While all retail is painful, at least customers in music shops either wanted to buy the CD, or they didn't. Sometimes they’d need to listen to a bit in order to decide. And maybe haggle over a couple of dollars. But they’d make a decision: they genuinely wanted to buy some music.
Furniture’s different. Nobody wants to buy furniture. They certainly don’t want to buy a table.
Sure, they'll pretend they do, admiring the exquisite, intricate marble inlay that makes a golden mango wood extension table even more attractive than the rustic paneling of the Tasmanian oak equivalent. They’re both fine tables: handcrafted from solid hardwood whose respective grains display great character, they’re beautiful as well as sturdy. Built to look good and to last.
You'll show them how the mango wood’s synchronic extension mechanism works: pull one end and the other moves automatically. Much nicer than the Tassie oak, where it takes two of you, or just one running up and down the length of it.
Sometimes your customer has no self-respect, and is happy for you to have none for them either. They'll tell you they love the table so much, they’ll go home to measure the room to ensure they have the space for it.
You won’t be seeing them again. They don’t want a table. If they did, they’d have come armed with measurements.
Although measurements are no true measure of a would-be table buyer. When they want you to believe they’re serious, they already know whether or not the double extension table will fit in their house, both leaves unfolded, with room to spare. If they still need to ‘go home and think about it’, you won’t be seeing them again. They don’t really want a table.
Sometimes people have far too much time on their hands. They’ve been in with the measurements, gone home to think about it and returned to pretend they want a table some more. Beware these time-wasters. They’ll feign a preference for chairs as they discuss the cleaning convenience of wood over fabric and the frustration of sticking to the leather in summer and freezing on it in winter… but rest assured: they don’t want a table. Not even if they send their cute daughter in a tight top and too short a skirt to have a look at it the next day.
Her outfit won’t influence the final price, of course. Her parents have ‘gone home to think about it’ twice. The purchase of no table requires that much thinking time, so she’s not fooling anyone. Just smile, perve as best you can without getting caught, but don't waste more time than it takes to commit her to your spank bank. Everyone has better things to do. Maybe tomorrow they'll send their dog to yap at a table they don’t want to buy.
My favourite one’s the guy who comes at closing time, the ruse of ‘customer’ so well developed he’ll go as far as to declare the one table he could actually afford as ‘ugly’, somehow implying that it's for reasons other than the wrong colour, size and style. Don’t fall for that – he’s just the furniture equivalent of a tyre-kicker. After running up and down the length of the Tassie oak, he’ll develop an infatuation for the extension mechanism of the mango wood so disturbingly intense that he has to ‘pop home – just around the corner’. Not to ‘think about it’, mind, but to ‘get the Missus’.
“Yes,” I’ll assure him, “of course I’ll stay open.” After all, isn’t that why a shop still exists? Otherwise we’d all have to pretend to want tables online, and that’d be no fun. Whose daughter would we perve at then?
When he returns with his wife, he’s clearly extolled the virtues of the mango wood table a little too enthusiastically. She regards it with the same distrust wives have for husbands’ sudden love of unlistenable chart-topping hits – that happen to be performed by impossibly proportioned, near-naked nymphets. She’ll roll her eyes whenever he’s sprung looking at it longingly. This leaves no option but the Tassie oak – a fitting punishment, as far as she’s concerned, since he’ll be forever consigned to the Sisyphean task of running up and down the length of it whenever they entertain.
Except he won’t. Because they don’t want a table.
But don’t imagine that they’re done.
He’ll start asking about the chairs. How much for the Tassie oak with fabric chairs? With wooden chairs? With top grain leather? Honey legs? Chocolate legs? How do all the variations compare with the mango wood (wife rolls her eyes and shakes her head)? What about, he asks, his decision to stop punching above his weight momentarily taking you by surprise, the one he can actually afford? The ugly one? The one that happens to be the wrong size and colour?
“Sir,” I’ll politely point out, more to the clock on the wall than to him. “Happy as I am to determine the price of something you definitely don’t want, wouldn’t it be more helpful to determine the price of something you might actually want?”
But that’s just it: he doesn’t actually want a table.
Now’s the time. Not to close the store – that was twenty minutes ago – but to have some fun. This is where I’m compelled to offer the customer the impossible discount: a sale price so good that he’d be a fool not to take it and I’d be an idiot to show my face in the store again even if my employer was too stupid to sack me. “But,” I’ll add, as I stand with the purchase order form in one hand and the key to the door in the other, “you have to buy it now. Before you leave.”
“Um…” they’ll reply, clearly torn, their world standing still for just a moment. “Let me go home and think about it…”
Lucky me, I get to keep my job. They just don’t want a table.