Welcome back to the April edition of Starting Sparks, a monthly writing link-up hosted by Emily @ Ink, Inc. and Ashley G. @ [insert title here]. The idea behind it is to spark your creativity and write on a theme posted at the first of the month by the co-hosts. You can write whatever you like be it a short story, a scene, a poem, a piece of dialogue, or simply an exploration of an idea. This month the selected theme is the following:
As you may know, I'm a librarian, but I also work in the paint/ home decor department of a home improvement store. Let's just say that I have a ton of stories that fit this month's topic. I have interesting stories from the library, but they really pale in comparison to those from the world of retail.
In honor of this month's prompt, I'm going to share a few interesting snippets from the last year, and most of these also appear on (for the most part as they are here) Facebook. The first one I'm going to share is a bit longer and a little more involved, but it's one of the funniest customer stories I've had in a while:
My Favorite Customer Moments
A customer was interested in a resin for wood that his brother had recommended to him after seeing it used on a tv show. Unfortunately, the customer had no idea what it was called or what it would be used to do, aside from the fact that it could be used on wood. I showed him all of the relevant products, but he was pretty sure that none of them were what his brother told him about. As we walked by the Flex Seal and Flex Shot, the thought of Phil Swift's commercials involving boats, screen doors, and cannons totally reminded him of a completely unrelated story he had to share with me (and his wife and middle school aged son, much to their chagrin).
Thirty years ago, a friend of his lived near Harlan, Kentucky and had a huge feud with the neighbor who lived on the other side of the lake. One day the customer's friend swam across the lake to steal the neighbors docked rowboat. He jumped in the boat and managed to paddle it halfway back before the neighbor ran out of his house screaming, "YOU STOLE MY BOAT!", and proceed to blast away at him with a shotgun. Now, the customer's friend had a spud bar with him (I don't know if he swam across the lake with it, or if it was in the boat when he stole it) and before he jumped overboard to escape the gunfire, he punched several holes in the bottom of the boat with it. He safely swam back to shore without getting shot, the boat sank, and the feud continued. I expect there was probably copious amounts alcohol involved on both sides. It sounds to me like the neighbor on the other side of the lake, owner of the now worthless boat, really could have used some Flex Shot! By the way, the customer decided to try some Flex Seal (although it's definitely not a resin).
I politely acknowledge the customer and ask how I can help him. He explains the issue - he needs paint stripper. I walk him down the correct aisle to show him the options. By the way, his wife walked to the area while he was telling me what kind of product he was looking for.
As he sees his wife already there he says, "What's a girl like you doing in a place like this? [His wife gives me an exasperated look-at-what-I-have-to-deal-with face.] You're hot! That's right. You came in with me - you're my wife. [He looks at me and winks.] She's my wife." After a couple beats, I point out the product he's looking for and talk about how to use it. In hindsight that could have been risky - strippers can provoke all kinds of interesting conversation! Like, I've heard plenty of times before from the entertainers, we're the only department in the store that has both [paint] strippers and [paint roller extension] poles. On a similar note, talking about paint strippers on the phone with customer can be awkward if there are many unsuspecting customers within earshot.
Me: "--'paint like insulation'??"
Customer: "Yes, a paint that creates a good seal."
Me: [Thinking fast] "Do you mean a paint plus primer all in one? It will create a decent seal..."
Customer: "No, I want paint like what's on a space shuttle."
Just so you know I haven't been asked a question quite like this one since...and I'm very glad because I don't know if I could keep a straight face.
I was helping a customer who wanted a gallon of purple paint, but he knew little to nothing about paint. Let me also add that a coworker had been assisting him for about half an hour before he decided to go home and think about placing his order.
Me: What finish would you like this purple in? Flat, eggshell, satin, or semi-gloss?
Customer: [Looks extremely confused.]
Me: I can show you the differences between these finishes, if that would--
Customer: [Interrupting me]: Eggshell?! Are there eggshells CRUSHED UP IN THE PAINT?!
Me: [ -- ]
He wasn't joking. He was fully convinced that that's what eggshell finish meant. If I was really thinking, I should have said, "Of course there are eggshells in the paint, why else do you think we shake it! Would you like brown eggs or white?"
When it comes to this gentleman, I could have saved his marriage.
Customer: "My wife paints - on canvas - and would like a clear sealer to spray over top of it. Will this work?" [He shows me a can of Rustoleum gloss white spray paint.]
Me: "--Sir, it's a good thing you asked. That's a can of white spray paint. Let me show you our clear sealers..." ]
I dread to think what could have happened if he had attempted to "seal" her painting with white spray paint. But, in the back of my mind, I wonder if he was inadvertently telling me he that he hated it her art.]
Now to wrap up this post I'm going to share with you some great mispronounced colors and a couple of odd product requests, and there are some doozies.
At our store, we carry three different brands of paint that can be tinted. One of those is Sherwin Williams, and I hear Shermin Williams often enough where I momentarily forget what it's really called. A couple of times, there have been customers who'll take it to the next level with Shermin Wilson. Sometimes you just want to say, I'm sorry we only carry his cousin's, Sherwin's, paint.
One of my all-time favorite mispronounced colors (or more likely just plain misread in this case) is for a popular Sherwin Williams color called Silver Salvia which became "Silver Saliva"! I managed to repeat it back to the customer that way and gesturing to the color on the chip with a serious expression to verify that's what they said. It was - they said it again without blinking an eye! They probably wondered why I was grinning like a lunatic while I was preparing their order.
Another favorite is for the Sherwin color called Kilim Beige ("Kill 'im"), which every now and again will be pronounced "KAHL-eem".
Since our department also includes home decor, we also deal with things like wallpaper, curtains, and blinds. One of my favorite wallpaper requests was when a woman came up and asked if we carried outhouse themed wallpaper border in stock - with a dead serious expression on her face. She looked extremely disappointed and let down when I told her we didn't actually have that pattern in stock. There's actually not much a demand for that patter, at least not at our location!
Lastly, I want to share with you my favorite encounter with a little kid at the store. Sometimes, the kids can cause a bit of commotion or general destruction that we have to clean up because either their parents encourage them, aren't paying any attention to them at all, or expect us to do something about it.
For example, once they're was a little boy, around two years old or so, and he was just tall enough to reach the lowest rack of color chips on a display. He proudly went down the entire row and grabbed handfuls of them and threw them up in the air like it was confetti and he was in a parade. His young mother didn't tell him to stop it, or help pick them up and put them back, instead she quickly reached for her phone, took a few photos and said, "These are going on Instagram!" Of course, at the time, I'm with another customer on the other side of the department desk from them. The most I could do was listen politely and assist my customer while pointedly staring daggers at the young mother. It took far too long to clean that mess of chips up and get them sorted back into the right slots on the display. Another day, a young father was going to buy a sample quart of a color, and while pursing the color chip racks, he handed that quart to his three year old daughter who promptly unscrewed the lid and spilled it all over her t-shirt, shorts, legs, and plastic-flowered flipflops. She was, obviously, really freaked out and upset by seeing this cold gray stuff all over herself and her favorite pair of flip flops, and feet of course. At least I can say that the father felt bad enough about the whole situation to help me clean the pooling mass spreading across the floor while also taking care of his daughter as much as he could. She felt quite a bit better when she realized that stuff wouldn't be on her forever.
Anyway, the favorite little kid that I've noticed was just really excited and happy to be there. His family was perusing the color swatches while their young three year-old son, from the cart seat, was keeping himself busy by alternatively shouting "CHOO-CHOO!" and excitedly whispering "chinchilla!" He kept it up for a solid ten minutes. The boy looked really entertained, but his mother looked completely exasperated!