I get a call, “I’ve just left the third shoe store and I still can’t find what I want!” the voice speaks to me. “Did they have anything close?” I asked. “Nothing!” “Didn’t you call them first?” “Well, no, it’s an obvious thing everybody should have, isn’t it?” Apparently not, but I didn’t say that out loud. She had called for sympathy, not for a lecture. But I was sure ready to give one: why don’t you ever start by using the yellow pages?
Most of us learned how to use the yellow pages when we were young and what they were when we were even younger. But I never remembered anyone teaching me how to shop with the yellow pages; I think it was something that evolved from my anti-shopping attitude. The last thing I want to do with my time is stand in a store and try to figure out where the heck I will find what I might want. So, I use the yellow pages.
For example, I wanted one of those hats on reporters in the movies. I didn’t know what they were called, but someone somewhere knew. I started with second-hand stores, and through some wrong questions and some right, learned that it was a tweed Panama hat style. Then a clerk from a used clothing store said it was “back in”, so I tried all the teeny-bopper stores. Someone finally said they had bought one at Target just the day before. Target had three left, and held them until they could be tried on and purchased. Another time, I needed a kitchen island. I tried counter-top stores, but they only had the permanent varieties. I tried all the large department stores and the thrift stores, and someone at the kitchen specialty store referred me to Home Depot. They had exactly what I wanted for the holiday season, and they were going FAST. I hopped right in the car and found they had put my name on the very last one. It was perfect, and I learned the value of having something held.
When shopping with the yellow pages, you already know what you want and what price you think you’re willing to pay for it. The only question is, where is it? Here are my suggestions for this kind of remote-shopping.
The first thing you need to do is categorize your target. Is it clothing? Is it furniture? What is it made of? Can you only get it new, or could you find it used? Will a bookstore have it as seasonal non-book merchandise? How about the hardware store? In a notebook, list all the categories of businesses you might possibly find this item, not just the obvious ones.
Next is to call, starting with the obvious categories, calling the businesses within the range you’re willing to drive. Branch out to the other categories and call, staying within your range. If a category begins to appear a complete dud, use your judgment and skip it, for now.
Ask questions. Of course, ask if they have the exact item you are looking for. “Do you carry…” “I’m looking for…” are the best ways to start the conversation. If no, ask if they have ever carried it, the reason they don’t (if that sounds like it might yield good information), and where they specifically think you might find such a thing. You’re welcome to try to get them to use their imaginations, saying where you’ve already looked and demonstrating an appreciation for their creativity. If the answer is yes, ask the price and how many they have in stock, and whether they expect more, and if it seems to be a popular item. If it isn’t already part of your criteria, ask what brands they carry and about the construction materials.
Take notes. I write right in my phone book, on the dotted line between the address and the phone number, or I use post-it notes. It may be more practical for you to use your notebook. Record the day you call, who you speak to, their demeanor and friendliness, whether they are a manager/owner or not, the hours of the store, and of course, the answers to the above questions.
Try to learn from each call. Learn what model you’re looking for, and sometimes, like with cars, several models or years are the same. Find out if you’re pronouncing the name wrong, or have the wrong impression of the qualities the item has. You’ll also learn about when to go for pick up and how difficult the experience might be.
Go for pickup. If you can have them hold it for you, bonus. If not, ask in which department you will find the item, and what the aisle number is. Park, pick up, pay. That’s my motto for shopping, and it keeps me from spending any money where I don’t need it.
I’m still looking for a conveyor belt. Something in a dirt mover and short, for residential use. I tried all the equipment rental companies, salvage and scrap yards, farm supply locations (mostly for hay bales, nothing that would move dirt), and rock and gravel businesses. Sometimes people thought I was crazy for trying their store: “Uh, we don’t carry anything like that at all.” Others were sympathetic, others even called me back with an idea of where to look. Even the guy who sold me my yellow pages ad had suggestions. Turns out, they break easily so nobody rents them. We could buy one if it was less than my yearly income. Used? Well, I did say they break easily. Have any ideas?
Image courtesy of How can I recycle this