The Business Lesson I Learned from an [Expletive] Cat

I was once married to a guy, Kidd, who really loved cats. Our birthdays were a day apart, and he was famous for giving great presents. Me, not so much. One year we went out to lunch on my birthday and afterward wandered into the Cat Shoppe, a retail store for cat lovers, carrying everything from cat-adorned merchandise to the cats themselves. And, for some reason, Kidd wanted a white cat…. We already had three cats, one of them an old tabby, Lazzo The King, who was not very handsome—but he was well loved.

We were in the store when a white, silky smooth kitten started following Kidd around. He had a distinctive look. He was needy. And there was an immediate connection. So I approached the owner.

“Hi, I’m Hannah. We really like this white kitten. We’re cat people. Can you tell me what we’d have to do to adopt him?
“How many cats do you have?” the owner asked.
“Three. All grown.”
“Are they indoor or outdoor cats?”
“They’re both.”
“Then you can’t have that cat.”
“Why not?”
“The owner of that cat won’t allow him to be adopted to a family who’ll let him outside.”

So, thinking I’d blown it, we left the store. Later that night, after a couple of drinks, Kidd said, “This would have been a perfect day if I could have just had that cat.”

So I devised a plan.

My friend Beth worked for a company directly across the street from the Cat Shoppe. I called her the next day, explaining my run-in at the shop and asked if she’d go adopt the cat. At noon she called.

“Did you get the cat?” I asked
“I didn’t see him anywhere,” she said. “What’d you say he looked like?”
“Let me do this, I’ll call the store owner, make sure they still have him and set it all up for you.”

So I did. And Beth went back. A couple hours later, she called me again to tell me what happened. She had walked into the store, and told the owner she was there to adopt the little white kitten. The owner accused her of never having been in the store until that day.

Beth, caught in my lie, had taken a deep breath and said, “OK, I’ll tell you the truth. It was my teenaged daughter who called. We just lost our cat to leukemia and we didn’t think you would adopt a cat to a teenager. But it’s her birthday, and I promised her a white cat, and I really want that white cat.”

The owner said, “Well, I can’t find him right now and there’s paperwork to do. You’ll have to come back about 5 p.m.”

Now, mind you, this adoption paperwork includes the clause that the owner of the cat and the owner of the store reserve the right to drop into your home to check on the animal. I’ll bet this has never happened, but when you’ve told lies, it can be a little nail-biting.

Beth went back at 5 o’clock and was rebuffed once again by the shop owner who told her to come back the next day.

By bedtime on Kidd’s birthday we had told four lies, and there was still no cat for a birthday present.

But Beth’s a trooper, so she headed back over the next morning, and this is what transpired. (I am not kidding.)

”I’m here to adopt the cat,” Beth said.
“We’ve got him right here, let me go over the contract with you,” the owner said.
“I’m so excited. We are all ready. We’re going to have him declawed immediately.”
“Then you can’t have that cat.”
“The owner won’t allow him to be adopted to someone who will declaw him.”

Beth had thrown in the declawing for good measure, to emphasize they’d be house cats. But at this point, Beth was beyond any normal boundaries of patience, having been to the store four times and told five lies.

“OK, fine,” Beth said. “We won’t.”
“It states that in the contract,” the owner said.
“I’ll sign it.”
“Have you seen the newspaper today? There are two cats at the Humane Association that are going to be put down today. Both have already been declawed. Why don’t you adopt one of those cats?”
Beth screamed and pointed, “BECAUSE I DON’T WANT THAT CAT! I WANT THAT CAT!”
“Well you can’t have just one.”
“FINE! GIVE ME TWO!” Beth was a little shrill at this point.

So I ended up with two cats, but the story doesn’t end there.

We named that white cat Nippy, because he had a terrible habit of biting. He also had gas.

We called the other one The Little King because he was a carbon copy of Lazzo. Within six months, The Little King got a palsy that made one leg stick straight out and permanently tilted his head at an angle. When he would turn to look at you, it was like watching an owl. Seriously scary.

The Cat Shoppe white cat and the bolt-on brought out the worst in everybody, including me and the other three cats. It was so much bedlam that one day I stood up and yelled, “I HATE THAT F#@%ING CAT!”

I realized something important—and I should have seen it long before I let the “chase” go this long. If you have to try too hard to get a deal done, you probably shouldn’t do the deal.

This was a lesson I’d learned in my business, as owner and president of Paramore Digital. Earlier in the year, we were approached about working with the racy men’s magazine Maxim. Every man in our creative department came to me and said he had moral issues with the content.

I had a full-fledged revolt on my hands. But my competitive spirit was caught up in the chase. I fought. I rationalized. I sought advice, and I wrestled with myself every night, until one of the guys came to me and said, “You have a company that people tie their moral values to. You can’t ask for more dedication than that.” Although I was the owner and it was ultimately my decision, I realized that if I pushed this client onto my creative department, I would have to fight every day to get the work done.

I would be fighting hard for business that I wasn’t even sure I wanted. Like a cat that I never really wanted.

Maxim was later sold and my contact over there admitted to me over lunch, “Yeah, we never could find a company in our area that was willing to take our work. They all had problems with the content.”

By the way, the cat police never did show up at my house—and it’s a good thing. They were outdoor cats from the beginning.

But is there something you really do want, even need? Find out how to ask for (and get) everything you want with 6 strategies to overcome the obstacles of requests.


Hannah Paramore is an entrepreneur, international speaker, marketing expert and the owner, president and CEO of Paramore in Nashville, Tenn., a $6 million, 13-year-old company of about 30 people. She was a classical piano major at Belmont University. Her passions include golf, travel and the YWCA.

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