When a Customer Won't Pick Up His Product

Advice on how to handle a buyer who does not come back to take possession of his goods. March 11, 2009

I had a new customer drop off some logs. I milled 1050 board feet of 2 x 6 boards and called him to pick up. He was to pick up in about three days. A week later I called him again and he said he forgot all about them, but would be over to get them one day after work that week. It has been over three weeks and he will not answer my calls. I left several messages and he will not call me back. I still have some logs to mill, about 1,000 board feet. Has anyone experienced this before? Let me know what I should do with the lumber and his logs.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor A:
Keep them until he shows up with cash.

From contributor D:
Leave a message reminding him of your 30 days and it's mine policy.

From contributor J:
Make some money off of it. Keep it, mill it, build something people will buy and sell it. Itís just my opinion. He obviously doesnít want it.

From contributor J:
There are probably contractual/legal issues that need to be considered, and I wouldn't be rash, just yet. Suppose something occurred that prevented him from responding. Iím not taking his side, but unless you have a contract in place, you must be careful before taking action that cannot be undone.

From the original questioner:
More factors to consider: when the customer dropped off, he was not in a hurry for me to mill and did not have a trailer. He used his truck to bring them - these were cut offís he got free and they were short 9-10 feet and 11-12 inches at the small end, and the bark had been taken off. Itís a lot of work for such a little yield of lumber. I will not take on anymore jobs like this, it was a learning curve. Now I have labor, fuel and equipment wear (blades) invested. If lumber is not cleaned of mildew and stickered it will be no good to anyone, after being stacked for three weeks. After no return phone call, I went to his home and let my business card with a note to call me that his lumber was ready for pick up. How long should I wait until I sell to recoup my time and expenses?

From contributor J:
Years back I was right where you are. I received some valuable advice that actually kept me from losing on a very similar deal. You must perform due diligence. Send the guy a certified letter of your intent to sell the lumber to cover your expenses. Also send him an invoice covering all your costs to date, including storage. He will most likely pay you or simply ignore you and abandon his lumber. In the event that he does pay you, make sure that you have already stacked and stickered the lumber to minimize damage. (You have some tort liability there). You can charge for this too. If you do end up selling the lumber and you make more than what your costs are, you have to send him the difference.

I followed that advice and actually made money on a deal that could have cost me a lot of money. It involved 30k board feet of 8/4 oak. Every time my sons and I picked up one of those 20' long, 14" wide, 2" thick green oak boards I told myself it will be okay, because I'll get my money one way or the other.

From contributor R:
No need to get nasty with the guy. Anything could have happened. He might be tight on money and can't pay you, or something like that. In a nice way you could just let him know that you just don't have the room to store his material so he needs to pick it up. Also let him know that you really need an answer by the end of the week or you will have no choice but to sell it. In other words put the ball back in his court. If you still don't hear from him then your conscience will be clean and you should sell the lumber.

From contributor O:
Before you do anything, contact your attorney. If you don't have one, get one. Pay the $100 or so for his legal advice, before you end up wishing you had done so. This is great place for woodworking advice, but you are in legal territory now. I was in a very similar situation many years ago, and still wish I had taken my own advice.

From contributor S:
If he got the lumber for free then he has nothing besides a few hours invested in it. If he has other things to occupy his time then maybe he is prepared to just let it go.

From contributor E:
Call him again, but this time call from a different telephone number. He will pick it up - works every time.

From contributor R:
I may be the crazy over-patient outcast here, but don't you think you should give him a little more time? When someone in my neck of the woods says "no hurry" on a project, this could mean anytime between Christmas 08 and Christmas 09. Not three days, or even three weeks.

He sounds like a laid back guy and this is a side job to his side job. Obviously you are a business man that wants to collect, and clear your dock. I am used to dealing with these type people here in New Orleans. These types are laid back, never on time, and just march to the beat of their own drum. I'll bet he is shocked that you got it ready so quick. I have had to store full sets of cabinets for over a year on several occasions.

There is no excuse for the guy to not return your calls, unless he is hospitalized, or deceased which are viable possibilities you may want to check into. I have been down that road as well.

From contributor F:
I have had the same problem with my milling operation. In one case the fella has never come to get his lumber, over four years ago. I began selling it and not calling any longer, after two years. Most recently, I had some old growth douglas fir in my log yard for a whole year before the owner let me know what to saw out of the logs. When I finished, I sent him a bill for $2,800 and he paid right away. It has now been a good six months plus and the lumber is still setting here. I am about ready to send him a bill for storage and providing a place for his number one and select lumber to get full of dry rot.

From contributor Y:
I'm in a little different, but similar situation. I make doors and dovetail drawers for cabinet shops in San Diego. I get guys that order 5K worth of stuff, give me a check for half and want it asap. Three months later, I can't get them to come pick up their stuff. I finally realized that the only getting upset was me, and that I was just upsetting myself. Usually, the guys just don't have the money and don't want to say so. So I just wrap them up and stick them up on top of a high shelf somewhere and forget about them. Eventually, they show up and I tack on a couple hundred bucks to the balance for the agg. and everything's fine. Don't sweat the small stuff if you don't have to. There are plenty of other headaches to attend to.