Healing in the big box hardware store
Healing is hard to come by out there in the world of commerce, especially when it comes to having a mini-epiphany inside a large corporate department store, but that’s what happened to me on a recent Saturday. I don’t seem to have attention deficit difficulties elsewhere, but when I walk into one of those giant warehouses, I go dim. There’s too much stuff, too many aisles, too many products. I long to return to the era of Handy Hardware, the charming hardware store that was situated near the corner of 54th and College. Sadly, the proverbial mom-and-pop stores have disappeared, replaced by the colossal, economy-of-scale franchises. A familiar story, I know. The big box store I’m talking about isn’t important. In my experience, they’re pretty much the same. I can’t find what I’m looking for, the customer service representatives disappear when you need them most and, when you can catch one, they are usually clueless. For example, let me tell you about my weed-whacker, purchased from this corporate enormity two years ago. I brought it home and it didn’t work. Returned it to the store for replacement, but instead they insisted on repairing it. After a week I called to see if it was ready — and guess what? They couldn’t find it. Later, they located it, but I went to pick it up and guess what? It wasn’t mine. The hell with it, I thought, and brought it home. It worked maybe a dozen times, then broke again. I gave up. Vowed to never go there again. Voiced my displeasure to my friends, most of whom, like me, lament the loss of the smaller hardware stores, the personal touch. So, last weekend, the ol’ sump pump broke. Or, rather, the pipe that leads from it grew so corroded it split. I went to my smallish, neighborhood hardware store, but they didn’t have the necessary materials. I next drove north to a mid-sized hardware store, figuring here I would not only find my materials, I would get good service. Good service I received, from friendly gentlemen who ultimately could not help me find what I needed. I wasn’t trying to repair my fiber optic reticulating MRI cryogenic chamber. We’re talking PVC pipes, folks, with their concomitant connectors; that’s all. Two stores; hands empty. A wasted day? Or bite the bullet and drive to the giant hardware store? I chose the latter, parking in its vast parking lot, noting that hundreds of people had made a similar decision, people perhaps not as cursed as I when it comes to this store. I made my way through the aisles directly to the plumbing area and that’s when I met another customer. A man about my age, wearing a blue bandana on his head, was staring at the PVC pipes and connectors. As if we had arranged to meet there at that specific spot, he immediately turned to me and said, “I hate this place. You can’t find what you need or anyone to help you.” “Don’t get me started,” I replied. “I could go on all day.” We basically had the same problem with our plumbing, though the particulars were somewhat different. I showed him the drawing I’d made with my measurements. He complimented me on my artistry, then explained how I should approach my project. Leading me to a nearby shelf, he showed me what I needed in terms of primer and adhesive. Next, he explained his plumbing predicament, and I gave him some advice. We joked around about this and that and when our tasks were completed, we shook hands and shared names. I said to him, “Rondell, we just made up a new tagline for this store: ‘Where customers help each other.’” We parted. I still had one last component to the sequence of pipes I had to construct. In the adjacent aisle was a customer service guy. I gritted my teeth. Would it be the same old story? I explained my situation and what I was looking for. He led me to another aisle and there it was, the final piece of my pipe puzzle. Ebullient, I walked through the store, headed for the cashier I stopped, though, as there was one last bit of business to address. Minutes later I was staring at the display of weed-whackers. Should I take the chance and purchase another? Could it be that my own anger and frustration with the big box complex had created its own karmic web of failure? I chose a weed-whacker and carried it and my pipes and connectors and primer and cement, my arms a profusion of colors and shapes, as if I was transporting the head of Medusa herself. Deposited the stuff at the cash register, transacted, then walked out into the sun, ready for an afternoon of projects. Success; perhaps on multiple levels. I will still choose the smaller stores to take my money, but now I know — or am reminded for the thousandth time — that my own cynicism and defeatism contributes to the imbroglio. Thanks to Rondell, the customer who gave his time and advice to me, it’s possible to transcend the accrued crap of learned hopelessness. Next time, I’ll be looking for him, or someone like him, to lead me through the aisles.