Doing battle with customers wielding their Makro membership cards, dodgy pricing, and the threat of new competition on the doorstep. Our independent hardware retailer takes a step back in time with part 21 of his stories from the shop floor

e had our wholesale at Makro,” they would fair

share of

competitors – well, a couple of them. One was an upstart

one-man-bander who turned up in the early-60s, claiming he would wipe the floor with my boss. Within 22 years he hadn’t got around to doing so, but it didn’t stop some people from threatenin g to ta ke their business there. One thing that annoyed us was that he didn’t charge for waste when cutting wood to size. Well, we all know that not charging for the stuff that ends up on the floor is suicide and there’s no point in selling it in the first place. The other shop was an old, well- established ironmongers, with lots of trade customers, plenty of dusty stock that the public didn’t mind (yet they refused to buy anything from us that looked even slightly past its sell-by date – not that we had sell-by dates back then), and this place allowed its clientele to run up accounts, something my boss was dead-set against. We never got any inkling that its staff made snide comments about us, unlike with Joberts round the corner.

The unfortunate thing was the inevitable crossover of our stock lines, which we didn’t let bother us too much, especially as this place was on the outer edge of town, which many shoppers said was too far to walk.

The Makro Myth

Back in the early-80s, another threat that people used against us was Makro. “I can get it cheaper

tell us, mentioning the name like it was some heart-stopping paradigm. It did, in fact, appear that every single office worker, teacher, civil servant and cleaner had a Makro membership card, something they could brandish to instil the fear of God into lowly shopworkers.

By now you’ll have guessed that this didn’t work with us. We were only too aware that many, if not most, people didn’t realise that VAT was added at the checkout, which often increased the prices beyond those in the shops, but I don’t think they even noticed, so elated were they at buying goods at so-called wholesale prices: the Makro myth. On one occas ion, a custom er of ours wanted an item urgently, which our normal supplier couldn’t deliver in time. It just so happened that it had featured in that month’s Makro Mail, albeit at a higher price than we would have paid from our wholesaler.

I believed it was preferable to make “som ething” rather than “nothing”, so accepted the lower margin, content to keep our customer happy, and set off to get one from Makro. But I reached the chec kout th ere o nly to find tha t the price had escalated. I was told to pay the high price, then go see the returns supervisor for a refund of the difference. This didn’t smell right to me, but I went along with it, like you do.

The returns lady was not blessed with people skills and, clicking her heels, she told me I’d paid the higher price, which was binding, and instructed me to leave. But

why had the price increased, I asked, when the item was still on offer? Ah, that was because the offer was to end at midnight and the computer had already been programmed in advance with the next day’s trading price.

When I explained the legalities of not honouring special offers, her big sigh nearly blew me away. I can still see her menacing look. Behind me was a queue of people, not one of them a retailer, also sighing because they had other shopping to do and children to pick up from school. The iron lady told me the system didn’t allow a refund of the price difference, so I refused the item and asked for the return of my cheque, or I would put a stop on it. I left with just the cheque, feeling like I’d spent five hours in a spin dryer, and I never went back there.

Extra competition

The shop conversion was coming along and the banks of striplights a nd

white-painted pe gboa rd

meant that we needed sunglasses to prevent white-out. The double doors were about to come off, we had a pile of bricks for the new wall and the plate glass was gleaming and stacked in readiness. One day in February, I was doing s om e painting when the boss came to get me. There were two blokes in the shop and I should hear what they had to say. I detected an atmosphere of foreboding.

They weren’t the smartest-looking pair, and one of them was distinctly the leader. He said they already had a succes sful hardware store a few miles away and were determined to open a new branch in each of the satellite towns. Including this one. How much could they buy this one for? The boss told them we were expanding and that it wasn’t for sale. “Everyone’s got a price and we’ve got plenty of money,” said the loud one.

So the boss told him a figure for the whole lot: premises, stock and goodwill, and the loud one almost collapsed with shock, saying they’d need to see some proper accounts before paying that much. They left us with a parting shot: “We’re moving into this town, whether you sell to us or not, so you’d better watch out.” 9 MARCH 2018 DIY WEEK 9

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