Brand building through storytelling

Nothing like customer service to put the fun back in shopping

It’s my firm conviction that no one should call me “Sweetie” who has never shared my bed or at least a life-changing confidence, but I make an exception for Sarah, who owns one of the few stores around where it’s still fun to shop. Sarah sells every kitchen gadget you can possibly imagine, plus hundreds of other mysterious gizmos you had no idea you needed—until she explains, with the enthusiasm of a six-year-old and the authority of Oprah, how a piece of cleverly engineered plastic saved her all kinds of time and trouble.

I thought I was looking for a corkscrew when I stopped by the other day but really I was looking for that special sort of lift that comes with being welcomed and cared for by an expert who has lived your concern of the moment. I declined an instantaneous offer of help, from a staffer who had likely been opening wine with finesse for at least 30 years, because I craved the boss’s ear. In honour of St. Patrick’s Day, she was wearing a sparkly green bow tie Iatop the kind of sweatshirt most often seen at cottages on rainy Sunday afternoons when no one’s around but the family (Sarah has a thing for festive adornments: I’m pretty sure bunny ears will be next). “Hi, Sweetie!” she said, as if she’d been waiting all day for my visit. Then we got down to the matter at hand: my corkscrew dilemma.

You know how some people have to squeeze the bottle between their feet to get a good purchase on the cork? They curse, they sweat, they sputter, but even so they leave me in the dust. The only corkscrew I’ve ever used with success is a no-yank model called the Screwpull, which is plastic and certain to break after a few years of fumbling by the likes of me. Just last month I bought a new Screwpull that broke on bottle number three. If I’d only had the sense to buy it from Sarah, I’d have known why all my Screwpulls end up in the trash. I wasn’t holding the device in place with one hand while turning the screw with the other.

Sarah knows things about me that I’ve managed to hide from my oldest friends. Not only am I klutzy, my attitude toward the cleaning of pots and pans is decidedly casual. My Lodge cast iron grill pan, sold to me by Sarah with her highest accolade, turned rusty within months. I figured I was in for the lecture my grandmother would have given. Instead, Sarah made a house call. She spirited the pan away and returned it to me, pristine, after several hours’ worth of elbow grease. We’re not intimates, by the way, nor am I a big spender. It’s just that Sarah believes in customer service.

I’ve known a few shopkeepers like Sarah. The mom and pop drycleaning duo who treated my clothes like children and would ask affectionately how my gabardine pants were doing. The long-vanished bookseller who remembered which novels I had loved and never failed to match me with another that proved equally rewarding. A fashion maven, also long gone, with the confidence and intuition to steer me into outfits that I wore until they fell apart, although I’d never have chosen them myself. Remembering these people, I feel wistful. How can I reserve my spending for stores with the human touch, when there are so few of them left?

I was kidding when I asked Sarah, “Would you service a product that you hadn’t even sold if a customer made the request?”  Wonder of wonders, she would. It’s not an idle boast. When she got a call about an ironing board that was acting up, she was on her way. Which gets me wondering…maybe Sarah has a way with dishwasher handles and hard-to-reach lightbulbs. I’m not about to push my luck. But I wouldn’t put it past her.

If you have a kitchen and live in Toronto, you’ll find Sarah at Bianco Plus. Tell her I sent you. 


Posted by Rona

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