Saturday, October 17, 2009

Good Service Is Good Business

Love them or hate them, big box stores are a part of our urban landscape.

We love them cause the prices are lower and we can get almost anything all in one store.

We hate them because they are often on the edges of cities or not close to bus service. We hate them because you often get impersonal service - assuming that you can even find a clerk.
Let's face it, we have ALL had bad experiences in those places at some point.

But, not all big box stores are created equal.

I live on a tight budget, so have to shop around for good deals. I go through the grocery flyers every week and often hit two or three stores to get everything I need. More often than not, I end up at the Superstore at Kenaston Blvd. and Grant Ave. here in Winnipeg.

Over the years, I've gotten in the habit of shopping mid week - right when the store opens. It used to open at 9:00 then switched to 8:00 a couple of years ago. I adjusted my schedule accordingly. I found that shopping before 9 was a lot easier as the store wasn't crowded. The shelves were stocked and the produce was fresh. You could often meet the same customers who also shopped in the early hours. I found that the staff that worked that early shift were always friendly, polite and willing to assist whenever possible. It was a big box store with a neighbourhood corner store feel.

A year or so ago, they started opening at 7:00. I wasn't thrilled as that meant getting up by 6:00 and leaving by 6:40 for the 7-8 minute walk to the bus stop and 15-20 minute ride depending if I was lucky enough to catch an express bus. I usually made it by 7:10 - 7:20 AM. I'd do my shopping in under an hour and usually be home by about 8:30.

I am not a real morning person - at least not that early, but I had really gotten to like shopping in an uncrowded store where the staff knew me and offered help. I didn't know too many names but we always said good morning and a quick how are you.

For the last few months, my Superstore has been undergoing some much needed expansion and upgrades. It hadn't had any major work done since it was built almost 30 years ago. The renovations hadn't really been affecting the customers until the last few weeks. They are now starting to do the inside work of expanding and remodeling the various departments, so some things aren't where they should normally be or are unavailable for a few weeks. It will be great once the work is all done but, a nuisance for us regulars or early shoppers for a few more weeks.

This past Tuesday morning, I planed on going to Superstore, but awoke late - 6:20. I rushed my morning routine and managed to make it out the door by 6:45 and caught an express bus. I was at the store by 7:05.

I wasn't totally awake, but something seemed a bit off as I walked in. The display tables near the front seemed crowded together and out of place. The aisle I usually take was partially blocked.

I noticed a large sign a few feet away and was attempting to focus on it. It was an orange background with white letters. All I had made out so far was an 8 and a 10 - when a guy in a hard hat came up to me and said the store doesn't open till 8.

HUH? Since when?


Oh crap! Now what? I slipped off my backpack and slumped into a chair near the door while I sleepily debated my options. There was no point in going home, as I'd just be turning around to come back. There is a coffee shop not too far away, but I didn't have any extra money for that. It was -5C outside and I didn't relish the thought of standing outside for almost an hour. I could have slept another 45 minutes had I known! Argh!

A couple of minutes later the manager came up to me, said good morning and explained that the store would be opening from 8 AM to 10 PM now until the renovations were complete. As of December 5, the store would be opening at 6:00AM on weekdays. He apologized for the inconvenience and said the signs had only been posted late the previous week. (I'd been there the previous Tuesday - a few days before the signs went up.) I asked why the doors were open and was told that was to give the workers easy access. There had been security at the door until 7, but someone forgot to lock the door when they left. I explained that going home and coming back really wasn't worth it and asked if it would be alright if I waited here.

He could easily have said no and asked me to leave, but he didn't. He said I was welcome to wait and that he would let me know as soon as the aisles were clear and it would be safe for me to shop. If I needed it, he would also have a staff person accompany me to find things that had been moved.

I thanked him and said I'd probably be okay without assistance. There wasn't a lot on my list.

I really wasn't fully awake yet and wasn't thrilled with this unplanned delay but was grateful for the opportunity of sitting inside of a warm building as opposed to standing out in the cold.

It felt a little strange sitting there and watching the construction workers leave and the staff arrive. Several of the staff greeted me as they came in. The manager checked on me a couple of times as he went about his morning routine. About 7:45, he was talking to a couple of cashiers and then pointed at me and said; "This young lady has been sitting here since just after 7. She didn't know about the time changes." He laughed and said that I was the preferred customer that morning and that I could now start shopping!

I didn't find everything on my list that morning. One item was out of stock and a couple of things were temporarily unavailable.

What I did find, was a new respect for the big box store and the people who run them and work there. The manager didn't have to let me stay inside, but he did. The staff didn't have to greet me, but they did. Part of it may be that I have a white cane. Part of it may be that I am there almost every week. Overall, I think it is just a matter of common courtesy and good business.

So, for the next few weeks, I get to sleep in a bit more on the days that I go to Superstore. I'll be able to get up around my normal time. Once the store expands it's hours on December 5, I'll probably start shopping a bit earlier again. But not too early - I need my sleep and the bus only starts running at 6:00!


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