Tuesday, October 03, 2000

Mystery clerk aims to please

        This might not be the biggest economic news of the week, but I'm hoping it's a trend.

        I went to a shopping mall to find an electric hand mixer. It doesn't matter where. A mall is a mall. Free parking. Baby strollers in the aisles. Many, many stores. Many, many shoppers. Very little service.

        First, I tried the department store at one end — an anchor store I believe they call it, perhaps because it appears to be taking on water and going down for the third time. I couldn't find a hand mixer, and I couldn't find a clerk.

        The trick is to look for women who are not carrying purses. If you get close enough — and I admit they can run like deer — try to spot a name tag. I cornered one hiding behind a register. She did not know if they stocked any hand mixers, and she was not interested in finding out. “We used to have them,” she said.

Ugly but free
               Another store carried hand mixers you could order from their bridal book. Do brides still know how to fix anything that requires a hand mixer? There is really no reason to stick a beater into a Wendy's bag and turn it on. Anyway, this was a gift for somebody who had been a bride 20 years ago, so she often serves her family food that originates in her kitchen. And I needed the gift that day.

        I ducked into yet another store where a clerk was right out in plain sight, looking as if she'd like to make a sale. I asked about the hand mixer situation, and she led me to the shelf. Then — and I swear to you it happened exactly this way — she took the mixer out of the box to make sure all the pieces were there. Without any encouragement from me. I am not even sure this was technically her area. But she seemed to think that customers were her area.

        I followed her up to the register. “Do you gift wrap?” I was making a little joke. If a store offers wrapping, it is done nowhere near the point of purchase. You need an atlas to find the gift wrap department. Which is where they usually ransom the boxes as well.

        She said she had some “kind of awful” paper. I think she meant to say it was “butt ugly,” but possibly in deference to my mother, who was with me, or simply in keeping with the kitchen motif, she called it “bundt ugly.”

               Unexpected sale

        Other customers were milling around by then, so “this might take a little while.” It's quicker, I am thinking, than finding the Scotch tape at home. “Take your time,” I said generously. Time is something she doesn't appear to waste. Doing three things at once. Closing a drawer with a hip, phone clamped. Ringing up a sale. A smile that went all the way to her eyes.

        Meanwhile, she wrapped, and my mom and I killed time by spending another $50 in this store.

        She made me promise not to tell anybody about the extra service. “I just don't want people to come in and be disappointed,” she said. Right. It's not that she wouldn't be willing to do the same thing for you, but she used up all the bundt-ugly paper. So, I will not tell you her name or the name of her store.

        But if you are a retailer, you might want to take a chance and give all your service personnel a big raise before the Christmas season begins. It may encourage them to come out of hiding. Or you might accidentally keep this one happy.

        Because if you lose her, you will want to give yourself a swift kick in the bundt.

        E-mail Laura at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call (513) 768-8393.


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