I haven’t written to this blog in a while and thought I’d post something a little different. 

During our time working in retail, hardware, engineering supplies and tool sales.  We’ve met some interesting people.  Many have been weird, wonderful and some have been just totally mad or strange.  I think for the most part, mistakes, misinformation and misunderstandings are what this comes down to, for the most part…

Here’s a few comical examples of 30 plus years working with the public.  I think the title and the original “two ronnies” sketch says it all “I’d like four candles!”  And here it is if you’ve never seen it.

And there seems to be a trend; when you don’t know the name of what you want, make the name up!  I can’t fault this for the most part, although sometimes it can be annoying when a customer insists on using a term which is wrong or you just don’t understand what they are saying. The amount of times I’ve been asked for a gromet, a thing-amy-jig, or even an bolt – all of which can be anything at all to anyone who’s asking.

The “wags” over at British Rail, Ford and Sterling (among others) would send their neophyte fresh-face workers into the shop on a wild goose chase. Having an official purchase order in hand or just verbally told “Get over to the supplier, we are in urgently need…..”.

A recipricating bore. Tartan paint (pictured below). A left or right handed coat hook. Glass hammers. (although apparently Yoko Ono actually created one in 1967!) A Teep-Opt with four digi-stiff display. Skirting board ladders. An “I-M-nu”. Or a “long wait”, and of course “four candles….” to name a few of the items asked for.

A good example of misunderstandings is when I was asked for an “Axsaw” To this I naturally said, “Do you mean a hacksaw sir?” The man looked angrily at me saying, “NO, an Axsaw! A. X. S. A. W!”…..This is when we get the tool catalogue out to show the customer, to discover what the customer means as communcation has failed.   I always say that if we the assistants/counter staff/shop keeper/Sales team are doing our good job right, we are part detective and can usually get to the bottom of what it is they’re after.

On a side note – It turns out, there really is something called the “axe saw” (see picture below) however, this wasn’t really what he wanted and didn’t exist at the time – he wanted a Hacksaw, and confirmed this with the catalogue pictures.

This of course is the tip of the iceberg.  The word “Gromet” seems to cover almost any small item that a customer is searching for from a small piece of rubber (yes, a real gromet) to a furniture cam or roll pin.  “What’s one of those? ” I hear you say….

Give us a screw…

Screws are a huge source of humour, until you’ve heard that joke everyday for 10 years. “I’d like a screw please! No not that kind!” There was actually a well known brothel….er massage parlour very close to where our shop was, within crawling distance.

There’s many a time a customer has come into the shop for a “bolt” and it turns out they want a woodscrew or machine screw, a padbolt or a chutebolt. Yes these are all different as a customer can tell when they look at you like you’re insane when you bring the “bolt” back.

No good deed….

Then there’s the maxim “No good deed, goes unpunished!” which I have personally felt the sting from more than once. Sometimes we would get customers come into the shop who desperately need something “fixed”. I fell into this trap many times, notably with one lady with a leopard print shopping trolley (Yeah, snazzy). Unfortunately she was constantly overloading it and the metal reinforcements had broken, along with the wheels, and most of the rest of it. She kept coming in to fix it so I thought, I would do her a favour and fix the cart for her. I was at it for a hour, she wasn’t grateful in the least in fact she didn’t like the fix and complained. So I fixed it in a different way with some jubilee clips, which she was much happier with. By the time this was done I’d been with her for an hour and a half before she was satisfied, until I told her the price. £5…Yeah for an hour and a half’s work and the goods to fix her cart. She looked at me like I was cheating her!

Irregular regulars

Then we get the “regular customers” who treated the business like their very own hire purchase establishment. Having “a tab” (although this was stopped very quickly because of lack of funds the shop’s direction) that he would put goods on and then pay for later….Much much later. Sometimes bringing back goods that were purchased 6 months earlier and expecting us to take them back or swap them. Some of these items were hundreds of pounds.

Photo by John Cameron

The undesirables

Yes, you get thieves, con men/women and aggressive customers if you work with the public in any way.

Three are more noteworthy than most (that I can mention here); the first a woman who came into the shop with her two kids picked up a 5 liter tin of cleaning solution (I saw her) and proceeded to ask for a refund for it! Saying “Sorry, I don’t have the receipt for it…” To this was said “You can’t have a refund then! When did you buy it?”….She said “Ok, I’ll just take it away again and look for the receipt!”….How about we call the police and see what they say, we’ve got video evidence of you picking it up from the shelves!

The second was stranger. A customer came into the shop asking “Can you come and have a look at this miter saw I want to buy?” I said “Yes Sir I’ll just come over….” to this, the customer leads me down the aisle of the shop and out the front door. I said “where are we going? I thought you wanted me to look at a saw that you want to buy?” He said “I do, it’s out here!” He lead me to a transit van outside where an Irishman was standing in front of opened its open doors. I looked at the miter saw, then at the customer. “This is a fake…..Hold on a minute!” I went back into the shop and got my colleague who had worked there 25 years out to have a look. He couldn’t believe it, there was some guy selling counterfeit powertools out of the back of van in our car park! We told the Irishman to leave our car park and we were calling the police! To this the Irishman said ” Don’t be cheeky….”. The customer who called me out to look at the saw, looked at me bewildered saying “thought it was too good to be true” and left.

The third was just odd and very quick. A eastern European man came straight into the shop, and into our large showroom. Then immediately turned around and walked straight out again. However, while leaving he had a new DeWalt hat on his head which no-one missed and a chorus of 4 counter staff shouted “Oi! That’s not your hat!” To which the man turns and feigns ignorance….takes it off, throws it on the floor and runs.

The other side of the coin

Then there are the very strange people who work for the company. Yes, it takes all sorts to make a world….

One assistant, we will call “Rambo” the reason for which you will find out soon. Worked for the company for around a month, maybe a little less, but left a trail of angry customers and destruction in his wake and finally was “let go” because he came in late shirtless claiming he was “beaten up” at the nearby train station. He had only scratch marks over his chest and stomach. (self inflicted?)

Another assistant had literally breath-taking extreme halitosis! Having a conversation was difficult because you couldn’t breathe or you would choke and gag. His breathe could peel paint from a wall without any paint stripper or heat gun involved. I ended up offering him a mint every time I saw him.

So it can be fun, weird and interesting working for an Engineer’s suppliers as you can see.

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