Friday, August 14, 2009

Fuddy Duddy

That's me. I have become my parents, who looked remarkably like the wonderful image here by Ann Huey. I have started railing about the presence of "hobos" on the beach town streets (see below) and today found myself craving the small town relationships in business. I even find myself with the strange urge to buy "American" or at least not Chinese, particularly after listening to Peter Navarro's diatribe about the "coming China wars". Oh how the Woodstock generation has turned! Of course, I did not actually go to Woodstock even though I had tickets to one of the days. By the time we were supposed to go on the Sunday of the 3 day festival, the gates had long come down and the mud and rain overwhelmed. I was not the kind of teenager to revel in mud and sewage. Maybe I was an incipient fuddy duddy even then.

But I digress. I want to rant about my efforts to buy a refrigerator and stove for my son and his family as they prepare to move into a rental house this weekend. First, I tried to order online from Sears but the delivery availability was too far out in time and for whatever reason, the presence of the stove is a key factor in my son's family's move. Without the stove, they will remain in my house, sleeping on the floor. Don't ask me why. I just go with the flow and try to accommodate.

So I thought I would try the local appliance store in Torrance where I have purchased most of my appliances and repair services for the past 10 years. It was a small store with a limited display but I trusted their judgment and found that time after time they recommended and delivered good appliances. I am not big on shopping for appliances (or doing repairs in my home but that is another story). I made my last two purchases of appliances from the small store over the telephone and had them delivered the next day, paying with a credit card over the phone and never stepping into the showroom. Lord, I had died and gone to heaven because I was able to take care of something otherwise very irritating over the telephone in a few minutes.

I looked up the phone number on the internet and got an answering machine of a business with a different name and address. OK, I thought. Times are bad and they have consolidated but the online review said that the store was like that in a small town and you were a valued customer. After several attempts on the automated phone system (which should been a red flag) I got through to a person who turned out to be the owner of a different business located in another South Bay city farther east. I told the owner my dilemma and he made helpful recommendations of low price stoves and refrigerators that would work for my son's family and rental house. I just needed to check whether the house my son was moving into had a plug near where the stove would go so I could decide between an old fashioned pilot stove and an electronic one. The owner suggested that I call back and speak to one of his sales people, one of whom was the person I used to deal with at the other store.

I called back today and got a different sales person. He first tried to sell me a much more expensive stove and refrigerator, claiming that I would never want one of those "old fashioned" pilot stoves and how could an 18 cubic foot refrigerator possibly work for a family of 5. (The owner had, in contrast, said it would be small but workable). When I told him what I had discussed with the owner, he said he did not know if they even had those items but after checking revealed that there was just one refrigerator left. Then I explained that I wanted the items delivered. He asked for the address and became impatient when I did not have it immediately available. I said I wanted to have them delivered on Monday afternoon because the gas was being turned on Monday morning and he asked me "are you sure? We shouldn't come if the gas is not on." He then also started to run off the charges for delivery, setup and required equipment for setup, which I expected but then he told me I could not charge the purchase over the telephone because it was too expensive for them and I would have to drive the 15 miles to their showroom tomorrow to "swipe the card." When I said I did not want to do that and the owner had said I could pay over the phone, the salesman said that he would have to ask the owner. In a minute, he came back and said that he could not talk to the owner who was on the phone but would do the credit card transaction over the phone if I would pay another $20 or so , because those transactions are "so expensive for them." I repeated that when I talked to the owner I was lead to believe I could pay with a credit card over the phone. The salesman, sounding like the lawyers I deal with all day, said "You said before that the owner said it was ok and now you say you were lead to believe it was ok. Which one is it because they are not the same." At that point, I lost it and said, somewhat angrily, "do you want to sell me these appliances or not?" At that point, he said he would call me back after talking to the owner. The other salesman did call me back (at the owner's request) and when I returned the call minutes later he was gone. I got the owner who did not really want to deal with the issue again so I offered just to call back later.

After I went out for a walk and to pick up a salad, I realized that if I was not going to get decent service from the local small store, I might as well get comparable service (or lack thereof) from the big box store. So I went online, ordered a stove and refrigerator and saved myself over $100 all the while paying by a credit card. We will see how well it worked when they deliver the appliances next week on Tuesday.

After today's episode, I yearn for the convenience and competence of the small town business that I used to know. I will miss the old appliance store. I wish we could turn back the clock to that nostalgic and possibly in my lifetime nonexistent time when you got personal and good service at your local business. I am resigned to buying from the big box store (stocked almost exclusively with foreign made goods, probably from China, although I suspect the smaller store also has made the same types of goods). I can hear China cheering.

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