Saturday, August 08, 2009

A Story About The Shades

In my last post I showed off the newly painted dining room with its plaster medallion and newly hung chandelier. The 1890s chandelier, which I rewired a few years ago, had just been hung moments before the photos were taken. The main reason I put it up on that day was because I had just received the antique shades in the mail. I tried to buy the shades locally, but these ended up being an Ebay purchase.

Now, I don’t write what follows out of spite - Ok, maybe a little out of spite - or because I want to be lectured by shop owners about the trials and tribulations of dealing with customers. This is merely my interpretation of what happened. In a lot of small towns there is the mantra to “Buy Local”, and in that respect, Eureka is no different. The problem is, even when I try to buy local, sometimes it can be very difficult. Perhaps I caught the shop owner on a bad day. I don’t know. What I do know, is that in this case, I made the effort and the shop owner did not.

I’ll also add that while I do make many purchases for the house on-line, I do also occasionally shop locally. Two of my antique light fixtures were bought locally, along with some vintage plumbing parts and other assorted knobs and smaller items. Sometimes it is easier to buy it locally and get that instant gratification, rather than having to scourer on-line listings and then wait weeks for the item to arrive.

So a few weeks ago there was a article in the local paper about how Old Town Antique Lighting Gallery had moved in to its new digs at the corner of 2nd and F Street in Old Town. This got me to thinking that I still needed shades for the chandelier for the dining room. In fact, I need shades for the two chandeliers in the parlors as well. Most of the antique fixtures I’ve purchased on-line come in “original condition” (e.g. they need cleaning and new wiring) and most come without shades.

After I read the article in the paper about how Old Town Antique Lighting Gallery had moved, I set up a search on Ebay while at the same time I planned to pay a visit to the lighting shop. A few weeks went by and I found nothing on Ebay I liked and pretty much figured I would just buy something at Old Town Antique Lighting Gallery. I’m really ready to be finished with the dining room and Ebay shopping can sometimes be like garage sale shopping. It is not always fruitful if you are looking for something very specific.

As I was walking home from the Co-op 2 weeks ago I stopped in to Old Town Antique Lighting Gallery. It was Saturday and I had not shaved. I had also been working on the router trying finalize the profile for the picture rail. I’m sure there was a haze of red sawdust on my clothes. It is not a big store, but it does have a nice selection. When I went in there were 3 people in the shop: The owner (I recognized him from the paper), a customer, and then another woman sitting at a desk. I assumed she worked there as well, but I wasn’t really sure. I was in the store for about 10 minutes and in that time no one said a thing to me as I walked around. I was not greeted or acknowledged in anyway. No big deal, really, but something would have been nice. There were only 4 of us in the building.

Eventually I found the vintage shades on shelves at the front of the store. I had seen shades in the back, which turned out to be reproductions, and walked right passed what I was really looking for. Like I said, it is a small shop and it is always nice to look at antique lighting, so browsing the entire selection was kind of nice. I love antique lighting and that is why I fill my house with it. To date, I’ve only purchased two reproduction shades and no reproduction fixtures. I have rewired and hung 13 period ceiling fixtures in my house.

As I browsed the selection of shades I noticed there were no prices on them. I needed a set of 3 matching chandelier shades and there were a half dozen sets stacked in 3 and 4 shades to a stack. What I was really hoping to find was a matching set of nine. I knew that would be a long shot, but a boy can dream. The three fixtures in the parlors and dining room I purchased together on Ebay, and they all came out of the same Victorian home in Maine. While they are not identical, they are all from the same manufacture and have similar styling and details. I thought it would be cool to have identical antique shades on all three.

Alas, no sets of nine. There were however, 2 stacks of 3 that were the same. I figured maybe later those would be nice for the parlors. For now, I just needed a set of 3 for the dining room. I picked out 2 different sets and tried to get someone’s attention to get a price. The one customer, the owner, and the woman in the chair were all grouped together about 15 feet away in the middle of the store. As I approached, the woman in the chair made eye contact. I said I had a question about the shades. She didn’t get up but instead looked up at the owner, who seemed to ignore both of us now. He was engaged with the customer so the woman in the chair got up and came over.

I pointed to two 2 sets of three I was interested in and said, “I’m interested in these 2 sets. Can you give me a price?” She had no idea, so she called over the owner. He rushed over as if he had 10 customers in the store all vying for his attention. As he approached, again I pointed to the two different stacks of 3 a few feet from each other on the shelf and asked the prices for the sets.

Now I realize he was with another customer, but I don’t think that woman would have bolted from the store if he had spent 45 seconds with me at least trying to sell me on the shades. Instead, with out even really stopping he uttered one word – “fifty” – and then turned and walked away. That was it. That was the extent of his salesmanship. He uttered one, single word to me and then turned and walked away. It wasn’t “fifty dollars” or “fifty dollars each” or "fifty dollars plus tax” or even “fifty dollars for the set”. It was just the single word – “fifty”

I’ve purchased enough antique lighting and shades to know that $50 for a set of 3 glass shades is a fantastic price in a retail setting. Why, even on Ebay I would be very pleased with that price. Basically, you would need to be the only bidder to get them for that price. In a retail setting I expected the price for the set to be well north of $100. When the owner said “fifty” when I asked about the set of 3 shades I was about to buy up his entire inventory.

To his back, because he was walking away from me, I exclaimed “Fifty dollars for the set!?!?”. With that, all 3 people in the shop had now turned to look at me. The owner stopped long enough to turn and say, “No, fifty each. It is one-fifty for the set”. Naturally, I now looked like a neophyte in the antique lighting world and the owner had made me look like a fool.

Feeling foolish, I stammered some comment about the price and turned to leave store. The owner mentioned that there were reproductions in the back that were less. Had he been paying even the slightest attention to me he would have noticed that I had already looked at the reproductions. I can get reproductions at Ace Hardware. I don’t go to an antique lighting store to buy reproduction shades.

I did sales for about 15 years, and was quite successful at it, so I do speak with some authority. Given that it is a small shop and there was only one other customer, he should have acknowledge my presence when I entered the store or at least when I walked right by him. Something basic would suffice like, “Hello, welcome to the shop, let me know if you have any questions.”. This lets me know who the owner is, should I have any questions, and it makes me feel welcome in the shop.

When it came time to make a sale, here is how the conversation should have gone.

Me: “I interested in these shades?”

Owner: “Yes, I’ll be with you in a minute” {Then, politely excuse yourself from the customer you’re with}

Me: “I’m interested in either of these sets. What is the price?”

Owner: “Aren’t those beautiful. Antique etched glass shades. Boy, they don’t make them like that any more. The price for any of these sets of three is $150, but if you’re interested in more than one set I can give you a deal.”

He could have then pointed out some different prices for the different types of shades and finished by saying something like, “Feel free to browse as long as you like. I’m with another customer, but when you’ve made your selection I can ring you up.”

The entire conversion would have taken about a minute and he would have most likely made a sale that day. A week later when I returned from San Francisco my Ebay search had sent me few emails on some shades that had popped up. One was a set of 4 antique shades. The auction was ending in 8 hours and had not received a bid. I put in a maximum bid of $75 and was the only bidder. With shipping, the cost came to $48.15 for the set of 4. I only need 3, so maybe I’ll take the 4th in to Old Town Antique Lighting Gallery and see if the owner is interested in buying it.

The price – “fifty”


Debbie said...

That's really sad that the salesman couldn't take the time to at least greet you when coming through the door. I have had that happen to me on more then one occasion.

I have to admit though, sometimes it's just the opposite. Have you ever been in a store and at least 3different people come up and ask if you need help within a 10 minutes period? Or had someone follow you around the entire time you're looking (like maybe they think you are going to shoplift)?

I love the shades you found on ebay. I love ebay and buy a lot of my antique books from there.

Greg said...

Yes, being over-sold by sales people is annoying. In this case, it was the shop owner, not just a salesman. And it wasn't so much that I wasn't greeted, it was the over all way I was treated.

I think he saw me as someone who was not going to shell-out for antique lighting, so he was not going to waste his time. That is the sort of thing I would expect from a salesman, not from an owner.

StuccoHouse said...

I long ago overcame my hopes to buy local in the areas of salvage, millwork & coffee...for the very scenario you give. After being treated like a criminal/dumb girl/invisible on numerous occasions, I have zero problem going to Ebay (and Starbucks).

We are lucky here though, we do have a vintage lighting store locally with exceptional customer service.

Karen Anne said...

Customer service, can it get any worse? I only hope we've hit bottom, so it may improve, but I am not holding my breath about companies like HP, etc. with their "tech support."

I wonder how many sales stores lose because they assume someone coming in dressed in work clothes or Saturday schlepping errands clothes can't afford their merchandise and treat them like dirt. That's happened to me (you know who you are, Tiffanys, when I came in to buy a once in a lifetime piece of jewelry for my niece's graduation.)

Every customer deserves to be treated with courtesy.

Karen Anne said...

Actually, I am now remembering perhaps my favorite customer service story of all time. Several decades ago I had phoned a floor place and made an appointment to get an estimate.

About a minute later, the salesman called back and said his boss had told him not to make an appointment unless "my husband" (a non-existent person, by the way) would be there, because he didn't want to waste time talking to just women, since they couldn't make decisions without their husband's okay, and he'd have to return if my husband wasn't at the first appointment.

I just hung up. What I should have said was, it's my f-ing house and hell will freeze over before you get any of my business.

Greg said...

I suspected I wasn't alone in this, but for Karen Anne, I'm going to say "Ouch!". I think they are lucky you didn't fire-bomb the store.

Katherine said...

There is a town up the hill from my town which has a very high opinion of itself. Since the coal mines dried up, this town has been trying to renovate it's ailing downtown and bring in the tourist trade. There is a little incentive for this because of a new bike trail that rivals the Appalachian Trail. But nothing on the order of the aspirations that this town has for itself.

My town was hit by an F4 tornado about three years before I moved there, and I think it was the best thing that could have happened to it, given the sad state of the economy. This other town just applies for economic development grant after economic development grant, and business re-do a store front, move in, set up an antique store or frappucino parlor, last about nine months, then die.

And I generally say good riddance to them (which is totally contrary to my nature) because of the lousy way every single one of these pretentious start-ups has treated me when I walked in.

I mean, come on. I am a local. I have enough money to drop some regular cash in these stores. All you need to do is to treat me right. And treating me right does not amount to much. All you have to do is greet me when I walk in. Have product in your display cases. Mention the weather.

Instead, the only store that I patronize in that town is the hideous looking, unrenovated but 30% of true value furniture store where the owner greets me from his lazyboy in the front window when I walk in, asks about me, tells me about his sciatica, and talks to me about furniture repair now and again. I would go there even if I had no need for furniture because he is such a good salesman. And because of that, I have dropped some serious cash in that place over the years. He must be eighty years old, but the man knows how to run a business.

I could go on and on. A bakery set up a few years ago. No product in the cases. Two employees standing by the register while one of them rang up another customer. The other employee just stands there. WTF was that?

I felt like calling over the owner and telling them that if this is all he knew about entrepreneurship then he needed to get out while he could still sell the place and make good on his loan. I would have dropped three dollars a day in that place if they had served me the first time. They are on their second year now. I know that no one makes a profit around here until the third or fourth. I expect them to go bankrupt this winter, and good riddance. Besides, they did not even have bagels. What do we need around here with a bakery that does not try to corner the market on bagels? No one has bagels here.


So I could imagine you, Greg, as a fantastic salesperson, selling, oh, I don't know. froofy juices to froofy California types or something. But the thing is, I peg you as an introvert. Are you the kind of introvert that could get up in front of a classroom and pretend to be an extrovert for an hour, only to need a serious recharging later? If so, whenever the opportunity opens up to teach home remodeling at the local community college, you should probably take it.

Katherine said...

Karen Anne,
My best friend works at Tiffany's, so if you want to give me the dirt on that, I will make sure that it gets to the uppity ups.

Greg said...

Teaching would be fun, but I think after telling them it took me 12 months to do the dining room, there would be a mass exodus from the classroom.

Katherine said...

Self-deprecating humour works very well in the classroom, imho.

HPH said...

I had a similar experience with the ‘assumed ability to purchase in this store by looking at your appearance’. I wanted to take advantage of the no-payments, no-interest purchase option so my credit had to be checked. It was quite amusing how the salesperson’s attitude and demeanor changed after my credit score and pre-approved purchase amount came back. He was not the owner and hopefully he learned something that day.

Instead of allowing the clueless store owner to have the extra shade that matches the shades in your chandelier, is it possible to fashion it into a votive candle holder? Or maybe a potpourri dish. Or just a spare shade in case you run across a set of two, and it would complete the set for another chandelier.

Greg said...

Sadly, the interesting thing about this story that I didn't tell was that I had a similar experience with a previous antique lighting store in town.

In that case it was the best thing that ever happened to me because after being treated rudely by that store owner, I turned to the internet. The first Ebay purchase I made was of the 1890s chandelier that now hangs in my kitchen.

Oh, and the other lighting store is no longer in business. Hmmm, I wonder why?

Karen Anne said...


It was some years ago in the Palo Alto, CA Tiffany's in the Stanford Shopping Center. Totally ignored, salespeople standing around, and when I went up to one a very looking down her nose making me uncomfortable attitude.

It was for my niece's high school graduation, and she's twenty-eight now, so the salespeople are probably long gone, but thanks anyway.

Anonymous said...

froofy juice! froofy juice! you've sold me!

Anonymous said...

What? No wall sconces in the dining room? I like how you're slowly adding things to the cabinet. That's a lot of space to fill.