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Posts Tagged ‘hardware store’

In between my last-minute Christmas shopping this past weekend, I found myself at a local Long Island hardware store. I had broken the pull chain that turns the light on my mom’s ceiling fan on and off, and I thought I would attempt to fix it myself rather than choosing my usual solution to household repairs: calling someone else to do it.

The first stop was the local hardware shop. It seemed busier than normal, but not unbearable. My mom and I found the electrical aisle and selected the closest (but not exact) match to the part we were trying to replace, then sought someone who worked there to walk us through the repair.

I flagged down one associate, who told me she would go get “Jim” to help us. But no one came. We then tracked down a teenaged employee who tried to be helpful but didn’t know too much about electrical work. (“Plumbing is more my thing,” he said.) Sensing our frustration at his lack of knowledge on the subject, he went to get his manager. He came back a few minutes later, without his manager, and told us that the part he was selling us “should work,” according to the manager, who hadn’t bothered to speak to us himself. When I asked how we were supposed to install the part if we didn’t–and he didn’t–know about electrical work, he said, “I could Google it for you.” “Well,” I replied, “I could Google it, too.” My mom and I decided that the small business experiment was over and we walked out empty-handed.

Ten minutes later we were standing in Lowe’s, where we spoke to an associate who showed us where to find the exact match for our missing part. When we asked about how to install it, she referred us to a more senior employee, John. John explained exactly what needed to be done and even sent us off with a half roll of electrical tape, on the house. He seemed less interested in selling us this $7 replacement part and “up selling” us on tape than he did on actually helping us with the repair.

Once we got home, I was able to fix the pull chain within 15 minutes and get the light working again. I was proud of myself–a lifelong renter–for not needing to call someone else to do a simple job like this. But I was also still irked about our experience at the local hardware store. Didn’t they know that they effectively lost a customer today by not putting us in touch with a manager for five minutes to talk out our repair? The heart of small business is the personal attention you can get there that you typically can’t find at a larger chain. Once they lose that advantage, why would I ever go back?

I also couldn’t help but think a lot about what will happen as handymen like John are replaced by teenagers who don’t know much except how to Google things. Sure, Google is a one-stop shop for information about literally anything, but I think developing an expertise is important, too. Are we better off with energetic novices who are willing to scour the internet to find an answer online, or experts like John who are experienced enough to simply know the answers?

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