Friday, March 23, 2007

The Weak Link

House, car, television and now a kite. These are things I wanted to buy, and tried to buy, but the experience was ruined by the negative power of a single person.

So much goes into the production and sales of things. Teams of product developers get the ok from teams of financiers and visionaries. They start to make or build stuff. They hand those things off to marketers that strive to identify the proper demographic targets and how they can be reached. They then craft the marketing message and decide how, when and to whom that message is delivered. The sales teams take the product and message to retailers, dealers and distributors. Manufacturing and operations people then take over and make sure the product is available at the right places and the right times to meet anticipated demand. Then some person receives the product, unpacks it, sets it on the shelf and waits for the sales.

All the work and passion that has been put into a product is resting on the last person in the chain- the last link. This person has an amazing power to make or break a deal simply by the nature of their attitude and demeanor as well as product knowledge. This is the retail clerk.

Yesterday I was dead-set on buying a new kite. The whole family trekked with me into a kite store right on the beach in Okaloosa Island in Florida. The cash in my pocket was screaming to be spent and our plan was to have a delicious breakfast at The Breakfast Club restaurant at Okaloosa’s Boardwalk, and then walk a short distance to the Kitty Hawk kite store.

It was a disappointing morning. Turns out The Breakfast Club closed after hurricane Ivan, never to open again. We got back into the car and went to IHOP instead. After eating we came back to the Boardwalk and went into the kite store. I was overwhelmed with the selection.

I had no idea what I was doing. The last time I bought a kite in a place other than a mass merchant retailer that had 2 to choose from was…never. I wandered around confused by all the different types of kites and knew I needed help. The one employee on duty was wearing a name tag that indicated she was the Assistant Manager.

Apparently the retail management training she had undergone practiced a whole new non-conformist curriculum. They must have taught retail managers how to break the mold and stand out from the crowd. She looked angry and bitter, avoided all eye contact, and was too preoccupied unpacking boxes to help me spend my money and fulfill the hopes and dreams of visionary kite creators waiting each week to see how many of their creations were sold around the country.

I wanted to see how long it would take for her to ask me if I needed help. I gave up after 20 minutes or so. I approached her with a kite I thought would work for me and asked where I could find extra string. I brought it up to the fort she had been guarding non-stop since I came in (also known as the sales counter) and set it down in front of her. I asked her what type of string was included and where I could find another 500-1000 feet of it to add to this purchase. Here is our dialogue best I can recall:

AsstMgr: “You want to buy THIS kite?”

Me: “Umm..yes?”

AsstMgr: “Do you know how to use one of these kites?”

Me: “I think so”

AsstMgr: “Well I don’t think you do, otherwise you wouldn’t be asking for more line. This is a stunt kite. It uses a set length dual-line and the manufacturer puts the right amount of line in the package.”

Me: Thinking, not said out loud- HALLELUJAH! Information from on high! I’m finally getting somewhere on my journey to buy a kite today even though right now I feel like an imbecile that doesn’t even know how to BUY a kite much less fly one.

Me: Waiting for her to say something else. Nothing coming. Still nothing coming. I give up- “ok, then could you help me find a…umm…normal kite?”

AsstMgr: “Well what exactly are you looking for?”

Me: Trying to lead her away from the fort and towards the kites, her not moving “I guess a normal kite. You know, a regular one you fly. I’m not sure how else to describe what I’m looking for. Could you help me?”

AsstMgr: Didn’t say anything, but she finally put down her clipboard and walked out from behind the counter. I was amazed to see she had movable legs.

She walked with me to where the kites were- thousands of them. She asked me which one I wanted. I almost yelled at her “that’s exactly what I need you to help me with!” I pointed out one hanging from the ceiling I thought looked cool. “That one is out of stock” she said. I pointed out another one that would probably be my next pick. “I sold the last one of those last week.”

I then asked her if I could buy the display model of one of the two kites I liked. She said no- they don’t sell the displays. She seemed very interested in getting this conversation over with and back to her clipboard. She had work to do.

I left without buying a kite. Our plans to go to the beach later that day to fly our new kite were dashed on the pounding surf of Okaloosa Island Beach. I could almost hear the silent screams of a million designers, investors, manufacturers, distributors, retail store owners and their families that need to pay for braces and college deprived of yet another few dollars of income.

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Liza on Maui said...

When I was starting a career in Human Resource Management (way back when), my boss told me one of the secrets of Human Resource Management that I thought was profound. He said that I should remember that "the strength of the building lies in the weakest part of the link"....

Since then I am always aware of who seems to be the "weak", so we can support and the building does not crumble and fall...