The Puffy White Envelope

As a full service general contractor,  Wheeler Painting and Restoration Services offers many diverse services to our clients. Restoration work due to fire, smoke or water damage; new siding, windows and doors, bath room and kitchen remodels, interior and exterior painting , drywall and insulation, waterproofing, concrete work and parking lot striping just to name a few. For all the services we offer, there are just a few forms of payment we accept like: checks, cash, ACH payment, Bill Pay or a bank transfer. It is not often that someone wants to pay in cash, but it does happened once a year or so. A client paying with cash does the “white envelope hand-off” as we refer to it. The client will hand off to one of the crew members a white envelope full of cash and has never been a problem over our 33 years of business. All of our employees have had background checks, are people of great integrity and highly skilled, so no one would ever think the “white envelope” would actually have enough cash in it to match a run to the boarder worthwhile.

Earlier this year, we had a client who wanted to pay in cash. I said that would be just fine and our superintendent was on site the first day as the crew were getting the project stated and so he was the recipient of the “white envelope”. The over-stuffed envelope made its way back to the office. It was counted, documented as to how much was provided as the project deposit and an email was sent to the client confirming the amount of cash received. The client confirmed what was received was exactly what she had sent.

The project progressed nicely. Our team of professional carpenters replaced a lower band of siding around the exterior perimeter of the house due to water damage. The job foreman developed a good working relationship with the client; clearly communicated what the crew was doing, what hidden rot had been found and what the weekly schedule of the repair work was going to look like. The communication was professional, but friendly and the client knew the names of all the crew members and was pleased with the work that she wrote a review online of the positive experience she was having.

As the project was coming to a close, the client handed off the “puffy white envelope” to the job foreman and sent me an email indicating the final payment was being sent back to the office via the job foreman. This was not a problem and it happened frequently that a crew member was bringing final payment back to the office, but normally it was a check. Once the infamous “white envelope” made it back to the office, I locked it up and would deal with the deposit the following day. The next day, I came into the office and retrieved the “white envelope” and proceeded to count out the cash inside. I counted it once, counted it twice and one more time to ensure I was getting the same number. The envelope was short – a full $1,000 less than what was invoiced.

My heart raced, this was not a good situation for anyone. The envelope was sealed, I completely trust all the employees and reaching out to the client to say the envelope was short $1,000 was going to go over like a fart in church. I sat on the situation until the next day. The following morning when the job foreman was in the office, I informed him that envelope was short $1,000. He immediately felt sick to his stomach and was thinking I thought he was the issues. Of course, I didn’t think the foreman took the cash. He insisted the envelope was sealed when it was given to him and when he handed it off to me the day before.

Now it came down to reaching out to the client. Before I sent the client the email, I noticed on the back of the envelope, under the flap there was some calculations, a column of numbers added up a total. I sent the email to the client and waited for a response. It wasn’t positive or negative, it was just a response stating when the envelope was handed over, it was sealed and the correct was enclosed. I didn’t want to argue with the client, but I wasn’t ready to lose $1,000 bucks on the project. I responded to the client with a photocopy of the front and back of the envelope. The front of the envelope had our company name in a certain style of handwriting; the back of the envelope (under the flap) had the column of numbers in a different style of handwriting. My hope was that the two different styles of handwritings would provide some answers to the client. That did the trick! The client recognized the front of the envelope has her handwriting and the back of the envelope as her sister’s handwriting. Mystery was solved. The client had left the envelope with our name on it on her kitchen table and asked her sister to put the cash inside. The sister was short $1,000 and figured she would go to the bank the following day and get the remainder of the cash, but failed to mention that to her sister. So when the client saw the envelope full of cash on the kitchen table, she assumed the amount was correct. She sealed up the envelope and handed it off to the job foreman. What a relief for all parties involved! Needless to say the outstanding balance of $1,000 was mailed to us in the form of a check.

Regardless of the minor confusion at the end of the project, the client did write us an outstanding review of our services. We are always looking to expand the services we offer. We like to be that “one-stop shop” for all of our clients. However, it has now changed that one service we will no longer be offering is the receipt of cash as a form of payment.

Until the next funny story in the Adventures at Wheeler Painting and Restoration Services, be well and do good.