The British Experience (No 1) – The DIY Store

Saturday, 29. August 2009

Many years ago I remember the birth of large, out-of-town DIY stores, meaning that instead of paying what seemed like a lot to an ordinary shop where the owner had dedicated his life to becoming a helpful expert who would sell you a couple of screws and a tap washer if that’s all you needed… you could now waltz round with a shopping trolley grabbing massive buckets of magnolia matt coloured water that needed at least three coats to cover anything. An era was born. Anybody with half a brain ascended the “property ladder” because not to do so would leave you stranded for ever in poverty. Whether we liked it or not we all had to try our hand at being handy…

This evening I witnessed what must be the death throws of that business model, at a depressing warehouse where flabby women waddle and spotty youth “manages” to be as completely unhelpful as possible, knowing zero about their own stock and not even trained to say “good evening” in response to polite customers who recognise them as human beings, which is a waste of time because they are not. From the financial pages I know that this chain of sheds is on the rocks and about to go bust, but have they learned anything about customer care in thirty years, have they used their huge sourcing muscle to bring quality goods to the public at reasonable prices? Have they fuck. The retail space consists of acres of crap bath and bed room layouts, all of them nasty but few of them cheap, followed by acres of own brand shite, all of it nasty but none of it cheap, followed by acres of garden furniture, most of it nasty and some of it cheap as well as nasty. The stuff you actually want, like a halogen bulb, a decent paint brush with proper bristles, some carpet tacks, whatever… it’s all carefully hidden away so you have to ask a confused assistant who waddles around for a while before saying she’ll ask the manager, who is busy with a queue of irate consumers returning trash and arguing about special offers that didn’t scan as such when they got to the checkout.
Finally you have your stuff and in a murderous mood you join a long line for the single open till that has broken down while fat waddlers and spotty managers whine at each other and look at their watches. They’re people, you tell yourself. Say good evening and engage in sympathetic banter about what a long day it’s been. Waste of time. The best you get is a grunt, blank incomprehension when you mention the lovely evening sunlight and the interesting breeze that is blowing the bags away, no thanks for keeping them in a job so they can buy some more junk food to exacerbate the spots and improve the waddle, not even a goodbye.
Personally, I’m sad that the excellent hardware store where I could have done this in five minutes for about the same price and had a jolly amusing chat with a friendly person about how well Arsenal are doing this season – has long since closed to be replaced by yet another fucking money-grabbing optician charging a 600% mark-up. But we asked for this when we were seduced by having the spending power of proudly rising house values and were able to improve our own homes meaning that decent workmen had nowhere to go and the world filled up with last minute cowboys who rip you off and the only way to get a plumber these days is to be insured.

Ugly, greedy, slimy-suited capitalism 5, ordinary people and consumers, 0. Quality of life index, minus 30%.

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