By Joel E. Crockett January 5, 2004 -- It was a Thursday in September, 10PM. My consulting partner, another speaker, and I were four hours behind schedule thanks to a plane that had mechanical problems. We were driving through Paulsbo, Washington, and we were hungry. As we drove into a strip mall to try the only open restaurant we had come across, its lights went out. We pulled up in front. Sure enough, the sign confirmed, they closed at ten. Sharp. Then we saw Azteca, the only other restaurant on our trek to Port Ludlow for the PPI conference. The sign on the Azteca door said they closed at ten, too. But the lights were still on, the door unlocked, so we walked in. There was nobody in the lobby. We wandered back into the bar area, and met Miriam. She was behind the bar doing her closing-up chores. "Is the kitchen still open?" we asked hopefully. "I'm sorry," she responded, "it's not." Dejected, hungry, a little cranky (at least I was) we started to leave. "Just a minute," she said. "Let me check with the cooks, they might be willing to stay." The cooks said OK, Miriam brought the menus. Grateful, but sensitive to the late hour, we started hurrying through our dinner. "Slow down," she chided, "enjoy your dinner, there's no need to rush!" Miriam made our day. Miriam made the whole weekend. I love the graphic arts industry. It's fast-paced and challenging, it's financially rewarding. But money doesn't always stick to me. In 1981 I lost $300 thousand on a house. It's a long story… don't ask! Only through the help of a good friend was I able to buy a small condo and start over. Seven years later, I reluctantly sold the condo. I needed the appreciation to cover the debt I'd been creatively shifting from Peter to Paul, both of whom were now knocking on the door. The creditors got their money in full. My wife and I rented for the next two years. Ah, but the piper must be paid. Our debt was gone, but Uncle Sam wasn't. We had very little money to our name. Yet if we didn't buy a home, we'd owe significant capital gains. The possibility of buying looked bleak,. Nonetheless we began spending our weekends searching for open houses. Over the next few months, we walked through at least forty houses, probably more. Each open house was hosted by a realtor--realtor, of course, is just another name for salesperson. Of the forty salespeople we met, five asked us for our name and phone number. Of the five who asked, three called. When we explained our plight to the first two realtors they politely hung up (well, one was polite). Then there was Fred Bonnett. Fred listened to our tale of woe, then he said, "Six months ago I was Vice President for a start-up in Silicon Valley. We went bust. It was the hardest time of my life. We even lost our home. But I learned a lot. I think I can help." Fred found a buyer for my Jeep, our only significant asset. He convinced his company, Cornish & Carey, to put up the money for a 2 nd trust deed. With Fred's unflagging support, we bought a house. Fred made the difference. Azteca and the restaurant down the street. Both serve Mexican cuisine, both are typical strip mall restaurants. Which has the better quality food? They're probably pretty much the same. Where will I go given the choice? Azteca, hands down. Cornish & Carey and all the other real estate firms serving Northern California. If you listen to their ads, it's hard to tell them apart. But I know which one I'll recommend. How do prospects tell your company from the competition? In the Graphic Arts Industry, quality is the price of admission. We're all required to provide impossibly tight turnarounds at competitive prices. Those aren't the ways in which our customers tell us apart. They tell us apart by the Fred Bonnets, the Miriams, the people who make a difference. People and their stories. Maybe, just maybe, we're nothing more (nor less) than the sum of the stories being told about us. When the stories are told, people remember them. And when they remember, good things happen. Every time you meet a prospect, a customer, a supplier, even a competitor, something happens--a good story, a bad story or no story. It all boils down to you, you're the one who makes the difference. It was a Thursday, 10PM. A story was about to be made. What stories are in the making for you?