Saturday, September 15, 2018

What Ails Lame Street

h/t Bayou Renaissance Man

Peter at BRM goes on a beautiful lament/takedown about all the reasons brick-and-mortar stores are disappearing like fog on a warm morning across America:

What Ails Main Street
    1. Every retailer is basically offering the same goods.  They're almost all made in the same factories in China, with just the brand name and perhaps some cosmetic features to distinguish them from each other. 
    2. The assistants at many retailers are abysmally ill-informed, often slovenly in their habits (i.e. needing a shower or shave or haircut, or to change their clothes), and frequently not motivated to sell.  They appear to be there simply as warm bodies going through the motions.  If I'm expected to pay a premium for the "benefit" of having trained salespeople to assist me, I want them to be trained, and have the expertise I expect.  If they aren't and/or don't, why should I waste my time there?
    3. Many stores no longer keep inventory on hand of the products I want.

And he's right on every count, but we have a few more reasons to add (act surprised) that have only come up 300 times personally:

A)  The Village Idiot "We don't sell many of those" Gambit.

In this game, you ask for something they should have on the shelf.
Not Yak butter, or the metric adapter for a 9/16ths left-hand socket spring for a 1968 Studebaker*, but something fairly mundane.
"We don't stock those, because we don't sell very many."
The complete irony explosion that should occur inside the head of anyone with an IQ over 80 never happens with this level of flunkie/clerk/manager/store owner.
The concept that as long as they stock none, they'll sell none, never occurs to these geniuses, with a predictability and frequency that induces bleeding out of the ears in persons with a normal IQ and recourse to rational thought.
When such item is moreover a specialty item, and one doesn't find it even at a specialty brick-and-mortar store, they clearly don't even know their own business, and one is yet again forced to direct more local dollars to the widget-droids of Amazon, or such-like.
I'm not positive, but I'm fairly certain the Monty Python Cheese Shop Sketch was supposed to be parody, not a chapter in the retail business operations manual.

This is why in some stores, even if I had a CCW, I wouldn't take a gun inside a retail business these days. Not because I'd be in prison, but rather, because it would cut into my stockpile of ammunition too deeply, most weeks.

B) The "It's Not In Season Now" Excuse
Thus one can only find heaters for 5 minutes heading in to winter, (at which point they'll be out of stock again for 11 more months, no matter how long and cold winter is) and fans and air conditioners for the month before it gets hot.
And at no other time.

So if, for example, you have a small space heater for a cold spot that gets used most of the year, and it craps out in July, you'll only have to wait shivering for four or more months to replace it. Probably with an even cheaper and sketchier model than the last one, because someone found a way to make a product even less reliable, for a savings of 0.0001 cents per million/per ton, by scrimping on one of the three to seven vital moving parts or connections that make the entire item a go/no-go while still barely qualifying for a UL rating, and only marked up 25% above annual inflation from last year's model.
If it's a switch or contact that would have a million use life-cycle if made of even the flimsiest metal, it will inevitably have been replaced with plastic, synthetic rubber, or congealed cheese whiz, depending on what was in stock at the #37 Best Product Factory in Sum Flung Poo province that week.
The savings of a thinner, flimsier, shoddier item will be completely offset by the inclusion of roughly 42 pounds of extraneous plastic, polystyrene foam, NIJ Level IV-rated box sealing tape, plastic shrink wrap, bubble pack, wadded newspaper, cardboard, wire and cable ties, and 200 heavy duty metal staples, requiring the possession of the Craftsman $8900 Master Mechanic 3,000 piece tool set, the Jaws Of life, and an oxyacetylene cutting torch to successfully extract a $5 fan from the box, as if they were packing and sending vintage Renaissance hand-blown glass vases from Florence to the Andes on a one-eyed pack mule with epilepsy and three uneven wooden legs, will have been completely lost on every level of the manufacturing process from concept to delivery.

C) The "We Don't Have Those Anymore" Dodge
In this version, you go to one of the fewer stores that carry movies, television shows, or music, which should be their bread and butter, and they don't have, say, a copy of ________________.
It could be anything, but even if you asked for The Eagles Greatest Hits 1971-1975, Michael Jackson's Thriller, Hotel California, Led Zeppelin's IV, or Billy Joel's Greatest hits Vol 1 & 2, let alone Avatar, Titanic, Avengers, Gone With the Wind, or Citizen Kane, they still wouldn't have any.

Entire bands with 10, 20, or more Billboard Top Ten hits have disappeared as if they never existed, entire movie genres have shrunk to three or four examples, but they will have 2000 assorted rap/hip-hop artists you never heard of, and the regular, deluxe, and DVD/BD/Digital download/Special Feature editions of movies that closed the week they opened, every episode of Hannah Montana, Cake Boss, WWF, and Thundercats, and literally yards - if not furlongs - of T-shirts, beach towels, toys, games, tsotchkes, posters, key rings, magnets, lunchboxes, tennis shoes, and five floor bins the size of Hesco barriers in Afghanistan full of other fanboy crapola.

But they "don't have room for" y'know, actual movies, TV shows, and music CDs that have actually been seen or heard by anyone over the age of 12, because yet again, "there's not much call for that, so we don't stock it".

Just for fun, take AFI's list of the 100 Greatest Movies, or Billboard's Top-Selling Albums of all time, or the longest-running highest-rated TV series since ever, and see how many of them they don't have.
If you're still not suicidal, ask the store help how many of them they've ever heard of, let alone actually seen or heard.

You'll probably want to stop when you get to about 90% of them.

Yet another reason not to carry a gun while shopping.
Unless you've got the Suicide Prevention Hotline on speed-dial.

We'd hate Amazon with the fire of 300 suns, because when we shop, we do it like men: we don't dilly-dally, price-check, and flit between seventeen places. We go where we go, find our prey, hunt it, kill it, bag it, tag it, and scuttle home with it to enjoy our purchase the same flipping day we bought it, which was the only reason to venture out of the man cave to begin with. And even then, only after looking at it and holding it in our own hot, grubby little mitts to satisfy ourself that it's what we wanted to begin with, and didn't get stabbed by a forklift fork or trampled by a rogue herd of buffalo before paying for it. (We're still pretty sure the stocking clerk jerk at the supermarket learned to fill the bread shelves with a sledgehammer, and the guys who unload all consumer electronics still drop test them at least three times from 8' or more between the truck and the store shelf, because it must be a union thing.)

Amazon isn't helping that, not least of which because the one critical factor (year, edition, format, height, weight, molecular mass, or whatever you can think of) we have to know before plunking down our hard-won bullion will be the one thing Amazon's description will completely omit, every single gorram time. So we don't do Amazon, because they blow like that.

Except for the fact that Main Street, AKA Lame Street, isn't just driving people there, they've rented bulldozers and they're scooping people there by the metric f**k-ton, 24/7/365.



Anonymous said...

Not lame street, but an Air Force BX. Many moons ago, I went into the BX to get a couple of pairs of my favorite jeans. None were to be found. I was told that they sold so well that they couldn't keep them in stock, so they decided to stop carrying them.

Anonymous said...

Biggest reason is the Internet.
We can order anything online from anywhere that we need, even materials for the business, for less than Main St retail.
Mostly with free shipping.
To my door.
In the most remote town in the lower 48.
No brainer.

James M Dakin said...

Everyone used to blame Wal-Mart for inventing Chinese factories. Now everyone blames Amazon for inventing mail order. Perhaps if the bankers weren't taking over the economy and jacking up rents on everything to nose bleed levels, it wouldn't be so damn hard to make a go of a retail business. Look at video rentals. Redbox seems to have no problem there. But you can't rent $3 video's in a regular retail space, all the while all the streaming services charge double to quadruple that for no other reason than they can. They are much worse than Blockbuster ever was.

billrla said...

Yes, and now, OSH (Orchard Supply Hardware) is closing-up, by edict of corporate parent, Lowe's, which bought OSH's 90 mostly California stores the last time OSH was circling the retail brick-and-mortar drain.

I always loved hardware stores, dating back to the 1960s, when we had one, just a bike-ride away, in suburban New York. The place had a permanent smell of rubber (real rubber) and lubricating oil. The guys (actual men) behind the counter knew how to fix anything and everything, including electrical appliances that needed new wiring. Sometimes, on weekends, my father and I would go to that hardware store a half-dozen times on a Saturday (closed on Sundays, back then), trying to find the right screw, bolt, or nut, or buying that one extra can of this-or-that, because we ran out before finishing a weekend repair.

Not long ago, OSH upgraded their fastener department. Bin after bin of well organized screws, nuts, grommets, washers, bushings, springs, cotter pins--you name it. Anything you might need--and lots of items you did not know you needed, but for which you figured out a use, right on-the-spot.

Well, at least we still have I can always find something I don't need but must have. In multiple sizes.

Anonymous said...

Last weekend I needed kerosene. We live in a city of multiple hundred thousands. Couldn't find any to buy, because it's "seasonal". We have to wait till it gets colder

Aesop said...

I knew OSH was closing, hadn't asked why, but that's perfect.
OSH is an actual hardware store, with things no one else carries, while Lowe's, like the Orange Box, is a refuge for shoddy crap, ignorant and mostly non-existent floor help, and mountains of shite I wouldn't foist on a Hong Kong whorehouse construction crew.

So one can understand why Lowe's bought it to kill it off.
If resources personally were bit fatter, I'd go loot the local OSH at a discount before they're shuttered, but instead I'll probably end up having to pay premium and shipping to get stuff from internet specialty businesses.

Just for one example, OSH was the only one of the big three that sells surgical tubing for carpentry clamping (and other uses), or 2" manila rope for climbing.

So if you want that in CA now, unless Teeny Weeny hardware has it, or you want to pay 300% mark up to get it shipped in, you'll be S.O.L.

Genius, right there.

Anonymous said...

Try getting a door or deadbolt key made, that actually performs its desired function, at one of those big box stores. Had that experience a few years ago at Home Suppository. After that debacle, I went to Aubuchon's and got several made that worked the first time just like they're supposed to because they had one of those old fashioned key cutters that require someone that actually knows how to run one. Sadly, that Aubuchon's went out of business last year after several generations of time at the same location run by the same extended family.


Anonymous said...


Lowe's announced "rationale" for closing OSH is that OSH represents just a tiny percentage of Lowe's total sales and, therefore..."efficiency." Very recently, my local OSH had a banner hanging out front, saying "Now hiring happy people." A new banner says "40% off everything." Hilarious.

lineman said...

Just makes the scripture verse "wont be able to buy or sell without the mark" be that much more relevant...

Aesop said...

Like many books, descriptions of the apocalypse in the Revelations Of John wasn't intended as an instruction manual.

lineman said...

Lol... Someone thinks it is...

lineman said...

Local, local, local right:)

iOpener said...

Don't forget the well stocked shelves idiocy where shelving 4 feet wide and 6 feet high with 5 separate shelves has all of that space filled with one product.

My kids grew up with Toys R Us and I watched that shit show take those 20 linear feet of shelf space from having 20 different but similar toys down to one toy from one supplier entirely filling the space. We wound up going back to specialty toy stores and Toy's R Us went bust, and properly so.

Same thing now happening at Home Depot. Hardware like hooks, eyes, varied lengths, thread counts, heads and diameters of bolts are going away. You can have a 3" x 1/2" or 4" x 12" hex head bolt in coarse thread, but you may not have one in 3&1/2" coarse, or any fine thread at all.

Ask for heavy duty gate hardware and you'll get some goggly eyed teenager asking what that is, or an old guy saying the dumb bastards at head office have discontinued them and now all of the farmers take all of their business elsewhere.

I bought a lawnmower from Home Depot last year and went in this spring to buy a new air filter for it. They didn't stock it, even though they still sell the exact same mower. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Anonymous said...

Example of Chinese "Value Engineering."

I need a fan running for white noise to sleep. Chinese "Honeywell" brand fans have been my go to over the last fifteen years. Every year or so I have to buy a new one, as the bearings in the old one start making noise. The old ones get retired to the bathroom, basement and garage for spot ventilation duties. The last five fans have had successively smaller motors and fan blades. The latest moves about one half the air as the one from a few years ago, and it is no comparison to the old fans. The only good news is they still cost $14.99 at Target for the last fifteen years.

For real hardware, try your local farm store. We have Mills Fleet Farm and Runnings in our area. And they carry Guns and Ammo too.

Mike_C said...

>the #37 Best Product Factory
1. That is a frighteningly realistic sounding bit of Chinglish.
2. Thirty-seven is "the most random number".

-PM sent, BTW.

Aesop said...

"Mister Spock, I'm more certain of your guesses than I am of other people's facts."
I'm that guy.

Anonymous said...

At the Ace Hardware in Lake Stevens, WA they have a key machine and people who know how to use it. Also, someone will help you find the $.47 worth of washers and screws you need from their sizeable assortment. They can usually answer your questions too. Looks like they are doomed.

MMinAR said...

I seem to have the best of both worlds here in Lamesa. A hardware store straight out of the 50s with creaky wood floors, overhead fans and lots of aisles. We also have a store that sells bearings and the like for oil drillers and farm use. It is frigging huge, easily 10,000 sq ft of aisles and shelves. I have never left there without exactly what I needed for my machinery.

Both are manned by men that know their domains.

Went into the hardware store recently needing a very small drill bit for a repair I was doing. When asked how small, I said lets what you got. He pulled out a drawer divided into maybe 15 or so bins. The biggest bit in that drawer was still waaaay too small and the smallest looked to be about as thick as a hair.

Anonymous said...

I caught the Stude thing right away cause I'm a car guy. And hey, just for trivia that you didn't need to know: Aunt Bea of The Andy Griffith Show had a 66 Stude with four flats in her garage when she passed on to her reward.

And yeah, retail stinks a good bit of the time. I take time to avoid the sullen, cranky clerks like the plague. Sometime I just leave. At least give me good service and realize you're competing with the internet.

Old sarge