Over the past few decades, those who have worked in the retail industry have found themselves in some pretty humorous situations; from odd customer encounters, to fights, and even X-rated encounters. Here are a few funny stories from the retail sales floors in Canada.
About 1979 or 1980, a Radio Shack that also sold records, tapes, and music books was ready to lock up just before Christmas. The owner, Dave Tredee, took the money to the bank, and left his right-hand woman to lock up. The store was long and narrow, as many older stores in towns and cities are. The woman checked the store over, but didn't see the little old lady in a winter coat and old green hat behind the racks in the music section 50 feet away. Prior to locking up, she turned off all the overhead lights, except the strip that was habitually left on overnight. That strip of lighting was of course over the music section, where a regular customer, who along with her husband made and sold giftware animals to shops far and wide, was lost in perusing the Christmas music she was considering purchasing and humming the scores. The storekeeper locked the shop, which was equipped as per insurance regulations, with a double deadbolt that required a key to open both inside and out. The owner was sitting with his family, about to have dinner at around 6:30 p.m. when he received a call from a young man who said his mother was locked in the store. He figured it was a prank call and hung up. About 10 minutes later, the phone rang again, and it was the police, saying indeed, there was a lady locked in the store and they had an officer at the scene to confirm she was definitely in there. He was to go down and deal with the matter. There in the store was the woman, frantic, but grateful. She said that when she found the music she wanted, she headed up towards the cash and found the rest of the store in total darkness, realizing then that she was locked in. She went from one phone to the next on display, trying to find one with a dial tone. About 20 minutes passed before she located the business phone tucked under one of the shelves, and she phoned home for help. After another 20 minutes without help arriving, she phoned home again, only to find out that the owner had hung up on her son, who by then had called the police. In the dark, the owner asked if she had found anything she wanted. She held up a few books, and looked for another to add to her final purchase. She has been gone for years, but her story lives on.
Dave Tredree, Cobourg, ON (written by Wally Hucker)
Pregnant with DVD Player
Once, when a female shopper was leaving our store, after a group of her companions had just left, one of my employees rushed to tell me that a DVD player was missing. So, I ran and locked the front door. She told me that she was pregnant, and that she would sue us if we kept her in here. Then the DVD player fell out of a pouch between her legs, and she didn't look so pregnant any more. But she insisted we couldn't hold her here, and she would sue. Legally, she was probably right, because she hadn't actually left the store with the merchandise, so we let her go. But we had already gotten the license plate number of the van that her companions left in. We gave that to the police, and they went to the registered address, and found the gang there. We were never troubled by those people again.
Bob Rabbito, Mississauga, ON (written by Wally Hucker)
In 1978, Great Metropolitan Sound took over the present location on Eglinton Ave. E., from what had been Stereo Sound Shop. One Saturday morning a few years later, a limo pulled up in front of the store. The passenger was seated in the front beside the driver. He got out, and opened the back door, and there on the seat were two purple cushions. One cushion supported a McIntosh amplifier, the other a McIntosh preamp. "There are two problems that are very worrisome," said the owner of the gear, a customer of the defunct Stereo Sound Shop who had never been to Great Met before. "The sun came up this morning,: divulged the man with great consternation, "and the reflection on the face plate looked so different that it worried me." Staff cleaned the faceplates: it appears the customer, an inveterate smoker, had allowed a bronze haze of nicotine particulate to accumulate on the surface of his hardware. "The second problem," elaborated the man after what was apparently the more important issue had been dealt with, "is that there is no sound." A quick glance by staff noted that the tape monitor button had been pushed in. Pushed once more to pop out, the tape monitor circuit was bypassed and the second problem was solved. This man did not own a tape deck, nor did he buy one that day, or any other day, at Great Met. The retailer loaded his McIntosh amp and preamp on the purple cushions in the back seat of the limo, and never saw him again.
Fred Breitner, Toronto, ON (written by Wally Hucker)
Brack's Black Belt
In the ‘80s while managing Richard Brack Stereo on Bloor St. in Toronto, a man walked in who claimed he was a supplier and demanded monies from the owner for goods delivered. He began making verbal threats that quickly escalated to a physical confrontation with the owner. I literally grabbed him from behind, picked him up, and carried the kicking, screaming guy out of the store and threw him on the sidewalk. Five minutes later, the police show up because someone had reported a stabbing. The SWAT team was outside in the street with traffic blocked off. After a police report was made, we never heard from the guy again. Funny thing was, though, I had this salesman working for me that was a black belt, and he just stood back and watched.
Roger Wyatt, Welland, ON
It was a busy July day, and my staff and I were waiting on different customers in the car audio room. There was this guy who would come in to the room, and kind of whisper something to a customer, and then the guy would leave with the customer hot on his tail. This happened about three times in a row, and finally I followed them out, only to see this guy's car parked outside, with the open trunk full of no-name car audio. He had actually been coming into our store and soliciting our customers to go out and buy from him. Pretty bold. He's buried in a shallow grave out behind the store. Just kidding. I told him to hit the road, and he did. We never saw him again.
Barry Hirtle, Charlottetown, PEI (written by Wally Hucker)
Dogs Like Music, Too!
A really good client wanted us to design a multi-room system for his 10,000-square-foot home. Great. It was when we got to the part about the audio system for the outdoor doghouse (for their Poodle) that we started to really have fun. Hey, dogs like music, too! So we installed a Bang & Olufsen 3500 speaker linked to the main house's system, which worked on a timer to turn it on in the morning and off at night. They didn't, however, go for the recommended B&O television because, you know, that would just be ridiculous!
Charles Robertson, Eastern Canada
It was my first summer and we, like most dealers then, sold car audio. We had Jensen, Sparkomatic, and Kenwood as our main lines, but had just recently signed up to carry Alpine. In fact, we had just sat through a product seminar and I was totally psyched on the brand. So when a guy my age walks in looking for a deck and two speakers, what do I do? I tell him: "Look, don't buy anything today. We just got this hot new line coming in, and you'll want to wait until we have it in stock. It should be here in two weeks." I show him which models he should buy from the catalogue. He agrees that's what he wants, and I give him my card and tell him to come in and see me in two weeks. Needless to say, he didn't come back. But what I didn't know was that my sales manager overheard the pitch. When I was going through the commissions statement the following month, I read a comment at the bottom: "Less $25 for being stupid." Lesson learned: "Always sell what you have in stock". Never forgot that.
Brett Johnson, Kingston, ON
For You? $100
It was in 1974, on my first day on the job as a rookie retail clerk. As soon as I arrived, the four partners in the business announced that they were all going out for breakfast together. They told me to "hold down the fort", then walked away snickering. I had no formal training: recipe for disaster! Sure enough, 10 minutes after they left, a customer walked in looking for headphones. No problem. We had Sennheiser, Koss, and a brand called COSRAD, which had a visual presentation that screamed "I am expensive". The man asked me which models I preferred and without hesitation, I quickly responded COSRAD. He tried them on and liked what he heard. Unfortunately for me, the products in the store did not have MSRPs. I didn't know the price and there were no mobile phones in those days (unless you were James Bond) so I had to think on my feet. I asked myself "How much would you pay?" and $100 came to mind immediately. I quoted $100, and he purchased a pair. I did not know where the inventory was kept, so I told him I did not believe we had stock, but he was more than welcome to purchase the show case unit. No problem. Do you have the box? Probably, but I did not know where it was. Do you have a bag? Unfortunately, I could only find bags that were too small for his purchase. Nevertheless, the customer left with his purchase in hand, happy as a clam. When the four caballeros returned from "breakie", they noticed that I had sold the COSRAD headphones from the show case but were puzzled at the price I sold them for. It appears that in this case, the appearance was deceiving. The MSRP on those headphones was $14.95 with a D/C of $7. Not bad margin!
Sam Schwartz, Markham, ON
In 1995 when I was working at Steve's in Kitchener, I had a customer who was a little "tipsy": let's just say he wasn't going to make anybody's Best Dressed list. He wanted to be shown the "best receiver" we had. I showed him a Denon AVR 2500. He said "OK, now show me the best speakers you have." I showed him PSB Stratus gold. Then, he asked to see the best subwoofer...you get the picture. All the other sales people were laughing at this dog and pony show. The bill came to about $14K and, when he tried to pay by debit, his card was rejected. The guys continued laughing. The customer said he had lots of money in his bank, so I offered to drive him there. He was blown away that I was willing to do this, but we went and got a certified cheque. He did have lots of money. Then we headed back to the store where the delivery guys set up the gear in the motel where he was staying. The other sales guys were no longer laughing. True story.
Matt Daub, Dorchester, ON
Room With a View
When I first ventured into retail sales, I found it very tough to be the "new guy" on the floor. The experienced sales people already had an established clientele, and seemed to know everyone that walked through the door, so they were making all the sales. After yet another day of being shut out of any commissions, I found some solace in conveying the story to my sympathetic neighbor. Out of kindness and potentially a generous amount of heartfelt pity, he mentioned that he was in the market for a projector, and would be honoured if his purchase was my first sale. And it was. Although I was able to select a suitable model and convey the benefits of the chosen projector, he just couldn't see the value in a screen. I did the best sales pitch I could, told him that certain specific materials like those of a screen would give him better contrast, colour, and overall viewing satisfaction, but it fell on deaf ears. Or so I thought, at the time. He told me that he had always simply shone his movies on a white wall and despite any pitch I tried, he was sure he would be satisfied with his tried and true method. Satisfied enough with having broken my shut-out string and finally making a sale, I relented on the screen, and he happily took his projector home. A few weeks later, on a hot and humid Montreal summer night (the kind of evening that typically found everyone on my friendly street out on their porches to enjoy a cold drink and the company of neighbors), I was driving home, down my street after work. As I drove, I made sure to pay particular attention to my neighbor's window so I could see that familiar projector glow emanating from a dark room, reassuring myself that he was enjoying his purchase. I, and the entire neighborhood, saw not only that, but a whole lot more than he ever intended anyone to see. He didn't share this with me at the time of the sale, but the primary reason he bought a projector was to watch pornography in the privacy of his own house. But his privacy was somewhat compromised. Taking my input that certain materials would do a better job than a white wall at accurately portraying the images, he decided to shine his XXX flick on his window blinds, which showed a wonderfully clear view of his film to all those in the street that cared to watch. Armed with this story, I never again sold a projector without a screen.
Jason Zidle, Erikson Consumer, Montreal QC
A Camera & a Box of Kotex, Please
Back in the late ‘60s, I was working behind the camera counter for London Drugs, back when it was just a two-store chain. It was Friday evening at about 8:30 when a gentleman came into the store, walked up to me somewhat nervously, and asked if I could direct him to the aisle where Kotex were stocked. My witty reply was: "Sounds like a dull weekend. Why not take up photography?" He laughed, and asked what camera I had in mind. He bought a Pentax Spotmatic, as well as a box of Kotex.
Half the Service
A customer arrived to pick up his Boston Acoustic speaker that he had earlier dropped off for repair. He gave me his service tag, and off I went to the back room to get it. As I was searching, I came across an identical sample speaker that was sent to us from BA, but it was cut in half to show off the insides, and help us increase sales. It then clicked (chuckle)...I went back to the client with the half speaker, proclaiming that the service centre was still working on repairing the other half. Needless to say, he freaked out, yelling: "How could we chop his speaker in half!?" Finally, I couldn't hold my laughter any more, and let him in on the joke. He, along with the rest of the staff, were on the floor.
Stephane Kessous, Montreal, QC
In the ‘80s, I worked for a retailer on Yonge St. in Toronto, and the owner's 18-year-old son would work at the store on Saturdays. One summer Saturday just before lunch, two men (probably in their forties) entered the store. One had a double cassette deck that required servicing. The manager told him he would have to take it to the service centre himself, and the man voiced his disappointment towards this procedure, stating: "Had I known this, I would not have bought this tape deck from here." He demanded to know why he wasn't told this when he bought the product. The owner's son took his comments personally and, in being the young man full of testosterone that he was, picked up the tape deck and said: "I'll have a look at it for you". He looked at it from all different directions, and added "but I don't think I can fix it". This antic set the customer off. He slammed his keys on the counter and said he would eat the punk for lunch, than spit on the floor. The district manager and manager forcefully pulled the owner's son from behind the counter and sent him outside, all the while both were yelling about who could kill whom. After the assault of words, we gave the customer the address and phone number of the service centre. He had calmed down at this point, and said: "You are all gentlemen, except for that young punk". No sooner had they stepped out the door of the store, and the owner's son was waiting for them outside! A fight undoubtedly broke out. At first, it was the owner's son and the customer throwing punches; but then the customer's friend jumped in, at which point the rest of us got in to break it up. We were eventually able to separate the two and settle things down. While we were diffusing the situation, the owner's son decided that a little pay back was required for spitting on the floor of his father's store. He had calmed down (or so we thought), so no one was restraining him. He walked over to the customer and spit in his face. All hell broke loose again. We separated them once more and sent the customer on his way. The last thing I remember about that day was seeing the faces of hundreds of horrified tourists that had stopped on both sides of Yonge St. to watch what some must have thought happens when you try to return something to a stereo store in downtown Toronto! Customer service has definitely come a long way since '87.
Lindsay Takashima, Toronto, ON
You Call That Eight Inches?
A man came into the store wanting to buy as big a TV as possible, but he had to get his wife's approval first. He returned a few days later with his wife in tow to look at the TVs and discuss what size would best fit their room and budget. Finally, his wife turned to him and exclaimed: "Honey, you can have as big a TV as you want." She then formed her thumb and index finger into the shape of a "U" and added: "You keep telling me this is eight inches!" They ended up with an average-sized TV.
Jim Foster, Sarnia, ON
The Literal Disposable Camera
A lady came to our store once and asked for her pictures. We asked her name, but couldn't find anything in our files. She told us she that she had bought a disposable camera with the processing included, and now she wanted the pictures. We asked her what she had done with the camera, and she told us she threw it away. When we told her we couldn't print any photos, she was angry. She even sent us a complaint letter because we sold disposable camera with processing included, but hadn't told her she had to bring back the camera.
Stéphane Lozeau Simard, Quebec (written by Wally Hucker)
Take Your Phone for a Swim
A customer casually throws his phone across the counter, grumbling: "Your piece of *&$# phone stopped working!" I'm thinking to myself, first of all that's YOUR phone not mine; and second, it isn't my fault it isn't working. Oh well, calm down, be nice. "Let me take a look into that for you," I respond politely as I deftly take the battery off the unresponsive handset for a peek inside. The water damage indicators are bright pink: unmistakable signs of a recent swim. In a defensive tone he quickly adds: "My phone's never been anywhere near water." Then I start running through the scenarios with him. "Did you recently use it in the rain? Drop it in a puddle? Perhaps condensation formed from it being left in the car?" After a moment of silence, he responds sheepishly: "Well, now that I think about it, it dropped in the sink when I was in the washroom last night at the pub....but I fished it out real quick!" You know and I know that phones fall in the toilet far more often than they fall in the sink. Smiling empathetically, but quietly disgusted, I slap on some hand sanitizer and start showing him our latest new phones.
Ginger Blythin, Niagara Falls, ON
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