Our independent returns with his irreverent thoughts on the DIY industry

I’m sure will sound familiar to many of you retailers. We never expected people to be familiar with the various names of parts, but expecting them to notice exactly what they wanted wasn’t asking too much, surely? So


ne of the issues we had to contend with

was the

general inability of customers to be specific, something

nowadays, before I go shopping, I always make certain that I know exactly what I’m looking for – and guess what? It doesn’t matter on which side of the counter I’m standing, it appears I am still the only one who knows about this stuff. It has taken me many hours spent over two days to locate a wheel for my wheelbarrow. Of the three essential measurements – diameter, width of tyre and axle hole diameter – most often in the online pages one of these bits of essential information is missing.

In fact, the actual

thickness of the wheel hub would be damned useful too, but that could be asking too much. Okay, I’ll come clean. I am shopping online because I’m still in lockdown and venturing


the island would be unwise. But I hope you’ll agree that finding an actual real-life stockist with all the different wheels wouldn’t be easy. And so I’ve been left with a bunch of people purporting to be retailers and with little understanding of their

merchandise – you can tell this from their pitiful descriptions. Even Amazon is allowing such sketchy nonsense amongst its pages. And once I’d found a wheel that would have been okay, then I had to hunt for a suitable axle, and my troubles all kicked off again, finding one that would do for another wheel, but not the wheel I’d already chosen. Very few suppliers had thought about pairing up wheels and axles as a set. eBay was no better. There used to be pride in fixing up customers with the right products; it was part of the job, each sale a story in itself. Now, shopping online can be something of a lottery.

Mugs in the power tool department I was at the large Black & Decker Service Centre picking up some spare parts for our repair section that was ticking away nicely, and out of the blue the main bloke behind the counter, Dave his name was, presented me with a typed price list of products that included workmates, drills, rotary mowers and other tackle. To say this was a surprise would be an understatement because the quoted prices were ridiculous – they were so low. And the catch? The maximum quantity we were allowed to purchase per month was five units of each tool. So no minimum, just a maximum. I remember how I felt (and this was 36 years ago). I mean, how

were such prices possible? Let me give you an example: at the time a 12-inch garden clipper sold for £30 incl-VAT. We normally paid around £25 ex-VAT, and the price being offered here was below £20 ex-VAT. You’ll

remember that ever since

we began selling B&D stuff we’d been bugged with poor wholesaler support and high prices. Well now we could bypass those people and buy direct from a Service Centre, and at these prices it was well worth the cost in petrol. This branch of supply was not publicised, and I’m certain the traditional wholesalers would have been appalled, but then they were only really interested in their own profits. And do you remember the French B&D mowers I’d seen for sale in another shop? I later found that he also bought direct, and these units were at a very special price because the boxes had French writing on them. Buying this way was how he was able to not only cover his shop overheads but also make a reasonable profit. We weren’t greedy, but I must admit that the normal method of supply had made us a right set of mugs, when in fact we never sold crockery.

Trowel and error Every so often I am reminded of the ultra-useful items that we used to sell. And then I remember some of the stuff that we were forced to stop selling. One of these was

“We weren’t greedy, but I must admit that the normal method of supply had made us a right set of mugs”

Kleen Off Caustic Soda, which was a firm favourite in this high chip area where they were usually fried to death in high viscosity cooking fat that, at least in some households, was trowelled down the sink from where it set like a splodge of liquid cork in the drain.

Then one day the Government

Weights and Measures people came along. They were like a husband and wife team and I often wondered if they had missed the training days where they were supposed to learn how to administer heinous torture. They were just so damned pleasant. He used to do the speaking and she stood and smiled at us. I can see her now. Anyhow, this particular day he asked if we sold caustic soda, which we did.

Ah, so then we would need to apply for a poisons’ licence and he doubted it would be worth the cost of us getting one. He must have seen our faces and then said: “Look, just take it off the shelves and sell it from under the counter until your stock’s run out”.


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