My Morning Rant: Car Dealers and More

After spending an entire day in a car dealership and in large home improvement stores, I feel the need for a good cleansing rant. Actually, the rant is mostly about car dealerships. My thoughts on home improvement stores is more of a theory.

Nevertheless, let the cleansing rant about the testosterone laden weasels in car dealerships begin . . .

The other day I noticed an add in the paper by a woman at a local car dealership. It read, “Would you like to buy your car from a woman?” Actually, after Monday, I think I may.

On the few rare occasions I’ve been to a car dealership I cannot help but be overcome with a sense of the “weaseliness” of the people working there, particularly the men. They proudly stroll up to you and call you names like “buddy” or “big guy” or–if they’re destined to go straight to hell–“champ.”

This is not to say that kind, honest, authentic men don’t work at car dealerships, it’s just that I haven’t met them yet. I generally encounter men wearing ties and surging with testosterone who patronize me endlessly with all kinds of stupid remarks.

Remove the prospect of selling a car and they’d be the guys giving wedgies or generally ignoring those beneath them. I don’t know how they can overcome this, but there is an artificial sense in their dealings with the public. Of course a salesman has to warm up to his customers, but making it seem like a natural course of events rather than a steely act of will is the key.

After spending my morning in the midst of the unbridled “machoism” and the strange chumminess of car dealers, I killed most of my afternoon, while waiting for my car to be fixed, at Home Depot and Lowe’s. I’ve had my theories about why these two stores are so fantastic, and now I have a new one.

I’ve said before that small, local hardware stores generally score low in the area of customer service. If a customer knows what to purchase, then they’re very convenient, but I generally encounter the cold shoulder or a blank stare from the staff of local stores when I have questions. On several occasions in the same store the owner answered one question and walked to the back while I began to ask my next question.

Now, take Home Depot and Lowe’s; we’ll call them the box stores for reference sake. I generally find great customer service among the staff who share their knowledge and make sure I find exactly what I need. Why the difference?

There is no doubt that the box stores have strict guidelines for customer service training. I remember this from my days working at a Borders Books. But there’s something else that adds to the quality of these two box stores: they hire professional tradesmen.

Take a construction worker, electrician, plumber, or any other tradesman who is nearing his (we’ll use the male pronoun for convenience here) later 50’s or early 60’s. There is a vast amount of experience and knowledge available, but these workers are growing weary of the daily grind. What could be better for the aging worker than a job at a desk or at least in a heated/air conditioned store sharing their knowledge with the general public?

Sure there’s a pay cut, but it’s a steady, reliable job with benefits. Local hardware stores can’t offer the same salary packages, so these experts flock to the hardware box stores. That’s part of the allure of a Home Depot or a Lowe’s: they are practically crawling with experts whose sole responsibility is to help the customer make intelligent, informed decisions.

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5 thoughts on “My Morning Rant: Car Dealers and More

  1. nate

    Best local hardware store I ever went to (and returned to frequently) was run by a tough guy named Tony who called me “boss.” He greeted me when I walked in (“Hey, boss!”) and walked around the store with me giving me personal attention and answering all of my questions whenever I needed him to (“sure, we can help you with that…let’s go to the next room and I’ll show you what you need”).

    I once waited in line at a Lowe’s for 30 minutes under the sign that read “a new register will be opened if there are more than 6 people in line.” I was number 7. When I got to the front of the line, the cashier went on break and left me standing at the register. No one came to relieve her. A new register opened on the other side of the store and 10 people rushed to get in line.

    I dropped (literally dropped right there on the floor) the things I had waited patiently to buy, found my wife (actually I yelled (literally yelled), “Jen, let’s get the hell out of here”), and then I had what we now refer to as a “moment.”

    Said “moment” included me walking out of Lowe’s yelling to people in the parking lot that they should not go in there (“Don’t go in there, idiots work there”…”Home Depot is down the road, it’s worth the trip”…”You must be as stupid as a Lowe’s employee if you’re willing to go in there”, etc., etc.) Said “moment” also included me berating some poor high school kid who was coming back from break (“You should be ashamed of yourself and your friends and family should be ashamed of you for working here with such incompetent asses. Take off your stupid blue vest and quit immediately. It will be the best thing you did all day.”)

    Needless to say, I have never and will never set foot in a Lowe’s again. Long live the local guy!

    PS: I also have eerily similar stories about Comcast and a bar named “Dunleavy’s”. My wife tries to forget they happened.

  2. Adam Malliet

    I have found the opposite, at least in NJ, if you want service you have to go to the small guys (good luck finding them). Lowe’s is useless around here, they hire teenagers, who could probably give you the haps on their favorite Idol, but don’t confuse them with a simple question about where to find a certain tool. Home Depot isn’t much better, while they used to have a policy of hiring retired contractors they have sort of given up on that around here.

    Perhaps you are in the “honeymoon years” of a corporate takeover. Here is the usually digression.

    A store like Home Depot moves in to town, they are bigger, better, faster, more. They realize though that to entice consumers away from the local stores that they have to hire professional and knowledgeable workers, heck they’ll even them pay them well.

    Next phase, another mega-giant store moves in, they basically offer the exact same thing as the other super-mega-fantastic store but with a new colour scheme, wider aisles, perhaps a bit cleaner. During this time the local shops go out of business and the duopoly of mega-fantastical-super-docious stores only have each other to “compete” with.

    Third Phase, because they symbiotic relationships have been set up to ensure they don’t really compete with each (competition is hard work, and really only benefits the consumer) They stop trying to please the consumer. They rely then on cost cutting measures, cutting salaries, cutting benefits, chasing off the hard workers and experts.

    This is where we are at now. Two stores identical in every way (save for corporate logo’s, colour schemes, and varying degrees of aisle width). Same products, same prices, same ignorant employees. Breath it in deep folks, it smells like death but around here we call it capitalism.

  3. ed Post author

    Well, I guess that goes to show that no one store or chain has the corner on incompetence. Nevertheless, if you compared the customer service in the hardware sections, as opposed to the front registers, I’m guessing you’d find two very different kinds of people. One is a check out clerk, the other hopefully has some experience in a particular trade.

    Nevertheless, if you’ve found a local store that has good service, you’re set. I actually use the box stores to find out information and then buy products locally if I can. Of course the box stores typically have more selection, which makes it a tough call then.

    Speaking of Comcast, we’re in the midst of switching from Adelphia to Comcast and it’s awful!!!

  4. Adam Malliet

    I am sitting in the belly of the beast (comcast beast) and I am proud to say that I am comcast free. And that my friend, is comcastic.

  5. meggan

    being in the middle of a remodel, i could say good things about them all..big or little. and that is probably the reason we use them all, depending on their strengths.

    i would have loved to see your moment, nate…that would have been hilarious. [i’m the one that has those in eric and i’s relationship-he’s no longer embarrassed by them]

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