We like to think we live in a world that it full of marvelous diversity… I have to say that in one minor respect I beg to differ. In the fountain pen world there are only two types of people, the enablers and the enabled. It is true that some divergent individuals among us embody these two traits simultaneously but I speak in general terms and if I’m honest don’t care to be contradicted, this is, after all, my blog…
Anyway, last week I spent a day as a professional enabler. I was called upon to see to the task of running my local pen and fine stationery shop and I thought I would record and share some of my experiences with you. First let me set the scene…
It was a bright crisp day in North West England, and after a horrendously interrupted car journey of some seventy (70) miles I arrived hassled and harried at “Iridium” in Kendal ready to do my bit for the fountain pen and stationery community in general and my good friend Malcolm, who owns the shop, in particular..
Now the shop is nicely situated in a narrow lane in Kendal just off the marketplace and I encourage you to visit if you’re ever in the area. As I arrive I see, to my horror, prospective customers are already at the door, cue some mumbled apologies citing roadworks and the usual fumbling with keys and locks. I was surprised how eager these customers were. As I opened the door and before I had a chance to breathe (or indeed put the lights on) they were in like ferrets up a drainpipe! Keen, I thought… but maybe that’s a good thing… So the day was off and running.
What were my thoughts on what happened next? Well here goes…
Helping people can be a joy: One of the highlights of the day was helping people on their first steps into a new hobby or pastime. Whether its helping with a purchase or just offering advice there’s nothing quite like it. Most people know very little of what a good pen is. It was great to be able to point people in the right direction. It was very good to see young people looking at fountain pens as a real option for them.
Selling can be fun. I really enjoyed getting people to buy stuff. Whether it was something they intended to buy or not it felt good to get the cash register turning. Ink, paper, pens gifts and knick-knacks were all sold with glee. The happy churning out of printed receipts along with the “Would you like that in a bag” turned into a happy mantra of sorts.
You can’t keep everybody happy: On at least two occasions I met with people who shall we say left disappointed. Whether the cause was my amateurish incompetence or not I don’t know but some requests I could not meet. How these people reacted to disappointment varied greatly. I guess no shop can cater for everybody’s taste in everything.
There’s always more to learn. I like to think that I know a thing or two about pens and stationery. But there were a few questions that I was unprepared for and I don’t like to bluff. For the most part its nice to be asked to advise people and help where you can.
The Golden rule applies in shops people! Let me say here that I consider myself a fairly open-hearted person, nor perfect by any means but approachable and friendly. I’m also a professional. I have degrees, as well as postgraduate and professional qualifications. I have, in my professional life, been involved in many disturbing and stressful situations. Yet I was still a little surprised by the tone with which certain prospective customers presented themselves. Most, I should say the vast majority, were kind and courteous, but one or two let the side down and left me with the distinct impression that they thought themselves to be the most important people on earth and looked down on people involved in ‘serving them’. Don’t be like that people, impatience and rudeness are never attractive. Remember the golden rule ‘do unto others as you would like them to do to you…’
Manning an independent shop can be a lonely business. I found that it’s sometimes very quiet. I imagine there may be hours and days, particularly in independent pen retail when things are slow, very slow in fact. So spare a thought for you local or favourite seller and drop him or her a line now and again to cheer them up.
How hard it must be to keep body and soul together: I fancy myself as something of a purist. If I want a book I’ll go to a bookshop etc etc. I’m not keen on shops that have to sell other things to survive. But the forced necessity of it was placarded in front of me in Kendal. As I said earlier it was fun to sell things for a day. I might be a tad less enamoured if it was the only thing I did to put food on the table…
Conclusion: I enjoyed the day very much. Spare a thought for your local independent sellers at this time of year. It can be a make or break season, so if you have the opportunity show them a little Christmas love and care. Pop in say hi, buy a £2 notepad, buy a £10 gift, buy a £20 pen, buy a £295 leather desk tidy if you like…. buy something.
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