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Mar 1, 2019

It’s all getting a bit heated!

A sideways look at the world of independent retailing

Did you read that bit in the paper the other day about the America pizza store owner who pulled out a gun and threatened to shoot three customers who complained that the basil leaves weren’t chopped finely enough in their pizza Margherita?

And what about the coffee shop that has banned the chap who complained 37 times that their decaffeinated coffee tasted like Bovril?

I don’t know if it’s all these eruptions on the sun causing negative vibes, or whether it’s all the worry about Brexit and President Trump, but it seems to me that customers are complaining a lot more than they used to - and about things which, to be honest, seem pretty trivial to me.

For instance, a cove came into our shop the other day and complained that it was raining. He also had something to say about the fact that the sole came off one of the Albanian trainers we had sold him while he was actually taking it out of the box which, I suppose, might be construed as a possible valid complaint.

Be that as it may, there’s no doubt that dissatisfied customers are on the increase and if the latest statistics are to be believed, every disgruntled punter will tell at least 27 people that your shop is rubbish and that in future they’re going to buy stuff on-line.

With business being what it is at the moment - I’ve just rung up the till to remind myself of what it sounds like - you simply can’t afford to put anyone’s back up.

And if that means walking around all day with an inane grin on your face and putting up with nonsense from someone who’s got out of the wrong side of the bed that morning, then so be it.

In fact that’s not as easy as it sounds, as I found the other day when I was confronted by a man who wanted to buy just one football boot lace - the one in the other boot was apparently OK.

When I pointed out that would be a violation of the 1992 amendment of the Sales of Goods Act (1979) and I could probably go to prison for it, things started to get nasty and I found myself trying to remember if I had learned anything useful from that kung fu demonstration in 1988 at the Methodist Hall, and decided that I hadn’t.

Luckily my assistant Norman was on hand to defuse the situation by donating the bootlace he uses to tie up his dog outside the pub and the man went away reasonably placated.

The truth is that Norman, during the course of a long career in sports retailing, has learned how to deal with complaints - mainly because his customers have had a lot to complain about.

But I have to admit that when dealing with customers who have marched into the shop fizzing with fury, it’s a pleasure to hide behind the office door and hear Norman at work, as this recent instance shows: Customer: “I want to speak to the proprietor. Now look here.

We ordered a skateboard for my daughter’s birthday three weeks ago and this is the fourth time I’ve been in. What the hell are you playing at?“Norman: “The proprietor’s in hospital I’m afraid. The wholesaler let us down and the boss was making a special trip to fetch your board when his car was hit by a runaway petrol tanker. Things aren’t looking too good. We’ll know more when he comes out of intensive care. “The family heard him whisper that he hoped your daughter has a happy birthday and that I should give you your money back.”

Customer: “That’s terrible. I feel awful. Poor chap. Send him my very best. Just let us know when the board eventually comes. Don’t worry about my daughter - she is getting a pony as well anyway.”

Hopefully we won’t see him again but the same can’t always be said of the shopkeeper’s scourge: the habitual complainers. You know the ones I mean: Whatever you try to sell them, whatever its price, it won’t be good enough.

The good news is that we haven’t seen our worst customer from hell ever since Norman interrupted his diatribe about the inadequacies of a pair of Burmese-made cricket pads he had bought for his son, with: “I shouldn’t stand too close to the counter.

“I seem to have caught something nasty on holiday in the Gambia and I’m waiting for the result of tests.“The customer was last seen hurrying from the shop with his coat collar over his mouth.

I was thinking that perhaps I should stand Norman a spot of lunch on the strength of getting us out of that bit of trouble and maybe I would have done, but for the life of me I couldn’t think of anywhere round here where I hadn’t complained about the food.

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