The Perth Retail Experience

A note before I write: I was a staff member in the Perth retail experience for 8 years…well actually a lot longer if you consider the work done in my student days. I can speak from both sides of the counter.

This last week has seen the real gamut of retail – in my case I was a customer in two big retail shops dealing with hardware and stationery – and two small shops that trade upon their own. None of them shared common stock – I needed different things in each place.

The process of finding and selecting the goods was similar – go and look and take it to the counter for payment. In two cases I looked at the store’s catalogue online to make sure they had it – and in two instances rang ahead to confirm.

Little shop A had 7 or of 8 items I went for- being out of stock of one paint colour. No biggie – I’ll be there again many times. The checkout was done in 3 minutes and was very pleasant. I had a credit for past purchases and the computer dealt with that brilliantly. Couldn’t be happier.

Little shop B had foam-core board and kneadable erasers. Again, they answered the phone faultlessly and the checkout went like clockwork. Good visit.

Big Shop C had what I needed – toilet washers to fix a leaking cistern, but there was only one staff member on duty at one till out of 5…and a line of disgruntled customers who waited as the computer ground slowly through the entire warehouse stock chain to ensure that the trading statistics would be done. I pitied the staff member who was taking the brunt of complaint for the store’s inefficiency and foolish policies. I’ve been that person…

Big Shop D had the plastic sheet I wanted on their website, but not in the first mega-store I went to. Even with a visit to the front desk, there was no sign of it. Well, that happens. I thought, on reaching home, to re-check the website and to ring another of their branches to see if it was in stock there.

I ended up ringing 3 branches and getting a automatic menu but no answer to the phone at all. I was left wondering if their office works…

Will I rant? Rave? Howl at the moon? No…I’ll try ringing again tomorrow to save petrol. Frustration is no help to a project.

 

 

That Stuff..You Know…Stuff…

That sort of stuff. The one I want. Where is it?

And thus…vaguely…begins the sad adventure of many a failed shopping expedition. I go out to get stuff I need to do things. I know what I want a project to look like in the end and I think I have seen some material or item that will be perfect for the job, but I do not know what it is called exactly…which prevents me from going to people who sell it. I cannot name it precisely enough to call their technical expertise into action and all I get is annoyed looks.

Yet I have money and need, and whatever it is…from a dog-powered ice cream mixer to recycled underwear…is surely for sale somewhere.

The best frustration safaris start with a sample of the item that you can take with you. You still have to find the correct destination where people will recognise it and can direct you further to a real source. Frequently it’s best to just start with the internet and then feel bad online before going out to feel bad in person. A good days sees someone saying they recognise the item and a really good day goes on to them knowing where you can get some. Then when you go there, you find they went out of business last week…

I want a Citizen’s Advice Bureau at my local council office that is staffed by a team of know-it-alls. I don’t care how dry, pedantic, or irritating they are as long as they are prepared to climb down off their high horse and tell me what I want to know.

Riding The Horse – Part Fifteen – When Is A Hobby Shop?

Not where – when? Where merely defines the location of the premises; when lets you know what you’re standing in once you enter the door. Not all hobby shops are hobby shops.

Take a for-instance – we’ll look at Bunnings – an Australian restaurant chain that sells sausages at the front of the premises and hardware as a sideline. Bunnings shops appear to many to be large warehouses full of toilet fittings, paint swatches and MDF sheets. So they are, but they are more than just storage sheds – they are hobby shops for any number of people. Here is how they reach that status:

  1. They sell things that are specifically intended for building or making. There are no end of things in there that can end up being useful or decorative. Many of them will take skin off your hands as they do so.
  2. They sell things that no-one else has. This is partially because the things – the stainless steel clothesline router hammers – are specific to one job and partially because no-one else in the town wants anything to do with them. Sometimes you find things in there of which Bunnings want no part, but have a large selection…
  3. They sell correlated items. From the timber to the screws to the brushes to the paint you can trace an organic connection on the shelves.
  4. They sell expensive stuff. Stroll down the tool aisle and glance at the price of the Dremel cutting bits – if you dare.
  5. They sell stuff that gets you in. Okay, it’s not as simple and wholesome as buying nickel bags of marijuana down an alley and progressing to full-blown heroin addiction. But it’s just as insidious. A few screws here, a router bit there, and pretty soon you’ve spent the food and rent money on a pallet-load of Meranti and a pocketknife and started whittling. Just say no…
  6. They sell things that get you laughed at by others. There is no respect possible when you bring home toilet fittings. The very nature of the thing brings out the cloacal jokes in people. 
  7. There are clubs that use the goods they sell. Some are harmless, like the Medieval Torture Society, and some, like the Over-60’s Mens Shed, are positively menacing. Bunnings makes no stipulation on what their customers might do with the twenty-penny nails and the barbecue coals, but.

The truth is that any shop may be a hobby shop depending upon what the customers have decided to do with the goods. Officeworks employees and water-pump agencies might well be surprised at what they see at the Annual Spreadsheet and Irrigation Show in the State Library. It might startle them, but I’ll bet it will not stop them selling cashbooks or brass flanges.

Licensed Merchandise

A recent post by a friend showed a find of some figurines in the local warehouse store set me wondering about licensing of things – particularly as it applies to merchandise offered for sale.

We see it very day and everywhere – Each time I purchase a die cast model car ( not so often these days  with the contraction of the hobby ) I look to see if it is licensed from some large motor corporation. Often it is, and you can trace the ownership changes in the car making industry by the successive names on the toy-car packet. Interesting to see that they all still want their stack of pennies when the toy is sold in the shop…even when the design for the car is older than I am.

It’ll be the same with anything that has ever been a motion picture from any studio. The lawyers and brokers have been trading the rights to whatever was made long after the actors, directors, cameramen, and wardrobe makers are dead and gone. If a product is made to be recognisable from the 1934 production of ” Kansas City Sewage Farm Follies ” you can bet that someone is claiming ownership of it and wants their cut.

For model makers who build scale replicas of old battleships, trains, and planes, I wonder if they are being asked to provide money to the firms that made the original weapons. Do Krupp get so many Reichsmarks from the 1:35 plastic model of the howitzer? Or is it too late to demand it?

I am going to have to start looking at the things I design – these posts for instance, or the photos I take. or the scraps of Foamcore board, balsa, and plastic that I pour into the bin every week. Surely they can be licensed and someone, somewhere has to pay and pay…

You pay, You pay.

I love you long time.

 

Repeat After Me

Chili.

Rhubarb.

Soda water.

Any movie that has made money in the last 50 years.

Because they all do, and there is nothing short of Gaviscon or a sordid sex scandal that will stop the cycle. If you survey the number of James Bond film, the Rocky films, the Batman or other superhero films…you become quite despondent for the species. The fact that they succeeded the first time and have succeeded for so many times afterwards indicates the basic intelligence of the audience – the fact that the price has risen each time lets you know that P.T. Barnum was right.

I am personally stunned at the amount of money that changes hands in after-market spinoffs and merchandising for these things. I walk through stores dedicated to movie goods and look at price tags in amazement. The fact that there are actual stores full of the stuff is frightening. Of course the religious supply stores are also nerve-wracking, and sometimes for the same reasons.

For myself, I treasure entertainments that are self-contained. If they are not perfect, that is just the luck of the game. The fact that they play out in 60 to 90 minutes and need never be seen again is part of the appeal. I never seek a sequel or prequel. I am content now with Sleeping Beauty or The Sting just as it was.

 

The Kitchen Is Closing In Five Minutes

Ever been to a mess hall and discovered that you’re too late for chow? Some mess halls run on a very strict schedule – based upon the knowledge that they’ll have to serve out a meal to the next lot of troops at a specified time and they need the dixies back to clean and use again. Bad luck for you if you’ve just been marched up during the hungry interval.

How about a commercial restaurant or bar at about midnight? That’s a reasonable time to shut the hatch as well, as the staff need to clean up for the next day and it’ll be on into the night for them.

But how about a café on a trendy restaurant strip in the centre of town – on Saturday lunchtime? Closing the kitchen at 1:00 and turning the eaters out at 2:00 in the afternoon when they still have hunger and money seems to be a particularly stupid thing to do. Yet it happens all the time here in trendy, cosmopolitan Perth. Eat up and get out and you can admire our decor from the street…

We have been in the habit these last few years of thinking that Perth has become an international city, open for art, cuisine, and commerce. We thought that the days of the 1960’s when 1:00 Saturday saw the shop doors slam shut and the sidewalks roll up were finished. We thought we could get something to eat on Saturday Arvo, without having to go to a pub or the footy. So it might have been during the Café Spring…but we have passed into a different season. Back to the good old days of dead Saturday afternoon.

Well, the coffee pot at home still works, and the biscuit barrel is full. And another lesson has been learned.

The Superstore With No Staff

I rather like superstores. They are impersonal, but if they are big enough you can find all sorts of things to occupy your mind as you search for whatever it was you actually came in for. This is the principle of the giant size – you are forced to search and to be tempted all along the way.

I’m strong – I did not succumb to the plastic flamingos or the in-floor safe. The three hose clamps and spare toilet roll holder – it cost $ 1 – were all that drew money from me. But I was a little nonplussed at the end of the shopping experience to see that the entire row of cashier’s tills had no staff members serving them.

You could go through a cashless self-serve checkout if you wished – thereby saving the hardware firm the price of a person’s wages – or you could go to the trade desk and pay over the counter there. A trade desk that was swamped with people trying to pay money.

Some accountant has thought this staff scheduling up, and probably gloats over it at the end of the month…but if you were in a hurry or wanted to buy an expensive item, you would feel somewhat underserved by it all. Makes you wonder if this sort of thing was part of the reason this chain of stores failed in the UK. They might have been open all hours, but if there was no Arkwright to man the till, no money would have lodged in the shop.

Granville! Ffetch a cloth…