Some People Are Not the Right Customer

There’s an old Chinese curse that says, “May you live in interesting times.“

There is no doubt we are living in “interesting” times. The digitization of information has thrown many industries for a loop. X-rays are now read half a world away. Newspapers struggle to develop a new business model. And the neighborhood bookstore is getting hit from all sides.

The big box stores are buying in bulk and selling for less, you can buy online and have the book shipped to your doorstep and the new digital book lets people buy online and the “book” is delivered through the ether.

Independent booksellers have banded together to buy in bulk and they have even signed on to offer digital books. They, like every small local business, are offering services to their clientele.

One example is the book club. Independent booksellers frequently provide a place for customers and prospects alike to gather, discuss and share their passion.

It’s basic manners to buy the book from the bookseller host. After all, selling books is how they make their living.

That said, I walked into The Fountain Bookstore in Shockoe Slip, Richmond, VA today to discover the owner, Kelly Justice, looking shell shocked. Kelly had for the first time in her career in retail just told a “customer” off. And she was still stunned at herself and at the idiot that had provoked her outburst.

Disclaimer: Kelly has been my book connection for over 20 years. I would claim her and her employees as my dependents if the IRS would let me. She and her staff are family and her shop is a home away from home. Kelly is charming and gracious as is the rest of her staff.

About an hour before I arrived Kelly hosted a book club. One of the attendees arrived sat down, reached in her purse and set her Kindle on the table. Kelly said she barely heard a word that was said during the book club she was so transfixed by the Kindle sitting right there out in the open. Her assistant, Tess, was furious.

Afterwards, Kelly explained to the woman that Kindles can only purchase from Amazon. At which point the woman stated she would never buy a book from The Fountain, because she lived in a small apartment and was on a fixed income and had no room and that the Kindle had been a gift. The woman refused to acknowledge her rudeness. Kelly said she finally lost it and told the woman to get out of her shop.

The woman seemed to think that she was entirely within her rights to use Kelly’s services with no intention of doing business. The expression that comes to mind is “idiot”.

I subscribe to the concept that the customer is always right. It’s just that not all customers are right for me. In this case the woman had no intention of being a customer she simply felt entitled to freeload.

Bringing a Barnes & Noble Nook or a Sony Reader to an independent bookstore is fine, because you can buy e-books for them from the shopkeeper. Bringing a Kindle is a slap in the face.

I commend Kelly for being as patient and polite as she was.

The next time some boor pulls a stunt like that I hope Kelly lets Tess give them a piece of her mind.