“If we had any, they’d be on aisle three.”

“The Golden Rule for Hardware Dealers: Never let an item in your stock approach the danger level.”

Ah, those were the days. Nowadays you walk into Wal-Mart, or Target, or K-Mart, or Home Depot – and it seems that empty hooks and blank spaces on shelves are the rule rather than the exception.

Challenge No. 1 is to find someone to help you. I’ve walked the length and breadth of these stores and there have been days when not a single associate was to be found. Either they have a 6th sense that lets them know when a customer is in the vicinity so they can hide, or the companies have cut their staff to bare bones – probably a combination of both.

Now that you’ve actually cut one out of the herd, you ask for what you need.

“I’m looking for a stud sensor.”

“What’s that?”

“You know, a device to help you find the studs in your wall so you know where to put nails.”

“If we had any, they’d be on Aisle 3.”

“Yeah, I was on aisle 3 and I couldn’t find what I need.”

“*sigh* – come with me.”


“Well, that’s the kind with a magnet for locating nails. I want the kind that uses proximity sensing.”

“They don’t make those.”

*I show him my old one, which has gone to its reward* “Like this. I need a new one.”


“Who does your ordering?”


“We’re in Salt Lake. How could Chicago possibly know what people in Salt Lake need?”



Now, compare that with the experience you might have had in a hardware store in the 50’s.

“I’m looking for a left-handed spud wrench.”

“Come with me. We have three kinds. This one has teeth, this one is smooth, and this one is our nicest model – it’s made of solid brass and plays the Star Spangled Banner.”

“Nice. Actually, I was hoping for one that played Liebestraum.”

“I can have one here for you tomorrow. Anything else I can help you with?”


The world has changed, and sadly not for the better. Economies of scale, big box stores that pack it deep (all from China, of course) and sell it cheap, means that the customer’s experience is the last thing that counts for anything. Moving product and reducing costs is king. Even if you’re able to get hold of a store manager and ask some probing questions – like “why are you out of all five kinds of lock washers? Doesn’t anyone pay attention to inventory levels?” you will probably get a look that will make you wonder if you put your toupee on backwards this morning. They don’t know, and they don’t care.

Of course, I’m dreaming of a world that’s gone forever. My kids probably think that the way things are today is the way they’ve always been, since they don’t have an experience of anything else. But the disconnect between what I remember (stores that actually went out of their way to get customers in and keep them happy, and took pride in their business) – and what one finds as the standard operating procedure today (“If we don’t have it, that’s tough – buy something else or get out”) is so great that it makes daily errands a real challenge.

Naturally, there are exceptions. I’ve been in some lovely boutique stores and smaller mom-n-pop outfits that still care, but Curiosity is likely to find water on Barsoom faster than you can locate one. If you do find one, spread the word – they would appreciate the recommendations.

The Old Wolf has spoken.



2 responses to ““If we had any, they’d be on aisle three.”

    • Yes, actually. I don’t care how big a chain is, I expect a certain minimum standard. That doesn’t mean I’m going to act like a jerk if I don’t get it; heaven knows, I may be working there myself someday. But their customers deserve good service.

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