Dr-Fix-It! Notebook Archive:
Customer Appreciation. . .
Late last week, the timing mechanism in one of the pump houses at my work failed. It is somewhat of an oddball timer - a single pole double throw time switch with 277 volt timer motor. It is odd enough that I would ordinarily expect to have to special-order the device and wait a week to get it. But, on a previous trip to the GE warehouse, I noticed they had several Intermatic T104 timers on the shelf. That timer would work perfectly in my pump house application with only a minimum of re-wiring. Confident that this would be just a matter of installing a new T104 Timer, I drove over to the GE warehouse.
What I refer to as the GE warehouse is actually a large commercial sales outlet that will sell merchandise only on the wholesale level. The store is owned by General Electric so most of the equipment that they sell is the General Electric brand. While their primary product line is General Electric, the GE warehouse also handles other brand names of electrical equipment such as Leviton, Cooper, Pass & Semour Legrand and - of course - Intermatic.
I call the place a warehouse because most of the inventory is on shelves in the back of the house accessed by forklifts. In the front is the display area along with the two order desks. The "City Desk" is a long bar with stools for the customers, note pads and phones where electrical contractors can order and receive truckloads of construction materials. The "Will Call" desk is a small counter reserved for contractors that only need a few items and call ahead to avoid the longer waits that are the norm at the city desk.
I only needed one timer but I didn't call ahead. I knew right where my Intermatic T104 277 volt timer was located on a corner shelf in the showroom. I reasoned since it was on the showroom shelf, I might as well just drive over there and take my turn at the "City Desk". So, I walked in the GE warehouse, grabbed my Intermatic timer, grabbed a doughnut, grabbed a cup of coffee, grabbed a number and grabbed a stool.
When my number came up, Gene strolled over to his place behind the counter directly across from my stool. "Hi-ya, Doc! What can I get for you today?"
"Just this timer, Gene"
"OK", Gene started typing in the computer but stopped, "Hmmm . . . . what the heck is this? Hey Louie! Come over here a minute, will ya? "
Louie, the store manager, strode over and stared into the computer monitor. Then Louie nodded and pointed to the screen, "Oh, it's that T104. See here? It has been transferred to LA. It didn't sell so it has been transferred back to the hub in LA."
Gene suddenly looked sick. "So, I can't sell it?"
Louie shook his head, "It's not in our inventory".
Louie went back to helping his customer while Gene broke the bad news to me. "Sorry, Doc. I can't sell you that timer. It is not in stock."
"What do you mean: 'Its not in stock'? It is right here on the counter in front of me!"
Gene shrugged, "I know this sounds stupid, Doc. But, it really doesn't matter WHERE it is. Corporate sends us a list of items that haven't sold in 120 days. Somebody in the GE Corporate Offices looks at our inventory and decides what we will have in stock. We are supposed to "turn over" our inventory six times a year. That T104 Timer had been on the shelf for 120 days so it sat for two "turn over" cycles without selling. So, at the end of the month, that timer was transferred back to the inventory in the warehouse in LA. That is what REALLY counts - the inventory. Not WHERE it is. As soon as the delivery truck comes here again, that timer will be one its way back to LA. But, it already is in the inventory in LA even though it is TECHNICALLY still here."
"Well, Gene, I guess I am a just a TECHNICAL kind of guy. I see a timer in front of me even though it is in LA already. And, I would like to PURCHASE this timer on the counter in front of me in spite of the fact that it is in LA already. I came over here to buy it because I knew you had one on the shelf. I saw it the last time I was in here."
Gene smiled sympathetically, "You should have bought it then. It was in stock. I could have sold it to you."
I was too flabbergasted to get angry. "Sometimes, this place makes me laugh."
Gene agreed, "You and me both, Doc."
"You know, Gene", I said, "I think back to the Mom-and-Pop hardware store in the little town where I grew up. A man named Blaine owned it. Blaine worked there every day - from opening to closing six days a week. He stocked the shelves, he did the books, he paid the bills, he swept the floors and he helped the customers. He NEVER would have told a customer, 'I can't sell you that." The word 'No' was just not in his vocabulary. In order to keep his family safe and warm and put food on the table every day REQUIRED that Blaine ALWAYS find a way to say 'Yes' to his customers. But that was a few years back. I guess those days are long gone . . ."
Gene nodded and called across the showroom, "Hey Louie! Is there any way we can sell this timer to Doc?"
Louie hollered back, "Yah, I suppose there is a way. But it will be a real pain in the ass!"
As Louie walked back to Gene's computer, he was thinking out loud, "We could order it out of the inventory in LA . . . No. . . That wouldn't work because the system will automatically tack on shipping for a special order . . . We could ask corporate for a transfer reversal but we would have to provide a reason . . ."
I couldn't resist. "Louie, this is just a crazy idea. But, I would think a perfectly acceptable reason for a transfer reversal was because YOU SOLD THE TIMER !"
Louie thought for a minute then shook his head, "That won't work. We couldn't have sold it because it wasn't here. It was in LA. That won't work."
Louie thought a little longer then suddenly shook his head as if some flies had started to swarm around his ears. He tossed his pencil on the counter top and snapped at Gene, "I haven't got time to deal with this now! I'm too busy! Just write up a hand ticket and we'll figure it out later!"
On a yellow sheet of notepaper, Gene carefully wrote an invoice by hand. We both signed and dated the document and I was free to leave with my merchandise.
As I left the GE warehouse with a Intermatic T104 timer under my arm, I studied the handwritten sales receipt and wished I could see an old familiar note scrawled at the bottom. Something I had seen on hundreds of handwritten sales receipts in the past -
But, I guess those days are long gone . . .