will need.”  I kid you not, that’s all this mutha fucka said.   At this point I’m pissed.  I didn’t know if I was dealing with a race issue or these were just some bad customer service, salespeople.  How the fuck can you tell?

We ended the call by me saying I would get them the information they needed to give me a quote for the design of the stores.  He again says, “ok.” No sales pitch, nothing.

After I hang up, I’m thinking, ‘what the fuck was that about.’  When I logged on to my laptop I see that this fucker and looked at my profile on LinkedIn at almost exactly the time of the call, either right before or right at the time of the call.   All I could think of was, ‘did this fucker shut down because I was black?’  Who knows? 

I sent an email about 10 minutes later. I had forgotten to ask a question that we were supposed talk about.  He offered to give me a construction contractor referral since they were not taking bid anymore.  That was the complete content of my email.  Do you think that fucker emailed me back or acknowledged receipt of my email?  Hell naw.

Fuck ‘em. I’m still searching for a store construction contractor.

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