Doing business with customers originally from the Indian subcontinent

Knighton Grange Road, Leicester
Kate Jewell / Knighton Grange Road, Leicester

I’ve written this article, following unread comments some days ago, on conducting business with Indians and Pakistanis.

To give you a bit of background first, many years ago, I was a partner in a business installing security systems and gate automation throughout the east Midlands with occasional forays into the west Midlands and London. The customer base was made up of schools, colleges, local and national companies as well as work in residential properties. Two of us had started the business and it was a thriving concern. The commercial side made up around 70%, good regular work, but often slow to pay. The residential side was payment on completion, it didn’t always happen but as the customers were usually affluent, the payments soon followed. My responsibility in the company was to make things happen, my partner, Richard, brought the business in, from the initial call, creating the quote, chasing it up and then sealing the deal. We were both engineers and would spend time “on the tools” when required, especially towards the end of a job.

We soon learned, that when dealing with Asian customers, whether commercial or residential, they would always want a deal. All the quotations we sent out to customers were always worked out using the same formula, however we added 10% to quotes for Asian customers. This allowed us to “do a deal”, the customer thought he had a discount, and we would be paid the correct money for the job. The problems arose when cash and no paperwork was mentioned, they automatically thought this would give them an extra 20% discount off the price. On being told there was no “discount for cash” and that all transactions went through the books regardless of how they were paid, this usually stopped that ruse. However, there were those who wanted to pay cash as they had it already stashed away, hidden from the taxman.

The following are a few of the instances, where dealing with those from the sub continent proved trickier than usual.

A call had come in from a factory owner in Leicester, asking if we could look at, and repair the automatic gates at his house. I said I would send one of our engineers to look after he had finished the job he was on, the time agreed was between 17.00 and 18.00. Mick reported back to me in the morning saying they were big “Paki” gates, (ornamental, gaudy and usually painted black and gold). “One of the motors is fucked and there is a safety fault on the control board.” I worked out a price, emailed it across to the factory owner and waited for a reply. It was almost instantaneous, there was no phone call to debate the price £1003.00 inc. VAT. This should have rung alarm bells, but I must have been busy when the acceptance came in. I checked when it could be done and called back to say when we would do it. “Can you make out the invoice to the business and send it here when you have finished. Bill it as engineering work at the factory.” This wasn’t an unusual request, it happened every now and again, the invoice would go through the books and the VAT claimed back. With the work done and the invoice sent, we waited for the payment, it wasn’t forthcoming. Reminders had been sent, our accounts lady had tried to phone but had never been able to contact the owner, she could only ever get as far as his secretary, who always promised he would call us back. I was speaking one day to the owner of another company doing the same type of work as us. I said we had a customer who wouldn’t pay, and if they called him to do any work to watch out, He asked who it was, “that bastard owes us nearly £500.00, he won’t pay for anything.” Back in the office I sat there fuming, one of the engineers had come back early, he had finished for the day and was in to pick up equipment for the next day. “Have you got the petrol generator and welder on your van?” “Yes, do you need it?” “We might have another job this afternoon, don’t do anything else, we might be going out in a few minutes.” I rang the factory and spoke to the secretary, “I know he is there, would you pass a message on to him, say I am on my way down to his house, if he isn’t there to meet me with the money he owes, I will weld his gates shut. Tell him whatever is inside won’t be getting out, and he will be parking on the street tonight.” I hung up and waited. The phone rang within a couple of minutes. “I will put a cheque in the post tonight and you will have it in the morning.” “No good, I want cash, I am leaving now and if you are not there, the gates will be welded shut.” “You can’t do that, it’s illegal.” It was Richard, “I don’t care, I will put a chain round and weld that, we won’t damage the gates.”

When we arrived, no one was there, I had the chain through the gates when a new Mercedes pulled up in front of the gates, “stop, I have the money.” I pulled the chain back out and held out my hand. He passed over an envelope. I counted it, “You’re £3.00 short, the invoice was for £1003.00, you need to give me another £3.00. The look on his face said that I wasn’t getting any more. I picked up the chain and passed it through the gate again. “I haven’t any more money with me.” I pointed towards the house. “There must be someone in there who has money, let’s open the gates and go and see.” We walked up to the house together, he couldn’t get his car onto his property as the van was blocking the way. I waited at the front door, the £3.00 wasn’t important financially, it was the principal. “I’ve got change if it’s needed,” I offered as he went into the house. It was several minutes before he returned with three £1.00 coins. I took them, I never thanked him and walked back to the van. I was smiling, all the way back to the office. It was a victory.

Richard had been out to look at a job in the south of the city. It was a quote for two sets of gates, in and out, and two full sets of automation. We were to supply the gates as part of the job. The gates were to be manufactured by another local company that was owned by a Sikh. He was a great guy, friendly and helpful, plus he understood what Asians wanted when it came to gate design. He called in once he had been to measure up, “be careful, these are dodgy fuckers.” Once we had the cost for the gates, the quote was put together. The total price with an extra 10% was near to £7000.00. The customer requested another meeting to discuss the quote. I tagged along as support. There was an aging mother, probably in her early sixties and her son, in his forties. It was the usual story, more than we have budgeted for, we have had a lower quote, how much discount will you give us. A final figure of £6000.00 cash was agreed, payment on completion. Work was scheduled to start before Christmas and be finished before we closed until new year. It all went well, I spent a couple of days on site making sure everything would be done on time. It went well, Richard went over on the final afternoon to have the job signed off and collect the money, the gate manufacturer was coming to our office later to collect his part of the payment. He looked grim when he returned. “What’s up?” I asked, “They only gave me £5500.00, said they had no more money in the house, we have to go back for the rest of the money after Christmas.” “I said they were dodgy.” “Thanks, but that’s no help.” As soon as he had been given his money, he was off. “I’ll sort it out,” I said. I rang the customer and asked when I could come and collect the £500.00 they still owed us. The son said that they had paid enough and we wouldn’t be getting any more. I explained that it didn’t work like that. “You owe us £500.00, unless we get the money, we will take one of our gates back.” There was silence on the other end of the phone, this was followed by a conversation between the mother and son, I had no idea what they were talking about. I was told to meet them at their knitwear factory the day after Boxing Day. I said I would be there at 10.30 and they should have the £500.00 ready. At 10.30 on the day, I was there. The factory was in full production, the noise was deafening. I found the son who led me down a corridor to his mother. “I’ve come for the money you owe us, £500.00.” I could see a safe behind where she was sitting. “She then offered me jumpers for our engineers instead of the money. “I don’t want your over-runs or faulty stock, I want the money.” Reluctantly she opened the safe and took out an envelope. I counted the contents, there was only £450.00. “It’s £50.00 short.” “There is no more, that is all you are getting.” I thought that I wasn’t going to get any more. Before I left, I said to them that if there were any problems with the gates, then to find someone else to fix them. A few weeks later, the son phoned, he said there was a fault on one of the sets of gates, they wouldn’t close. I said I would send an engineer to look and find out what the problem was, but if he needed to do any work then they would need to pay before he started. I also said that they would have to pay the £50.00 still outstanding. When I came off the phone, my partner said to make sure whoever went, took a pair of safety sensors with them. “I think you will find that one of them has been smashed, I walked past their house late last night.” The engineer we sent collected the £50.00 plust the cost of the repair.

Darren was on a CCTV and door entry installation at a wealthy Asian family house. He had been there for two days, it was scheduled for a five day installation. With the help of another engineer, he had all the cables in place and was starting on the 2nd fix. We were using the garage as a base for all the kit and a secure place to leave some of our equipment overnight. When Darren returned for the third day, there was a pile of boxes stacked next to the cameras. He looked at them quickly, saw that they were nothing to do with his job and set to work. A little later, the owner approached him, “I spoke to the office and they said you will install these lamps once you have completed everything else, it won’t take you long. Darren looked at him, “where are they going?” “One on the top of each pillar round the edge of the property, it’s all part of the job.” Darren looked and counted, seventeen lamps, there was at least a weeks work for two men plus they would need steel wired armoured cable to run round the garden. He phoned the office to ask who would be helping him install the lamps. “What bloody lamps?” He explained what had been said to him by the owner. “Does it say anything about lamps on the job specification you have?” Darren checked and said that it didn’t, “then you are not fitting any lamps, I will ring him and say that if he wants the installing then we can quote for it. The house owner wasn’t happy that we wouldn’t do it as part of the job, he then offered Darren £100.00 if he would do it on a Saturday. He explained how long it would take and that special cable was needed to go underground. Somebody did do it, as on a subsequent visit months later to add extra cameras, the lamps were installed on the pillars. Darren checked the wiring, no armoured cable, it had all been done in twin and earth and buried just below the surface.

The above are just three examples of my dealing with Asians, I came across many who were generous, mostly Sikhs, but plenty who were unscrupulous. It was like they would lose face if they couldn’t get a discount. I think it must be a cultural thing as it is not just when they deal with us, it is every business transaction. In Leicester, they say the knitwear industry is dying, I’m sure it’s not through lack of work, It’s the Asian mentality, they would stab their own mother in the back if they thought it would save them a penny on a garment. The price is driven down to the point where there is no money to be made resulting in companies going out of business.

I recall talking to a HMRC inspector, who told me that he hated going into the old factories that had now been split up into many small industrial units. When they entered a business, everyone would suddenly lose the ability to speak English, anyone who did, would say that the boss was in India or Pakistan for a month. He knew he was probably talking to the boss, but there was very little he could do. Business names were written in Indian above the door, he had no idea if it was the same business as he had visited previously, the people were probably all the same, but there was a new company name.

My advice to anyone dealing with an Asian business in this country is to be prepared to wait for your money, not get paid in full and you may have to fight for it. You have to be as ruthless as they are.

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