I survived a massive stroke on this day last year. In fact, I have survived dozens of minor strokes and a few more serious events throughout my life. Today's entry is unusual in that I will be introducing you to some of my personal challenges as a human being and as a professional trumpet builder. More specifically, I will discuss my unique medical history and dealing with difficult clients with unrealistic expectations. Yes, today's blog entry will be very interesting!
Today is the anniversary of my most recent major stroke. One year ago, I was lying in a nearby hospital unable to feel or move the left side of my body. Doctors were bewildered as they considered I was a healthy 37-year-old man in really good shape. They did not even believe I had a stroke because I drove myself to the hospital and limped into the emergency room. Surely a man suffering a stroke would not do this, but I did.
I waited six hours for my turn in the MRI and the results shocked all of them when it confirmed I had indeed suffered a very serious stroke causing major blockage in my brain. I was informed that I would need heart surgery and recovery would take around one year. For some reason, I was calm and collected accepting that my future would be a new kind of challenge. However, by the end of the day I was showing major improvement and by the next day I was re-learning how to walk and they released me in under 36 hours from when I had stumbled into the hospital.
So what does this have to do with trumpet clients with unrealistic expectations? Everything! In May of last year, I had two clients demanding faster service and results. One of them was not even a client, but a local sales rep I had hired to work with HT and in turn I allowed him to trade in his Bravura for a custom Summit Art at no charge. The other had ordered an Egyptian-themed Summit Art. In both cases, the details of the orders were complex, ambiguous and very challenging. And in both cases, the clients had waited 6+ months for their creations to be complete whereupon they grew anxious and then angry. Patience is a funny thing, you either have it or you don't. I rarely meet a client who is impatient, but then learns this skill while waiting for their new horn. And yet some clients fully understand that by asking me to create something extremely challenging, they will have to wait until I learn a way to bring their ideas into tangible form.
Interestingly enough, I received a very nasty email today from a local client who demanded I complete his trumpet by next Tuesday as he believes he has waited far too long for his Summit Art trumpet. In his email, he added that he has been in contact with other custom trumpet manufacturers and they have assured him that they would have built the same trumpet in far less time than he has waited with my company. I truly wonder which custom trumpet manufacturers would even know how to build what this man has ordered. I'm not even sure what he has ordered as he has not clarified any fonts for any of the text to be milled onto his horn. His order is ambiguous, complex and difficult to say the least. But I love challenges which is why I assured him in the first place that I would build his horn.
Before I continue, there are a few points of business etiquette I would like to review. First, it is important to be kind and respectful to all parties (including Harrelson Trumpets employees) in all communications whether they be over the telephone, email or in person. Second, it is reasonable to have expectations and for those expectations that were agreed upon by both parties to be met. However, if and when something goes wrong, showing patience, compassion and understanding is sometimes necessary when dealing with a small company. And third, threatening to sue a company for not meeting your arbitrary deadline will not win you any friends, nor will it encourage me to build you a trumpet.
When I was a Las Vegas police officer, it was common to receive threats of being sued by citizens. When you put someone in handcuffs and place him or her in the back of your squad car, there is something that clicks in the human mind at that very moment that encourages them to blurt out obscenities, threats and hatred. I understand that none of us want to go to jail and I get it, you're upset. But at what point does losing your patience for a man who works 80 to 100 hours a week to produce your custom trumpet justify your hateful, threatening, negative attitude and words? Why does this happen? I'm guessing it happens when individuals lose perspective on life, happiness and reality. To be clear, I am not personally encouraged to work with or for anyone who exhibits a lack of perspective, understanding and common decency towards me, or anyone at Harrelson Trumpets.
I have lost count of how many trumpets I have built over the years, but the number is likely over one thousand horns and thousands of accessories. I enjoy working with each individual client discussing their needs, concerns and potential solutions. I have no visions of grandeur where I mass produce instruments to compete with Yamaha, the Steinway Group or any other big players. I love all the challenges understanding, playing and building trumpets has to offer. And I especially enjoy my clients as they are almost like family.
But once in a while, I receive trumpet orders from clients who either lack clarity in their vision of their "perfect horn" or they simply do not grasp the complexity and time/energy necessary to complete their requests. In either case, I have discovered that there is no pleasing these few exceptions and I either deny their orders or cancel them.
In the case of the man who rattled off an angry email this morning, I replied with the following:
I believe my services are not the best fit for your trumpet needs. I will be sending a refund check in the amount of all payments made towards your trumpet order. I will also include the Amethyst stone and any other items I may have received from you. I will ship these via USPS Certified Insured mail on Monday.
I wish you the best in your trumpet search and highly recommend _______ for his more reasonable pricing structure and shorter wait list.
Thank you for your consideration,
I admit that the reference to my competitor was to make a point as the company I had named in the message has a much longer wait list while offering almost no custom options at three times the price. Not surprising, he replied with a threat to sue me for damages and interest on his $500 deposit and he included the following;
"I would have hoped that you would've placed your ego on hold and simply finished what your were contracted to do instead of leaving me with no other recourse but to influence your unprofessional behavior through other means. So much for dealing with a local business. I'm sure we will meet again."
Apparently, he will be getting onto Trumpet Herald or Trumpet Master to let everyone know I was unprofessional in my dealings with him. Well, if you consider that we at HT have been putting up with numerous rude phone conversations, emails and threats to be sued as unprofessional, so be it. Enduring anger from a man who has unrealistic expectations is not really of interest to any of us here, especially when you consider life is so short and yet so full of potential happiness.
The bottom line on complex custom trumpet orders is simple. I create new products incorporating new innovations every single week and this requires a lot of time, energy and focused concentration. I am happy to build you anything you or I think is possible, but in turn it is up to you to give me the time and freedom to explore the best solutions to your requests. If you want something quickly, keep your order within the realm of what you have seen in previous Harrelson Trumpets. Creating completely new products is far more difficult than I may lead you to believe. I am not a natural engineer, machinist, musician or trumpet player. These are all learned skills that I employ to serve you, the individuals who make up the trumpet community. I am here for you, but please remember that I am serving hundreds of people just like you every year.
So why was I behind on these Summit Art trumpets in the first place? Unfortunately, it was due to a series of small strokes that lead up to the major event last May. Doctors had told me since I was fourteen, that I was suffering some kind of recurring migraine headaches. I have had many tests over the years and I'm familiar with all the high tech imaging machines as I've been inside them since I was a teenager. It was not until last year that anyone discovered both of my birth defects and put the pieces of the puzzle together. My body is prone to having strokes affecting my visual cortex, short term memory and the left side of my body. In short, I have been losing my vision, balance and short term memory every few weeks for over 25 years. Today, I am doing very well and have adopted ways to minimize the risk of future events until I eventually have corrective surgery.
After re-learning to walk, talk, read, spell words, do simple math, program machinery, play trumpet, etc. I am still here serving the trumpet community. However, last summer was extremely challenging and my health did set back my waiting list on more difficult orders, some of which I am still finishing. In fact, one very patient client who we all know, but I will not name, waited almost two years for me to develop the Summit Midnight model to meet his needs for a truly broad velvety ballad horn. He is known for his incredible virtuosity, extreme range and heartfelt musicality and he was kind enough to extend me the courtesy of patience as I caught up on orders after my recovery. He is one of many great people I have had the privilege of serving and I appreciate all who have shown me similar kindness and understanding.
I recently attended the National Heart Association "Heart Walk" and was disappointed to witness a lot of entertainment, very little exercise and absolutely no message. There was no mention of the symptoms of heart attack or stroke, nor did they mention what to do in such an event. Those of you who have been to my masterclasses and clinics in the past year know that I am open about my health history. As a survivor of both heart attacks and strokes, I highly recommend all of you over 30 years of age and anyone suffering major headaches to read about and understand the vascular system. Stroke is the leading cause of disability in the United States and the third largest killer. Yet most of us could easily avoid this altogether by exercising thirty minutes EVERY DAY, eating well and paying attention to the symptoms. This is your life and it is up to you to take action to live a long, prosperous, fulfilling series of experiences. You could save your own life or the life of someone you know by simply taking the next fifteen minutes to re-familiarize yourself with the symptoms and causes of stroke and heart attack. I was born with this reality whereas you can likely prevent it altogether.
Thank you again for exploring the challenges of trumpet playing and living with me. I truly appreciate your willingness to try something new, to listen, to learn and to return the favor by teaching me so much about this amazing world. Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.