Hen the grocer showed me how to use credit

Just over the hill from our house in the 1950s, was a special place known as Spanglers Spring, which was a true country store. When my grandparents would come to visit us, Pop-Pop would load up all the neighborhood kids in his Westinghouse appliance store pickup truck and wed all go to Spanglers for some hand-dipped ice cream. Every month around the 10th, I am reminded of Hen as we pay our credit

Just over the hill from our house in the 1950s, was a special place known as Spangler’s Spring, which was a true country store. When my grandparents would come to visit us, Pop-Pop would load up all the neighborhood kids in his Westinghouse appliance store pickup truck and we’d all go to Spangler’s for some hand-dipped ice cream.

Every month around the 10th, I am reminded of Hen as we pay our credit debts to the various supply houses.

Mr. Spangler was a tiny old man dressed in baggy, dusty old clothes, with tough leathery skin full of wrinkles and a grizzled stubble of coarse whiskers. His wife was short and very round.

Mr. Spangler was never without a wad of chewing tobacco stuffed in his cheek that made him look like a chipmunk intent on gathering nuts for a long winter. The tobacco juices would dribble down his chin, staining his white whiskers a dark brown. The going joke among our parents was to never order the burnt almond ice cream!

By the time I was 6, the store had changed hands and a man whose first name was Henry had taken over. We knew him as “Hen” and the store became known as Hen’s Groceries. The store itself would horrify health inspectors today, but we kids thought it was a slice of heaven come to earth.

The floors were weathered wooden planks worn smooth in places from years of shoppers and would creak delightfully wherever you walked. On rainy days, the entrance flooring would absorb the water from our shoes and take on a deep musty smell.

Just inside the entrance, to the right, was the comic book rack. A circular wire set of bins on a turnstile that screeched as it spun, it held all the then-current comics.

Across the front was the most glorious glass enclosed candy counter we kids had ever seen, full of bubble gum and colorful tidbits to tempt our palates. A dollar would buy 100 pieces of Double Bubble, Jaw Breakers, Pixie Sticks, Mint Juleps or Malted Milk Balls! A Milky Way was 5 cents.

To the far side was a Coca-Cola machine that had racks of bottles inside; a mere 10 cents could allow you to slide one around the winding track to liberation and the built-in bottle-cap-opener on its front had a catch bin below. The bottle cap would make a wonderful noise as it dropped to rattle with its compatriots.

The food items in which our parents were interested were down aisles we seldom traveled. Hen was a shrewd businessman and quickly sized up all us kids. Within a few days, he knew how much allowance we got every week and, from that information, he established a line of credit for each one of us. He put our names in a binder along with the amount of credit from which we could draw. Each purchase was carefully recorded and we could see at a glance how much reserve was in our account.

Now, since this also was the site of our bus stop for school, we could stop in at least twice on weekdays. Once your credit was used up, you were banned from entry until you paid off the debt. Take too long repaying your debt and the credit would be reduced, or worse yet, eliminated. Standing on the outside watching your friends laughing and checking out the latest Superman comic book was all it took to make you save up and pay off that debt.

Hen was the first to introduce us into the world of responsible use of credit. Every month around the 10th, I am reminded of Hen as we pay our credit debts to the various supply houses. Although they don’t entice us with candy and comic books, they do offer discounts for accounts that are paid on time.

When I first started out in my own plumbing business, it was difficult to obtain charge accounts at our supply houses without having a previous track record of buying and paying for materials on time. Richard Stover, proprietor of the R. L. Stover plumbing supply house, was the first to take a chance on me and he turned out to be a great mentor as the years slipped by. The fact that he granted me an account enabled me to open accounts at other supply houses.

“Never miss a discount,” both Richard and my father, the accountant, always admonished; they were both absolutely correct. Because we never missed a discount, the suppliers eventually relaxed or removed our credit limits. Those discounts add up and become part of your final profit each year.

A line of credit can and should be established with the bank where you have your business accounts. It is far more desirable — and will protect your credit rating — to borrow from the line of credit so that you can pay your suppliers on time. You get the supply house discounts, protect your credit rating and can then pay off your line of credit when your customer(s) pay their bills. If you work with builders or do larger jobs, a line of credit is a necessity to carry you through lean cash-flow times.

In order for you to apply for and obtain a line of credit, you will need to have accurate financial records to show the bank. If you are unfamiliar with establishing these types of records, I urge you to purchase Ellen Rohr’s books on accounting. They are written in plain English, from a mechanical contractor’s point of view, and are available through Dan Holohan’s Web site, www.heatinghelp.com.