It happens over and over, everywhere you look in this industry.

Mrs. Jones gets referred by a friend to Joe Plummer as a good guy to handle her planned bathroom remodel. Joe's an honest, hard-working plumbing contractor who knows his trade inside-out. They talk fixtures and trim, and Joe shows her some pictures out of a catalog. He shares with her his inside knowledge about product peculiarities. Joe tells her she can see the merchandise in person at the showroom of Local Plumbing Supply Co.

"Don't forget to tell them Joe Plummer sent you," he says while escorting Mrs. Jones to the door. Mrs. Jones nods her head and says she will. Joe Plummer goes back to work happy to have landed Mrs. Jones as "his" customer.

She enters the showroom of Local Plumbing Supply and gets greeted by a cheery attendant who shows her around. They talk about product features and benefits, and work together to select the merchandise that best fits Mrs. Jones' wants and needs. Mrs. Jones is gushing with excitement over how beautiful her new bathroom is going to be. When they get around to putting together a bill of sale, the attendant asks if she has selected a plumbing contractor to do her work. Mrs. Jones answers no. The attendant tells her she has a list of recommended contractors if Mrs. Jones is interested. Mrs. Jones says thanks and sticks the list in her purse.

Mrs. Jones has nothing against Joe Plummer, but she has not made that leap of loyalty to think of him as "her" plumber. He's just one of the contractors she will invite to bid on the job. Every article she's ever read about remodeling has told her to get three quotes and take the one in the middle, so that's what she intends to do.

Or, maybe Mrs. Jones is shrewder than we give her credit for. Maybe she figures she can save some bucks in this transaction by cutting out the plumber. In some cases she may be right, but whatever the case, every time someone from Local asks who's her plumber, she declines to get specific. After several inquiries, the people at Local stop asking.

Maybe Joe Plummer ends up getting the job. He coordinates delivery with the supply house, inspects the goods when they arrive and installs them in expert fashion.

A few weeks later he receives his monthly statement from Local Plumbing Supply and sees no credit issued for his commission on the Jones project. He calls the office asking about it, and someone tells Joe they have no record of his involvement. He raises hell with the billing clerk. During cocktail hour at his next trade association meeting, he spreads the word to everyone in earshot never to send any customers to the Local showroom because they'll just get stolen. If he's real motivated, he'll write a letter to the trade magazines spewing venom about Local Plumbing Supply Co. He'll complain to just about everyone who will listen, except he'll never really try to get to the bottom of things and find out what went wrong. He'll just assume that Local is out to give him the shaft because, hey, that's what suppliers do. Everyone knows those lousy creeps at the supply house stay up all night figuring out ways to undermine the trade. That's why they're all rich, and Joe's not.

Maybe Local's management will calm Joe down by crediting him retroactively. Even if they do, they will not dispel the mistrust he feels toward that company. He will go to his grave feeling they tried to pull a fast one on him, but he was too alert for them to get away with it.

In fact, Joe feels the same way about every wholesaler in town that operates a showroom, because the same scenario has played out with all of them at one time or another. What is it about the plumbing supply business that makes all wholesalers such a bunch of stinkin' bandits? he wonders.

The plot gets more convoluted if Mrs. Jones selects someone other than Joe to do the installation. Suppose Local Plumbing Supply, with the best of intentions, credits the installing contractor with the trade commission, even though he had nothing to do with sending Mrs. Jones to the showroom. It so happens Joe and the installer are buddies, and Joe's wondering how the other guy managed to get the Jones job. They get to talking, and Joe finds out about the installer commission. Never mind that Joe has gotten commissioned plenty of times for goods he never drew a breath to help sell. Now Joe sees the installing contractor as a co-conspirator along with Mrs. Jones and Local Plumbing Supply. Why is everyone out to screw him?

As Cool Hand Luke so memorably put it, "What we have here is a failure to communicate." These communication gaps occur over and over, every day, everywhere you look in this industry. Somehow, there have to be ways to explain these things.