When I managed a nonprofit thrift store I discovered that customers get angry. Very angry. They argue over who saw something first, what it costs, and whether or not you’ll give them a discount, even if the item in question costs only a dollar.
I knew an argument over merchandise was in progress when our cashier said, “Two customers are fighting. Skip better check it out.”
You need to keep in mind here that unlike regular retail stores, thrift stores usually have only one of a particular item. The inventory is donated, so what you see is what you get. If two people want the same leather bomber jacket or American Girl doll, whoever pays for it first gets it.
Skip, the security guard, was hired because our nonprofit thrift store was in a rough part of town. At the cashier’s request, he ambled toward a man gesturing angrily at a woman with a window shade in her shopping cart.
“That’s mine. I found it first,” the man shouted.
“No mine,” the woman with the shade shot back. She had scarcely gotten the words out of her mouth when the man snatched the shade from her cart and raced toward the back of the store as if he had a getaway car stowed somewhere between shoes and house wares.
The woman strengthened her claim to the shade by producing a witness to verify that she had spotted it first. Armed with this eye witness account, Skip pursued the man and banned him from the store.
But the man did not easily relinquish his anger. He skulked outside in his truck for 15 minutes, frightening the woman into remaining in the store. When he finally gunned it out of the parking lot, she scurried nervously, shade in hand, to her car.
The man’s anger reminded me of another customer encounter. In that instance, a woman grew so enraged over the price of ceramic candlesticks that she called 911.
I told her the candlesticks were $1 and she disagreed.
“Somebody told me 50 cents,” she said.
But I stuck to my guns, since I had priced the candlesticks myself.
A few minutes later, a policeman loomed beside me at the cash register. “There has been a complaint,” he said, pointing to the candlestick customer. “You need to step outside so I can take your personal information.”
I’m not believing this!” I said. “A customer called the police over candlesticks!”
But I can believe it now. A story on CNN convinced me that people will call the police about anything. According to the CNN story, a Connecticut man called 911 because he didn’t like the way a deli fixed his sandwich.
That’s right! His sandwich!
I was so fascinated by this story that I googled it to read the details. The man from Connecticut said, “I specifically asked for a little turkey, and a little ham, and a lot of cheese and a lot of mayonnaise, and they are giving me a hard time.”
The incredulous dispatcher replied, “You’re calling 911 because you don’t like the way they’re making your sandwich?”
The dispatcher, keeping her cool, offered this advice: “So don’t buy the sandwich.”
I liked that dispatcher’s attitude. Her nonchalant, “So don’t buy the sandwich” was the perfect response. Fortunately, the police officer who was summoned to my thrift store was just as cool. He didn’t have me arrested, in spite of the candlestick woman’s protests.
I’ve concluded from these and other incidences that dispatchers, police officers, thrift store managers, deli sandwich makers and all others dealing with the public need to retain a good dose of patience, common sense, and humor. Because people can get very, very angry.
And I’ll have mayo with my sandwich, thank you.