Unexpected

You know how we’ve become accustomed, in North America at least (where working in a retail service position is generally viewed as something you do until you get a real job — more about this below), to being served at “big box” stores by mindless drones with no real product knowledge or experience…

And yet… the unexpected sometimes happens. Twice now we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the knowledge and hands-on experience of the staff of the Michaels® crafts store in Waterloo.

Once was when K (aside: the link is to her new blog “42.1“; wabi sabi has been retired from active blogging duty, although it’s still on-line if you’re looking for her earlier knitting posts — she’s consolidated her on-line knitting presence at the shownotes blog of her Purl Diving podcast) and I were shopping for a stamp-pad to make Christmas cards. To make a long story short, the woman working there had been doing stamping for a good decade or two and provided us with very helpful guidance on which brand and type of stamp-pad would work best for the cards we were using — a heavy, textured stock in a dark red. She explained the pros and cons of the different ones they carry and said which one she preferred, and why — longevity, quality of the impression and so on.

Then, today, K was in search of some Japanese seed beads, size 6 and 8, which are on the requirements list for a beaded knitting workshop she’s attending next weekend. First, we tried the specialty bead store in Waterloo — no luck. They did have some seed beads, but much smaller than the sizes K needs.

The clerk was pleasant enough, but wasn’t experienced enough to suggest alternatives they might have other than to point out the section where there might be something that would work. Now, they do have a lot of beads… which is admittedly A Good Thing for a bead store, but makes finding just the right one a bit like the proverbial needle in a haystack endeavour.

The best she could suggest was to call back Monday and speak to the owner, who knows about beads and might be able to help. Riiight.

So, off to Michaels… but K didn’t hold out much hope of finding anything remotely like what she needed at a big box store. Still, it turned out they had some seed beads, and what’s more — they had, once again, a staff member who actually knew about beads and beading. She was able to at least find us some that should be suitable for one of the projects on the agenda for the workshop.

On top of that, she recommended a couple of bead stores in the area — well, actually, three, including the one in Waterloo that we had just come from, which we mentioned — that might be able to help us out with the other, slightly smaller size bead. We will likely try out at least one of them to see if anything suitable can be found in time.

Now, perhaps the store management at Michaels might not be too keen about staff referring customers to a competitor (albeit a small one), but in this case, we did buy some beads from them, and based on our experiences there with staff that actually know something about the products they sell, we’ll definitely be back for other purchases. In my mind, that’s a pretty good payoff for them.

Now, of course, Your Mileage May Vary and I can’t say that every Michaels will have the same quality of staff, but it’s at least encouraging to know that big box does not always equal the death of decent service.

Oh, and about the earlier observation about service jobs being looked down upon in North America (and with some justification… can you say “D’ya want fries with that?”), it’s in contrast with what we experienced when we lived in France for several years (and had the opportunity to travel a bit throughout Europe, as well). There, service jobs, at least the ones where you don’t ask “Voulez-vous des frites avec ça ?“, are still respected and reasonably well compensated. As a result, you get people doing these jobs who enjoy it, who are knowledgeable about the field and are proud to serve you professionally.

Miss that, a lot. Ah, well — small finds like the staff at Michaels keep the flame alive…

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