Across The Counter
By Martha Williams, El Paso, Texas
Reprinted from September 1989
I was running the front counter the other day when a swarthy, young sailor ambled in. I was happy to see a prospective customer although somewhat taken by a sailor in uniform in our land-locked city.
“Pardon ma’am”, he faltered nervously, “can you show me ‘da head’?” I was deeply touched, envisioning this home-sick protector of our nation wanting to purchase a gift for his wife or mother, a lovely silhouette charm depicting a child’s head…those which have been popular for Mother’s day for so long.
“Certainly sir,” I replied. “What color are you interested in?” He twisted his cap nervously and paled a bit and turned his head away in a shy manner. “What ‘cha mean, what color?”
I went on to explain my merchandise. “We have heads in sterling, 14K yellow gold and gold filled.” The sailor looked bewildered. “You sure do have fancy heads in jewelry stores.” “Yes,” I smiled, pleased over his appreciation of our fine quality merchandise and proud of our selection. “But it isn’t fancy when you get right down to it. You can get one with your name on it for as low as $10.95 in sterling.”
The sailor started to perspire. He wiped his face on his sleeve and said “Jeez, ten dollars and ninety five cents? I ain’t never paid more than a quarter in my entire life.” The discussion might have gone on or the sailor might have fled had RB not shown up right then. “What’s the problem here?” He asked politely.
I explained thusly; “This gentleman is interested in a head. He thinks ten dollars and ninety five cents is too much to pay.” RB, a WWII sailor himself, smiled broadly and said, “do you want to use the restroom buddy?”
The reply was immediate “Aye, mate, on the double.”
After the serviceman departed without buying a silhouette charm RB and I got in to it. “Why did you give him the run around Martha, either say yes he can use the bathroom or no and get on with it.”
“Well, how should I know,” I protested, “that the word ‘head’ means bathroom? We live in the middle of a desert and I’ve never been on a boat in my life.”
“Ship Martha, not boat.”
“I’ve never been on a ship either.”
We’ve been in business enough years I’ve heard our restricted area called by many names, some less delicate than others, and while I have read many trade journals I have never seen one word written on how to handle a request about customer use of such places. Since nothing has ever been officially written, I can only surmise other jeweler’s restricted areas look pretty much like ours where it is used to scrub out cases and clean up rings, empty the ultrasonic cleaners, fill the coffee pot. Around here it also doubles as a storeroom and a place to store figurines, invoices, boxes, as well as serving as a library for trade journals. For obvious reasons this place is not one that should be readily available to the public. One would be trapped in the back and have to escort the customer around after hanging around waiting for him to come out. In this modern day and age it is considered good business practice to project a friendly neighborhood image. It seemed we were so successful in doing this we had at least 12 people a month asking to visit our restricted area. The mall jeweler does not suffer from these problems. He sends such requests down the mall to the central comfort station and no one get his or her feelings hurt. It isn’t that easy being a suburban jeweler. Although jewelers can’t allow indiscriminate prowling by customers beyond the front counter, just try telling Mrs. Jones and her squirming little darling, “no, you can’t use our bathroom.”
This delicate area of public relations has posed an awkward problem over the years and we certainly sympathize with those jewelry storeowners anxious to serve customers’ urgent requests, while at the same time realizing the security problems involved.
We have thought about telling people “sorry we don’t have one on the premise.” RB thought it might be a good idea if we had it removed and added another watchmaking bench and increase our volume another 30%. Another thought was to say we were painting and the door was off the hinges, but we figured many customers would say it was okay and use it anyway. We thought about saying it was the fault of our insurance company who wouldn’t allow it for security reasons – blame the insurance company.
We finally reached a compromise. If we know the customer, we allow them back there, especially those with young children who ask to the use the potty and the little old ladies who ask to use the water closet. Other than this, we tell the inquirer that we are sorry but the jeweler is boiling out jewelry in there, using terribly toxic chemicals and will be having the bathroom tied up for an hour or so, but they can go just a few feet to a fast food restaurant which does have a restroom which is open at all times. It was a hard decision. We want our customers to feel at home and certainly do not want them to feel underprivileged.