Cranky Fingers Reach Maine

August 26th, 2010 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Yes, I am an admitted crank, coming by it naturally and by my mother’s example. A recent experience at a Copley Square store had me displaying my low-brow high dudgeon yet again. That brought results from Monroe, Maine.frogbowl

I advocate justifiable crankiness. My latest episode worthy of comment had to do with my favorite breakfast bowl.

As a swimmer, nature guy, cartoon fan and more, I have a thing for frogs and Monroe Salt Works has a splendid frog pattern among their pottery offerings. I’ve been using it for years almost every morning, typically with fruit and yogurt topped with cereal.

Over the decades, we’ve given Monroe pottery to others, as well as their amusing jewelry, toys and tchotchkes. We spent a lot of money at the store on Mass Ave in Arlington. That recently closed unit always had parking nearby and seemed to offer a better selection of everything than the one at Copley by the Westin.

It also had clerks who wanted happy customers. For example, when they were out of the frog items I wanted, whoever was on duty would immediately offer to order them for me, hold them and let me know.

The Bad Thud

At home, my office is on the lowest floor, below the kitchen. A recent evening, my suspicion and fear were correct when I heard the deep crash. My last frog bowl, the one I wash after using and place on the drain, at the farthest from the counter edge, was in seven pieces.

Monroe pottery is seriously heavy and sturdy. If dropped from above three feet, it might bounce. If it broke as in this case, it would not shatter, rather nobly separate into substantial chunks.

Lackaday…my sole remaining frog bowl and breakfast prop was fine for controlling garden pot drainage holes, but little else.

Verifying Copley’s hours, I hopped on my bike the next morning to buy a couple of the bowls, including a spare in case someone disrespected my treasure again with dish-drain misplacement.

The Grin Twins

Inside the Copley store, one browsing potential customer was leaving. One young man was leaning across the glass display counter almost nose to nose with a clerk.

She was one of two women behind the counter. Both were maybe 19 or 20. They put a lot of effort into their clothes and makeup. They were both speaking with the whispering young man. They might be filming an ad for some youth fashion company from the tableau.

What they weren’t up to was paying attention to the one customer, your crank.

The woman farthest from the lad was seated on the shelf counter three or four feet back from the glass one. She’d giggle at something the young man said, and alternately look at or text into her phone. She’d swing her legs and was having a great time.

Neither clerk showed the slightest interest in helping, so I toured the store, located the frog-pattern pottery and saw that there were no soup bowls on display. Perhaps they had some stock in the back. At worst, they could get me the bowls from another store or the Maine mothership. I headed over to the social gathering at the counter.

After waiting for two or three minutes, assuming the inane flirting traffic would stop, I stepped up right next to the glass case. Sure enough, that was adequate catalyst for the standing clerk to say goodbye to her chum and turn to me.

She asked if she could help. I said I wanted two of the frog soup bowls but did not see them with the pattern. Perhaps she was still stunned with coursing hormones, but that did not seem plain enough for her.

She corrected me by saying she knew I meant some Japanese bowl in a side display window not facing the inside of the store. She headed toward that wall, as I called out that no, I meant specifically the Monroe Salt Works frog pattern and exactly the soup bowls.

She nonetheless insisted on reaching into a hidden window display to produce things unrelated to my question. I repeated my request and led her to the frog-pattern pottery.

She said they didn’t have those and that I should get the lobster or crab pattern of that bowl instead. That was when I finally realized:

  • She was not well trained
  • She may not have come from an attentive and mannered family
  • She did not understand what pleases or disappoints customers

Part of it may have been her age. Medical and mental scholars claim that human brains aren’t fully wired and perking until the early to mid-20s. She may be short quite a few synapses and the experiences to reason fully.

Then she totally queered it. Even asked if she’d acquire two for me, rather than offer to get the bowls in the store, she dismissively said I should go to the Salt Works site and order them. As reinforcement, she condescendingly told me it was real easy, seeming to imply that even an old man like me could do it.

What was missing from her thought process and knowledge included:

  • Nothing riles customers like out-of-stocks, particularly if they come in for specific items. They’ll accept high prices or rude employees long before not getting what they came to buy
  • Nothing is as easy for a customer in the store as picking up what he wants, paying for it and leaving with it in hand
  • Being told to buy something similar isn’t just as good
  • Picking individual items from a store that advertises that each of its handmade pottery items is unique is a key to satisfaction
  • Buying online is not as easy as walking out with goods; instead it means clicking repeatedly or searching for the items, going through the lengthy shopping-cart process, often with additional registration and verifications of entries, paying the shipping premium, and waiting one to four weeks

I understand why a young woman would rather flirt with a present or potential beau rather than help a middle-aged customer. Then again, it’s Salt Works who pays her to satisfy its customers and in so doing sell its good.

So, there I found two flaky young clerks who don’t seem to understand how customers shop and retail sales should work. That has to fall back on the store manager and the training the company offers. Certainly telling a clearly disappointed customer either to settle for something similar when he specified items or to go away and do it online is sure to crank up a crank.

Stirring the Bowls

Not to spite myself and ruin my accustomed home-dining experiences, I did order two that afternoon.

In addition to angering me, that meant that two bowls at $21 each cost $10 in shipping and would probably leave Maine in two or three weeks. That would be a 23.8% premium for the shipping as well as up to a month to get the bowls. Of course, I could not choose the two bowls I most liked from several available.

After OK’ing the online order, I went to the Contact Us area of the company website. I sent a long email to the impersonal address onlineorder@monroesaltworks.com.I detailed my experiences at Copley, as well as noting how helpful and savvy the clerks at the Arlington store had been. In fact, I said if they absolutely had to close that store, they should have brought the staff downtown. I wrote that I might make those two bowls my last ever Salt Works purchase after many years of buying from them online, in Arlington, in Maine and in Boston.

They must not get many loonies such as I. Tom (no specified last name), replied by email:

Thank you for your order.  I am going to push your order ahead and see that we ship this out to you today.  I am sorry to hear of your poor experience in our Boston store.  You should have your bowls tomorrow.

Sure enough, I got overnight shipping and faced my emotions. I honestly felt much, much better holding my froggy friends in hand. How easily I can be bought.

Moreover, apparently Tom let the company president, Karen Kayatta Burke, know he had dealt with an irate customer. She sent her own email:

I apologize for your recent shopping experience at our Copley store. For the past 40 years Monroe Salt Works has built a reputation for producing some of the finest salt glazed stoneware in the world. We strive to represent our Artisans wares in our stores with that reputation in mind. It is customers such as yourself that mean so much to us and based on your description your treatment was, is and will always be unacceptable to me. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. I have discussed your experience with the store manager, Jennifer, her staff and associates in our other stores.

We hope you will consider Monroe Salt Works in the future for your pottery and other gift needs. We appreciate your order, considering your recent experience.

Regarding employees at the Arlington location, all were offered jobs at the Copley store with an incentive. They all chose to accept unemployment benefits rather than travel to the Copley store.

So there you have it, the conundrum of the crank. Responded to my a nice person, in this case two nice people, was I unnecessarily unpleasant in response to indifference and incompetence, or is this the squeaky-wheel cliché in action?

I confess that I am simple here. I am delighted that the outcome was that the next morning I want my yogurt mess or perhaps groats, I have my preferred pottery. Om.

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One Response

  1. ellen says:

    I suspect you got the squeaky wheel treatment. While they probably will take up this issue with the stores managers, there seems to be little that anyone can do to make young clerks want to put any effort into their jobs. The less the better seems to be the standard.

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