Tuesday, July 26, 2011
I really need to point out that I am not endorsing class-ism of any kind in this post. But I kinda am too.
Because I realised something about Borders tonight, something that I guess i've always kind of known and just never acknowledged and something i've always kind of benefited from and never took the time out to appreciate. Our customers protect us from absolutely horrible people.
There is no "typical borders customer" by any reasonable standard. But there is a sensibility that seems to bind them all together. They seem to be curious people, not...strange...but people interested in knowing. They wonder. They travel about the store seeking information and news; be it from or about books or perhaps a bit more annoyingly at times from or about staff. They want to know. They like to chat. They are enthusiastic about the stuff we sell. Especially the manga fans. Very importantly, they are evident. Which is to say they make themselves known, to the staff, to customers. They are frequently educated or being educated or just learned. They are often Nerds, Geeks, Dweebs...whatever little word little minded people come up with to cluster all the people that intimidate them into a single group so they can stereotype more easily. Our customers are moms and dads who want their kids to read. Our customers are kids who love to read. Our customers are Women looking for books about baseball and men looking for books on fashion. Our customers are atheists and Muslims next to each other laughing at Archie Comics. Our customers are feminists, liberals, conservatives, and chauvanists. There is one thing our customers are not...they are not ordinary. Okay, obviously some of them are, but the core customer, the customer who saw the standard we planted when we said "we claim this space in the name of ...awesome" and became standard bearers themselves, that's who I'm talking about. They weren't always appreciated, but they were always needed.
Because frankly, I think they freak out trashy people. By trashy I don't mean an income level or an education level, I'm a college drop-out who grew up in a trailer in rural Maine who works for a dying retailer. I have no room or incentive to judge on those criteria. Trashy people to me are the people who aren't curious, who live a life of self imposed ignorance. Who walk around all day looking for ways to hurt others a tiny bit, just to make themselves feel an equivalent amount more superior.
Our core customer plays a huge role in keeping this human detritus out of our stores. By being themselves they make the narrow-minded flee. They are the people version of hanging a clutch of garlic on your door to keep vampires at bay. They emit a pungent smell of intellectual curiosity, individuality, and diversity that makes the disinterested Neanderthal scum bag twitch. By being a haven for the strange, the unique, the...awesome, Borders has created a culture that is counter culture, while still being ubiquitous and sometimes pedestrian.
I know this to be true, because like the wind, I cannot see it, but I can see it's affects. I can measure it's affects not because of it's presence, but because of its absence. In liquidation our core customer has been diluted and lost their strength. They are mere garlic powder sprinkled on the floor. The vampires have overcome it, and are ravaging what little life blood is left in the place every day. Not sparkly vampires either, the real ones...monsters that suck.
Here is my anecdotal evidence. In any given week i think I'd have maybe 1 interaction with a customer that just left me shaking my head. Once a month, I'd have one that made me really angry. Twice a year I'd have one that just left me speechless. Today alone I had three that left me positively agog.
And I'm callin' these mo-fos out!
Lady with your zany yellow on top black on the bottom joan jett 1983 haircut and your teen study bible. How are you gonna stand across that counter, after already brow beating a bookseller and a key holder, and try it on me? Do I look like I'm just going to take your b.s.? Because we have reading glasses right there, I recommend you try some. This lady had the stunning audacity to say we were scamming her when she bought her br+ card a month ago and asked if we were going out of business, to which one of our best br+ booksellers said no, thats just a rumour we plan on being around for a while Someone wants to buy us. The look of surprise on her face when I refused to let her decide the narrative of this interaction was priceless. I stopped her immediately from pursing that course of conversation. I told her I empathised but we were the real victims here not her. She wanted to use a coupon. Okay, I was going to let her return the card, but screw it...I let her use the coupon instead. "you expect me to believe you didn't know...." Frankly lady I don't give a damn what you believe, as long as you believe it somewhere not here. While she was still about I walked around the store complaining loudly about her using her own words. She heard me several times. She also went back up to the bookseller who sold her the card and tried starting it again. The bookseller shut her down. How do you like us now?
And how about that lady with her screaming child. Not a minor tantrum I mean screaming. Loudly, for around 15 minutes. At front of store. Hitting his mother. Proclaiming for all, and I mean all, to hear, that he hated starbucks (???) and he hated her. Kids throw fits, I know that. And sometimes you just have to let them do what they are going to do, to work through it. But not for 15 minutes. I don't understand, you're bigger than he is...it isn't raining...take him outside. Let him question your worth as a human outside- away from the hundreds of people milling about trying to save a buck . I mean this child was not a nice person. And he had a brother who at one point was running drills around the queue line ducking under tables and leaping over the barge stacks like some kind of methed up munchkin. 15 minutes she allowed this to happen. Any sane parent, even a moderately bad one, would have broken after 10 minutes of this and dragged their child away. But this woman just stood there...actually laughing at the child. See where I'm going with my trashy theory?
And then there is the barely sentient bit of toe sludge who decided to leave a comment on a sign we put up, as if signs are any kind of two way communicative street. So i'm going to be the first person to admit to breaking the seal on a bit of snark going on in the store. I wear a lanyard that says "will alphabetize for food" as far as i know I'm the first person at our store who wrote anything controversial on my name badge. Well the idea took off and the results are occasionally bitter, occasionally short tempered, and occasionally snide. So fire us! I'm also the first guy who wrote a sign that was less than, shall we say, professional. I made an "employees only, no public restrooms" sign and wrote in the corner "here there be dragons". I thought it was a cute old timey map reference, someone either really agreed or really disagreed because it's been cut off since then. I also wrote a series of comical yet the tiniest bit demanding signs along our cafe to ask folks not to leave their product on our line of tables that block off the cafe from the rest of the store. The signs can be a bit insistent but also tell a little story and at the end are quite positive and ask our customers to enjoy shopping. But I have a deft hand with snark, if i do say so myself. Sarcasm is a weapon I wield with immense precision and skill. I'm a 59th level ironic paladin. Some of my co-workers, and I love them and I absolutely respect their right for self expression, perhaps tip over the line into sounding bitter. A feeling they have earned, but one that perhaps is best tempered with a smidge more humor. All of that being said, I think the sign in the picture above maybe strikes a discordant blame-y kind of note, and I don't think that is accidental. I don't know who posted it...I don't care really I think it's a totally responsible and accurate sign, but I can see how a customer might be made to feel badly upon seeing it. It certainly tweaks the nose, as was, I assume, it's intent. It's reminiscent of the "your mother doesn't work here, please pick up after yourself" signs that every break room has that only really make you feel like a jerk if you do let your mom pick up after you, and can't shake the habit when at work.
All of that having been said, The handwritten response below the sign was uncalled for. Firstly, the entitlement of it is just gargantuan in scale. As if this person, because of some accident of birth or because they spent the gas to get there, deserved a deeper discount. Also, the economics of it show a small brain incapable of thoughts more complex than "this make me sad: customer smash". The idea that if we were discounting more aggressively we would somehow make more money and therefore continue to be a going concern is just...dumb. I mean walmart and target have trained a great many people to not bother thinking past the decimal point, but for goodness sakes that doesn't even make a modicum of sense. Not for a minute. And lastly, and I think most egregiously, even if the sign offended you, you do not have the right to suggest that we somehow deserve to lose our jobs because you are dissatisfied with your savings. You un-evolved, heartless, pathetic, trashy litte coprophage. I hope you soon know the sadness and fear that comes with knowing that despite your best efforts you are standing on the brink of financial and personal devastation and every product that every persons buys drags you further and further toward the abyss. I hope you know that. And I hope some vile piece of scrap human mocks you for your fear and hardship and I hope that crushes whatever little brain and heart you have into a sinewy mass. And then I hope someone kicks you in the junk, just for good measure.
I remember working at Barnes & Noble, one down the street from a borders that i eventually got to work in, only for a week though. Our customer base was...privileged, I guess is the word I will use (if that reads snotty to you, I'm not going to correct you, but I won't say it either...oh wait, I think I just did).One such guest remarked to me that she didn't like Borders, they had a lot of "different people" there. The pause before different clearly indicated she meant weird.
So I am going to thank our core customer right now. I think you scared off most of the truly vile. I think your insistence on being who you want to be despite what the unclean masses might insist, is the thing that sent most of these angry, resentful, cheap people fleeing to some other retailer for their books. I think you collectively held hands and decided "it's not going to be THAT kind of bookstore". I think without knowing each other, without even trying, you helped create an environment that was fun, entertaining, occasionally weird, never precious, and never sterile. Most importantly you made a silent statement to the foul asshats of the world, "this is our place, these are our booksellers, we like it this way, if you don't, go find someone else to harass!" I truly thank you, and I hope you don't feel cast aside and unloved. I hope you find a new place to weave your bizarre unintentional magic, and I hope I know where that place is. I look forward to shopping with you.