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With all the complainin' I do here, I thought it would be nice to talk about someone I've had a great experience with. I've lately been making a point of honing and developing my practical, hands-on skills - the kind that requires actual tools and a good hand cleaner. Owning a 30 year old house that I've done harely any maintenance on in the 5 years I've owned it pretty much forces my hand on that, but rather than just forcing myself to get done whatever needs doing, or paying someone to do it, I've jumped in with all (well, most) of the enthusiasm I bring to learning a lot of other things.

This means a lot of trips to Home Depot, and the like. Home Depot used to be great, but they've really let themselves go lately. I'm sure you're familiar with the "can somebody help me... help meee.... help meeeeee... echoing through the vast empty Grand Canyon of Home Depot aisles, with nobody in sight, possibly for days. I've seen those orange-vested maniacs actually turn and run at the sound of "excuse me...". I swear I once saw a tumbleweed bouncing down the aisle, and there's the story of the guy who died of thirst in the lawn-tractor section, whose body was not discovered for two weeks.

OK, I made all that up, so, Home Depot corporate toady, put the phone down, you don't need your lawyers. And Lowe's is not one bit better. Well, except for the month after the new Lowe's opened up a half mile from the Home Depot I go to - they both had absolutely fawning "associates" and every checkout lane open all day for that month. After that, not so much.

Oh, did I say I was not going to complain? So, I've started preferring Ace Hardware, and they're pretty good, but their selection is limited. Still, it's a far better experience than HD or Lowe's, and even with the limited selection, they have things that the Big Two wouldn't even think to carry. But if you don't live in Tucson, prepare to get jealous, because the real gem only has stores here.

Naughton's specializes in HVAC and plumbing. They're about a tenth the size of an HD, but their selection within their specialty is far better. Good prices too, and they'll order whatever they don't have. But the best is their customer service. It's the prefect mix of helpful and not overbearing.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided it was time to learn how to work with copper pipe - before I needed to, since I expect half the copper in this house to just explode or completely disintegrate any day now, and some of it already has. I read up on the basics, and headed to Naughtons for the first time. I wandered in and looked around for a bit, to get the lay of the land, see where the best watering holes were, that kind of thing. Then I looked up with that expectant look that says "can you help me..." No echo this time. Here, the guy was at my side like he'd been waiting for that look, but wouldn't bother me until I'd sent a clear signal. It's as good as the waitress that always keeps your coffee or drink full, but never interrupts your conversation.

Anyway, I told the guy I was a total noob, and just wanted a random selection of pipe and fittings, and all the other goodies. He was right on top of it, finding all the things I'd need (torch, cutter, solder and flux, etc.), including the ones I wouldn't have thought of or forgotten (burnishing cloth). He showed some of the more expensive varieties, but made it clear that the less expensive stuff was all I'd need to get started. And then he gave me a quick primer on soldering the pipes.

It's hard to explain just how perfect this was. Very few businesses of any kind get this customer service thing down just right. It's partly a function of knowing and caring about the things you sell, but it's also about dealing with customers as people instead of statistics, and approaching the interaction as a person rather than a talking monkey trying to execute a pre-planned and scripted one-size-fits-all piece of performance art. I'm not your audience, I'm a guy that has questions and needs and am willing to spend money to get them answered and fulfilled. The more quickly you move me towards the checkout lane, the less stuff I'll have in my cart, and the less quickly I'll be back.

My second trip to them just now, for a much more mundane purpose, was just as good. And at a different location, too, so it tells me it's the way they operate, not just a particularly good employee - an "isolated incident".

And while I'm at it, have I mentioned that Amazon just completely kicks ass? I needed a bench vice to hold the pipe while I soldered, and since it's a generally handy thing to have. This one from Stanley, was just perfect. Steel construction, removable rubber pads on the jaws with v-notches underneath for holding round objects like copper pipe, and a three-axis adjustable head angle. It's the perfect light-duty thing for what I needed, and it was under $30.00 total price on Amazon, with free two-day shipping with Amazon Prime.

I know, Billy, it's not really capitalism at work here, but occasionally the basic decency, innovation, and moral self-interest of the human race manages to make that wooden decoy function as a pretty good fascimile of an actual duck. Despite all the obstacles to it, a lot of people really do want to trade value for value, and quite a few manage to make it happen anyway.


Did you know you could have ordered that bench vise from Amazon by texting them from your cell phone?:

Posted by Matt at Saturday, April 26, 2008 07:47 PM

Naughton's sounds great:-)thanks for the heads up. I really dislike the monkey performance art. alot.

Posted by mavis beacon at Wednesday, May 07, 2008 04:31 PM

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