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Jun 15, 2015

Under The Counter: a sideways look at the world of independent retailing

I heard my assistant Norman say: “Perhaps you’d better have a word with the managing director - I’ll see if he’s free,” and I just had time to get my feet off the desk and hide the tube of Pringles when this bloke burst into the office waving a hockey stick and looking like he was just about to have a pulmonary embolism.

I’d had a feeling something awful would happen that day - a black cat had run across my path outside the Co-op and I’d been up half the night after my wife Doreen had undercooked the broccoli.

Police station
“We don’t keep cash on the premises,” I said, “and our CCTV is linked to the police station. You don’t want to end up on Crimewatch do you?” In fact, the camera hadn’t worked for at least a year and we didn’t have any cash because no one had bought anything yet that day, but he wasn’t to know that, was he?

Norman decided things were getting a bit out of hand. “It’s all right boss,” he said. “The gentleman only wants to complain about the hockey stick we sold him last Tuesday.” So I asked the chap to have a seat and told Norman to put the kettle on. I have to confess I thought I’d handled a tricky situation rather well.

“It’s like this,” the man said. “I’m not one to complain, but I think this is a case where you’ve let us down and caused quite a lot of personal sadness. Three sugars please and are those Pringles under the desk?”

The man said he’d bought the hockey stick for his daughter, who had joined the women’s second eleven at the shoe factory next to the landfill site and opposite the abattoir.

“As you know, it’s called The Winner,” the man said. “And there are pictures on the box of people dribbling past defenders, scoring goals and getting cheered by the crowd. There’s even a photo on the back of someone winning a cup and being interviewed by Gabby Logan.

“Not surprisingly, all this built up our Mandy’s hopes, which made it all the more cruel when they lost 11-1 to Morrisons’ in-store bakery. She was substituted after 20 minutes and sobbed all night as though her heart would break. Everyone blames that stick. There was no sign of Gabby Logan, either.”

Next morning, just when I thought the Pringles must have done the trick, we had a visit from Ms Remmington of the council’s Trading Standards office to say there had been a complaint about the hockey stick under the 1968 Trade Descriptions Act.

“I have to tell you that goods must fit any description on the packaging or information provided by a sales assistant,” Ms Remmington said.

“I never said Gabby Logan would be at the match,” Norman replied. “Would you like a coffee? I can do you a very passable mochaccino, which fits the description on the tin.”

After that, things became a bit more relaxed and soon Ms Remmington was telling us about some of her recent cases, ranging from a complaint that The Voice broke the Trade Descriptions Act because it was described as entertainment, to a lady returning a Henry Hoover desk tidy because its smile wasn’t happy enough and didn’t boost morale in the office.

Apparently, a puppy doorstop was referred to Trading Standards when the customer’s hamster bumped into it when running in its exercise ball, while a woman complaining that there was no salmon in a chain store’s salmon and cucumber sandwich received a drawing of a dinosaur from the store’s complaints staff.

When Ms Remmington found Norman had been at school with her brother, she said that while she would obviously have to investigate the complaint, it might be worth her mentioning to the hockey player’s father that the Trade Descriptions Act could sometimes be in conflict with the EU Unfair Commercial Practices Directive 2008 and had in some cases been superseded by the Consumer Protection From Unfair Trading Regulations 2006.

Office of Fair Trading
Of course, the Office of Fair Trading would probably want to have a word, not to mention the Merchandise Protection Office, the Injunctions Directive and the Community Enforcement Network.

I’ve always been a believer that good sense will prevail in these situations and it was nice to hear that Mandy’s dad had decided it wouldn’t be worth the effort and instead was taking the family on a weekend break to Butlin’s in the hope it would help to put the past behind them.

As a small gesture of goodwill, I’m sending Norman round with a tube of Pringles and a rather nice pair of hockey shin pads we found in the stockroom drawer. Afterwards he’s dropping in on Ms Remmington to show her how to make a really nice mochaccino.

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4iiii Innovations

Meridian House, Road One, Cheshire , CW7 3QG

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