Breaking up with the big box stores

Why is it that the so-called “big box” home improvement warehouses (named after the merchandise or their resemblance to big boxes, no one knows for sure) seem to rely solely on advertising their array of goods and services sold by experienced, industry professionals when, in reality, they are likely to offer neither in any great measure?

My experience with home improvement stores, for example, find them staffed less by trade professionals experienced in plumbing and the vagaries of drywall, and more by employees so young that their mothers still don’t allow them to use sharp kitchen knives, let alone power tools.

Be it paint or power tools, I go in with at least some idea of the scope and size of the project in question. My goal is simple: to come out with the right stuff. Instead, nearly every question from “do these nails fit this nail gun?” to “does this paint come in quarts?” is met with a sort of quizzical guesstimate that leaves me wondering if I wouldn’t have done better simply tossing a coin.

Fly

Now, this is not a dig on the many fine folks that work there — no indeed. I have met so many nice people in the aisles of the house warehouse type places. We often become friends. I tend to get to know them very well as I’m exchanging the improper part of this or that over and over again.

I think it is simply that the stores are so large that even with computerized inventory nothing short of a fly-over in a small plane cruising at low altitude over the aisles would be of any real use.

Like any relationship, my early get-togethers with the other mega retailers of groceries, clothing and home goods were infatuating. The attraction was undeniable. They offered aisles upon aisles of attractive purchasing options ripe for the picking.

Just as in any long-term relationship, however, the very charms that once enamored now infuriate — such as offering bathing suits in January and snow boots in June. They are also inordinately fond of rearranging the store so often that even the associates (that would be employees to you and I) are often hard pressed to locate an errant item without GPS assistance.

My queries as to the whereabouts of such cagey items as fruit juice (hardly a rarity in a GROCERY STORE, after all) have, on more than one occasion, been met with an associate responding “wish I knew!”

Friends

Again, let me state for the record that I have no ire with the employees of these retailers. Many of them I call friends. They too are frustrated, if truth be told, at how corporate mindsets have taken over the corner store.

One mega manager told of spending some two hundred hours creating a detailed report on how his store would suffer if the fabric and notions department was removed. Two HUNDRED hours. It took, he said, just two seconds for the Mega Head Office to disregard his report and remove the fabric department anyway.

Apparently their motto is “the customer is always right, just not necessarily the customers in the town where YOU live.” Apparently, people out on the West Coast are over fabric and notions and Midwesterners need to get in line with that.

Meanwhile, at the risk of sounding hopelessly small town, the local hardware store doesn’t offer 120 choices in bathroom faucets but if you need a certain widget of a certain choice and size, then chances are good they can find it for you.

I personally find myself in need of a widget (or widget equivalent) on a far more regular basis than I need to purchase a new faucet — thank goodness. Often, in fact, a good widget will completely negate the need for a new faucet at all.

Better yet if they don’t carry what you need, you can speak to the actual OWNER and he may just order it for you. Owners are fun like that. They tend to trend their merchandise toward the actual customers who physically enter their establishment rather than what some bean counter in a central office halfway around the country told them would sell.

My choice

Mega retailers and big box stores have their place in modern society. I get that. For my eye — and far less irritation, however — I think I’m going to point my car in the direction of small scale retailers a tad closer to home .

The selection might be smaller but I’m finding it a nice trade-off that the frustration level is as well.

Kymberly Foster Seabolt always enjoys a nice, appropriately fitted widget. She welcomes comments c/o lifeoutloud@comcast.net; P.O. Box 38, Salem, Ohio 44460 or www.kymberlyfosterseabolt.com.

About the Author

Warm, witty and just a wee bit warped, Kymberly Foster Seabolt is a native of Kent, Ohio, who survived childhood exposure to disco and grew up to marry and move to the country. Her column weaves her special brand of humor with poignant, entertaining, and honest portrayals of parenting, marriage, and real life. She currently lives in northeastern Ohio with her husband, two children, two dogs, two cats, and numerous dust bunnies who wish to remain nameless. More Stories by Kymberly Foster Seabolt

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