2014-09-16

Life lesson's from Aubuchon Hardware

When I was 15, I was hired for my first job.  I was a stock boy at Aubuchon hardware store number 019 for minimum wage at the end of ninth grade.  I was one of four employees.  Myself, Dennis , Tim the assistant manager and John, the guy who got me the job.  On my first day as Dennis started training me he showed all the compassion that a former marine would to a know-it-all kid.  “just go and front shelves, it should only take 5 minutes for each shelf.”  I was then immediately sent downstairs for a can of plaid paint.  If you are not familiar with a can of plaid paint, it is similar to a left handed screwdriver and the chrome plated muffler bearing.  It does not exist.  While I was looking for it, i was told to make a list of the paints that were not plaid and organize them.  They had not only played a trick on me, but also gotten me to inventory and organize the basement.  

Some might say that I was being taken advantage of, but 17 years later I can tell you that I was being trained to be a good person.  If it was a goal of theirs or not, Dennis, Tim and the rest of the crew didn't give me an unearned compliment or conversely an undue criticism.  At every job you have to take some abuse.  At my current job I take a bunch every day and often think back to some of my first abuse by customers.  Some interactions of note.  “I was climbing under the caution tape and tripped on a hole in the floor.  You have to pay for my medical bills.”  “I gave the drain cleaner in a bag to my kid in her car seat and she opened it and ruined my carpet.  I expect you to pay for the repair!”  “How dare you charge me 8 cents for this screw, It was only 5 cents in 1972.”  “I want a refund, My wife doesn't like this paint color.”

I had planned to have my children work at Aubuchon Hardware when it came time to get a job.  Now that My wife and I own a house, we find much need for a hardware store.  I am guilty of going to homedepot and lowes when I need things at 9 at night for a project.  I go to Amazon prime and get parts for my car, the house and work.  I could go to local places, but it is so convenient to just click on my phone and have it show up at my house.  The 20 minute drive to the store is saved, but the 10 minute conversation with Dennis or his staff is missed.  I saw the info on my facebook feed that store number 19 had closed and felt guilty for not spending more of my money at my local hardware store.  I had plans to buy all the paint for my house for our interior renovations.  I am sure many failures have been attributed to best intentions, but in this case, I wonder if I bought those 10 gallons of paint, would the store have pushed to the other side of the bubble?

The biggest vote of confidence Dennis and the store could have was from my brother in-law Wes.  He is a master rock worker and knows what most every tool does and how to use it.  When we talked about hardware stores, he said “Dennis knows what he is talking about”  If you knew Wes, you would know that is one of the highest forms of respect he can give someone.  That's what we lost on Monday.  

And now some life lessons everyone should learn That I learned at 217 Main street Nashua, NH.

Everyone’s money spends the same.    
Dennis was the first adult I dealt with outside of my church, school and family.  All of those situations were basically white middle class college educated individuals.  Working on main street was my first experience with other races, religion, and sexual orientation.  Denis treated everyone the same.  Everyone that came in the door had a problem.  We likely had the solution or could recommend where they could find the right solution.  The only color he saw was green.  The only issue we ever had was with language barriers.  This was pre smartphones and pre internet.  We used a combination of pointing, drawing and charades to bridge the barrier.  

If you don’t know the answer, admit it.
I wanted to know everything.  I wanted to answer every question with the correct answer.  I watched Dennis and Tim say all the time “I don’t know how to fix that”  They may recommend another store, or a professional.  I try and mimic how Dennis would answer with no humility or reservation, “I don’t know”

Treat everyone like they own the company.
With the recent Market Basket work stoppage, we can see that shareholders and stakeholders all came together to force a change.  A company needs to hold it’s customers in as high an esteem as the company owners if not better.  One Saturday A middle aged woman came in and wanted 4 bags of concrete.  I was likely getting ready to leave and go to a party and had mentally checked out.  I responded to her with “I hope you have a strong back.”  It was taken in jest but I likely should have showed her a better customer experience.  Turns out the last name of that random customer was AUBUCHON.  You can’t go wrong if you look at every customer as someone who signs your paycheck.  

We don’t return Plungers or Toilet seats.
Don’t get me wrong, I would give you your money back, but I did not want the item back.  This taught me that sometimes I had to take it on the chin.  The customer may or may not be right, but if I take the return, I will have to deal with a used plunger.  Some days you lose, it happens, get over it and move on.

No two people ever see the same thing.
One Saturday night, we sold a table saw.  Nothing spectacular about it, customer paid via check and we loaded it into his truck.  We were running the check verification when the guy took off with the saw before we got the now obvious “that check is made of rubber.  This evening, Tim was the manager, Phil and I were clerks and we all three screwed this up.  Dennis had trained us better than this but we were so eager for the sale we let go of the item BEFORE we verified the check.  We called the police and he took our statements.  I recalled the guys truck, a 93 F250 super duty with a standard cab, full size bed and west coast style mirrors.  Phil saw the woman with him 5”6” brown hair, brown eyes etc, etc.  Tim saw the man with a goatee, mid 40’s, about 200 pounds etc, etc.  All three of us stood next to each other, one saw a woman, one saw a truck, and one saw a man.  I didn't even recall the woman.  When you have 3 people in a room having a conversation all three can hear something different and still be right.  

Some days we let a shoplifter go because it is the right thing to do.  
We had an elderly lady Rita come in about once a week.  I am pretty sure she was a crotchety lady, but she just wanted a warm place to wait for her taxi or the bus.  She would come in and steal a bag of Circus peanuts.  Phil and I would take turns paying for her 50 cent bag of Circus peanuts off the candy rack as she would go in and take one each week.  I don’t really know why, she was mean and yelled, but at the time it seemed like what we should do.  

Water weighs 8 pounds per gallon.
If you go to purchase a gallon of paint, the paint is not the water, it is the weight that is greater than 8 pounds that is paint.  No matter what the MFG says if you want a good paint job, you need to prep the walls, use two coats of primer and two coats of paint.  When you have a gallon of paint that weighs 8.5 pounds, it is about the same is putting milk on your wall for coverage.

“The key machine is broken” may actually mean I don’t want to make keys.
If I was working Sundays alone, I would shut down the paint machine, glass cutter, and key cutter.  I couldn't make 20 copies of your apt key and keep an eye on the store.  When dealing with companies now I suspect white lies and will sometimes call people on it if I need the service done.  This was a lesson in not over committing.  I won't figure it out until two years from now hopefully, but I can at least identify it now.  

Sketchy people do sketchy things.
When the sketchy painter looking guy asks where the spray paint is and then just leaves without buying anything something is up.  When you get a gut feeling, 9 times out of 10 it is based on something.  About a half hour later, him and his lady (a generous description) came back with osha yellow mouth and nose areas.  They could not find the spray paint on the return trip and we asked them to not come back.  This was the first time I had an up close interaction with an addict.  Before meeting them, I had disgust for addicts.  After this interaction, I felt sorry for them.  It pulled out the christian in me that just wanted to help them get better.  They were not ready to accept help.

People in the store are more important than people that might be in the store.  
It was a few years prior to my employment that Aubuchon’s got a phone in nashua.  883-1400 is one of the few numbers I have ever remembered.  Dennis always said to pay attention to the customer in the store, then the phone.  When talking to someone don’t just ignore your phone, ignore it without checking it.  Make a show of it that you are actively listening. It is a sign of respect that you are giving your entire attention to the customer.  I fail at this at work often because I am stretched so thin, I don’t recognize how little focus I am giving my current interaction.  

Getting fired usually isn't personal
I was trying to work two full time jobs and a Sunday shift at Aubuchon.  Turns out you can’t work 96 hours per week and still go drinking with your buddies and not get fired.  It was not because Dennis had it out for me, it was because he needed to have an employee show up and work when he needed it.  Debbie at Tool Liquidation Center fired me the next day I think.  Again, not let go for any other reason than I over committed and did not show up.  Both of them called me, said it wasn't working out and let me go.  It was professional and polite.  Now I have more volunteers than employee’s which is an even harder person to fire since they get no compensation.  I try and set clear expectations and check to see if they are doing what they need to by when it needs done.  When I have to let someone go, I try and just be straight forward.  

Don’t get between a husband and wife argument about paint colors.
Will my wife like this color of paint?”  
“NO!”  
At least weekly we would get a wayward husband coming in to buy paint for a remodeling project.  They had good intentions and would stare at the paint wall for 2 minutes, hastily choose a color and then ask me if their wife would like the color.  Here was Dennis's response.  “Sir, I love my wife, but she would kill me if I did not check with her before choosing a paint color.  Take this color pallet home with you, decide together and come back.”  I imagine a few marital conflicts were avoided by this.  When they show up together and put you in the middle of the decision of what color, choose black.  No one wants black paint inside a house and they should leave you out.  

People will re-frame a question to try to get you to validate their screw up.
We would get customers in and they would give you this hypothetical question to which you would give them the correct answer.  They would then re-frame the problem hoping for a different answer.  Dennis taught me how to let a man know he screwed up and still hold his head high at the end.  

I am sure more will come to me with time.  But recalling all of this was tough to think that no one will ever get to have the experience I had working at this hardware store.  They won't make bets on identifying screw threads by sight from three feet away with customers.  They won’t spend hours looking for a can of plaid paint while co workers laugh upstairs.  They won’t get to have florescent light bulb sword fights.  They also won’t have a boss who doesn't even ask questions when you ask for material donations for your Eagle Scout project.  15 years later, Denis handed me all of his glass scraps for use at MakeIt Labs.  I think as we revitalize main street we may have lost one of the staples of main street.  It is a sad day that we as a community can’t support a small business like this.  I am part of the problem.   

Sorry Aubuchon hardware, we failed you.  From Nashua  

1 comment:

Jim Needham said...

Great blog Rob ! As a long time Aubuchon employee I enjoyed your intimate knowledge of a retailers day. It is an honest profession which requires a sense of humor, a strong back and a work ethic that is in short supply today. The lesson that you learned from Dennis will be with you forever. Job well done.