I found out this past week that a handshake still matters to some folks. It happened like this.
Our small business depends on a lot of other small businesses to be able to do business. And most business these days require things like credit checks and payment histories and personal vouchers of rights to your house, boat, and shotguns if you fail to pay. I mean, if a potential vendor doesn’t get my FIN, my bank account information, my SSN, 27 trade references and my personal pledge to forfeit my sacred honor; then, he’s not about to do business with me. I don’t like it, but it’s a song and dance that I’ve come to accept.
We have been doing business with a local print shop for over a decade and they recently closed the doors. Which meant that I had to find somebody new to handle my printing business. I gathered up in one envelope samples of the things we need printed. We’re never going to be a huge print shop customer. A few graphic files on a thumb drive. And I drove the 16 miles to the new shop. I had talked to Dean, the owner, on the phone and felt good about the fit.
The print shop looks more like a small ranch style house than a place of business. Just inside the front door, pinned to the wall, are more than a hundred samples of letter head and envelopes that Dean has printed over the years. Some of them a little yellowed by now. Business cards lined up shoulder to shoulder on a cork board.
“So, how long you been in the printing business?”
“I started right here in 1983.”
The tile on the floor, the wooden office desks, and oversized file cabinets, and the clock on the wall all said 1983 right out loud. And I liked that.
There was a photo framed on the wall of a couple of street rods parked outside a 50s looking Diner.
“What’s the story on the cars?” I ask.
And for a few moments we are not talking about printing, but about the ’36 and ’37 Chevy rods that he and his buddy built. They drove them up to Woodstock, GA where they found this restaurant. All chrome on the outside. Jukebox on the inside.
“There must be 40 ceiling fans inside, and they all run on one belt,” he said. “About the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.”
When we got down to business about printing, I realized that I had forgotten one very important piece of paper. I felt stupid.
“I’d really like to do business with you on Net30 terms, but I forgot to bring you all of my business credit background information. It has my FIN and banking info and all that.”
Dean was sitting at this desk. I was close in the chair next to him. He leaned in a little.
“I’m not really worried about all that unless you are.”
He stuck out his hand and we shook on it.
We shake hands all the time as a casual form of greeting. And we should. My Dad taught me the importance of approaching a handshake in the proper manner. Hand open. Make eye contact. Firm grip. Hold on too short and you’re insincere. Hold on too long and it gets awkward. Car salesmen hold on too long. It’s one reason we distrust them and think they are a little creepy.
There are times when the handshake just misfires. You make the eye contact. But the grip goes all wrong. The other guy gets your fingertips crunched up in the palm of his hand. You either decide to go with it and pretend like it didn’t happen, or you snatch away and try again. I normally demand a do-over.
The worst is the limp fish handshake. You know the one. Little if any eye contact. In fact, I can tell even before it happens if it’s going to be a limp handshake or not. You’re ready for the usual firm greeting, but what you get in return couldn’t squeeze a marshmallow in two. The man behind that handshake had no upbringing. When I interview some young guy for a job, a part of my decision is based on his handshake.
And let me say this. Fist bumps will never replace a good handshake. I have offered up a lot of fist bumps and high fives. Nothing wrong with that. But they are never serious like a handshake. A good handshake says that I care. That my word is my bond. That you can trust me to do what I say I’ll do.
That is what Dean meant when he offered me his hand. He promised to take care of a few print jobs for me. I gave him my word that I would pick them up and pay him for his efforts. I could tell by the handshake that I had found a good guy and that I didn’t need to look any further.
In a day when there are cheats, and liars, and swindlers, and half-baked promises made by people who are only looking for some way to get one over on the other guy, this handshake brought a small sense of satisfaction to the way I like to do business. All hope is not lost.
I picked up my first order from Dean last Friday. I took him a check to pay for it up front.
“I think you’ll like these,” he said.
“Looks good to me. I appreciate it.”
“You didn’t have to bring a check.”
“I know,” I said. We shook hands. Business goes on for another day.