Don’t you just hate those furniture salesmen who latch onto you the moment you step through the door?
At the weekend, we decide to shop for a sofa, a wardrobe and a small table – this last for our daughter’s new house. With these three objectives in mind, we drive to the nearest out-of-town furniture stores. There is a clutch of them not far from our village.
Walking into the first store we are greeted by three, suited gentlemen, standing in a triangle, amongst the tastefully displayed suites. “Men in Black” springs immediately to mind (minus the sunglasses). The nearest chap to the door recognizes us and comes to our aid immediately. We have met him before when ordering furniture for my nephew. Coincidentally, we are also here to pay the balance on that as it happens.
Having paid, we bid the man in black goodbye and say we are going to look around the store. He gathers his card machine, his papers and his pens, shakes our hands and heads for the office, tripping as he turns, sending pens and paper and card machine flying through the air. This endears him to us a little as he fights to recover both belongings and dignity.
We are left to wander freely and find at least one sofa that would be almost perfect for our intended space. However, we want to look in the other stores too.
Bidding our salesman goodbye as we leave, he has by now managed to collect the flying belongings without too much ado, we stroll next door.
This store is altogether less inspiring. Rows of ‘same-as-each-other’ suites greet us. Worse than this, a large, florid-faced salesman approaches from the right.
Bearing down on us even before we have crossed the threshold, he beams. There are four of us, me, my husband, my daughter and a friend. Red faced, the salesman machine-guns us with his sales patter immediately.
Shell-shocked, we smile politely and hope he will leave it at that.
We move forward. So does he.
“What exactly are you looking for?” he asks.
“A sofa,” we say.
“Look around, we have plenty, this is a particularly popular model…” he begins. I smile my icy polite smile (it can normally be used to great effect I find).
“We will have a look round, thank you,” I say.
“You can have it in any colour…”
“We will browse,”
“Yes of course, are you looking for leather? We have some beautiful leather suites here…” he waves his arms expansively.
“No, not leather,” we rejoin, still trying to walk away.
“All leather down here, you need to go upstairs then,” salesman beams.
It is a hot day, sweat patches appear under his arms. He is not of slight build.
“Let’s have a look upstairs,” I suggest to the others.
I move quickly hoping the interloper will take the hint.
“Be my guest,” he says, extending his arms, turning sweaty palms up and stepping back.
Believing we have escaped the clutches of the over enthusiastic salesman, we climb the stairs.
My daughter and friend head to the left, Dave and I head to the right. We have only just managed to reach the first suite when I catch sight of the salesman walking towards us. He must have run up the stairs because he is more than a little breathless.
“Oh no,” I groan. He is fast approaching.
“Seen anything you like? Got any questions?” he begins.
“No,” I say sweetly, “We haven’t had time to look,”
He must detect something in my tone – he looks a little frustrated.
In the far corner of the store, my daughter and friend are trying out one of the sofas for comfort. The salesman spots them and you can almost hear his brain ticking over as he looks first at them and then at us.
Suddenly, his expression changes.
“Just a minute, exactly which of you is looking for a sofa?” he asks at length, gesturing wildly in the direction of my daughter and friend and evidently thinking he may have followed the wrong trail and wasted his time.
“We are,” I say, “but we haven’t seen anything we like yet, thank you.” My politeness is remarkable. I really want to say,
“How do you expect us to choose anything with you breathing down our necks like an over excited baboon?” I don’t of course.
Instead, Dave and I head for the stairs, daughter and friend follow. Downstairs, a huddle of look-a-like salesmen are waiting to pounce. We sidestep them all, hurry out the door and don’t look back.
Faith is restored by the gentleman in the third store we enter. As we walk in, he greets us warmly and asks if we need help or are happy to browse. We browse, uninterrupted.
Needless to say, we buy a sofa in this shop. It will be perfect.
For me, it’s the soft sell approach that works every time. In fact, we also manage to purchase a wardrobe in the next shop, where the salesman is pleasant, if perhaps a little too jovial at times for our now tired brains. The table continues to elude us.
I do not have fond memories of furniture shops of course. There was the time we bought a three-piece suite from a now extinct chain of stores. After less than a month, faults began to develop in the upholstery. Staples fell out or protruded alarmingly, seams split and tore. We informed the company concerned. They were less than sympathetic but reluctantly sent a man out to mend the sofa. Apparently, these were natural faults that often occur and can be easily fixed.
At this point I was happy to let them ‘fix things’.
I waited for the man to turn up at the allotted time.
The phone rang.
“ ’lo? I Shmmzzch loshssst bzzzzzzz ectionzzzzzzzz!”
This was seventeen years ago – mobile phones were not what they are today. This sounded like a walkie-talkie or an intermittent radio signal at best,
“I’m sorry, bad line…” I tried.
My best guess was that he was asking for directions.
I gave directions from the lights, very-slowly-so-he-would-be-able-to-hear.
The line went dead.
A few minutes later, the doorbell rang.
I opened the door to greet the repair man,
“Hello, sorry, I think we had a very bad line,” I began,
“Oh, nowshhhhzz, whassssh oooomexzzz ish eshh….”
I didn’t know what to say. I let him in.
Despite the speech impediment he worked quickly and added a few more staples to the back of the sofa. With a final bang of his hammer he declared,
“Ok, thas ish belt ffssss madam.”
Your guess is as good as mine.
I thanked him and he left.
Within a month, the problem returned. More staples fell out, the fabric began to pull away from the frame, new problems arose. It really was not good enough.
The company was even less sympathetic now. Eventually, it agreed to send someone out to inspect the suite. The someone was the manager of the local store. Mr Chalk.
Mr Chalk was to arrive at 4.30pm. All the children would be home from school and had been warned to be on their best behavior. Four-year-old Steven heard the doorbell ring. Curious, he knelt on the chair by the window and peered out.
“It’s a man!” he announced.
Mr Chalk walked in. Mr Chalk studied the children and threw Steven a particularly stern glance.
“I saw your son jumping all over the furniture as I came in!” he accused. I was taken aback.
Jumping? Quite apart from the fact that this should not cause any damage to a well made piece of furniture, I could assure him that my children did not jump up and down on the chairs. Steven looked quite offended.
“All parents say that but I know they do. I saw your son and quite frankly, if my children behaved like that I’d clip them round the ear and throw them out of the house!”
Visions of four-year old Steven packing his bags and waving goodbye leapt to mind. I was horrified. Was this man for real?
Mr Chalk sneered at the staples that were clearly not doing their job and at the ripped material at the seams on the back.
“No parents like to admit their children are to blame Mrs Barker,” he said finally. “This is not our responsibility.” He looked at me. Yes, he just looked at me.
I blinked, for a moment I was lost for words. Then I saw red,
“Wait there, I will phone my husband, I’d like you to speak to him,” I told him. He was walking towards the door.
“Stay there!” I insisted.
My husband was not available of course.
Mr Chalk said some very unflattering things about women, unruly children and having his time wasted.
My eldest daughter followed us into the hallway and felt duty bound to stand up for me. Only fourteen, she told him off for speaking to her mother as he had. I was quite proud of her!
“I suggest you discipline your children, they are rude little hooligans,” Mr Chalk boomed in response.
My eyes narrowed. Red turned to vermillion.
“I would like you to leave please,” I said,
Mr Chalk began to wag his finger at me and tell me how furniture did not just fall apart,
My voice rose steadily,
“I do not like you, Mr Chalk – GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!” I screamed at him finally and practically pushed him into the drive, slamming the door behind him. He had a very surprised look on his face.
I wrote to the company to complain but they did not believe a word of it. They did agree, however, to send a second man to repair the furniture.
I waited for a phone call, would it be the same person as before?
The doorbell rang.
This was a different man.
He came in and smiled, surveyed the sofa and shook his head.
“Poor finishing,” he said, “It happens sometimes,”
“Really? The man who came to check it seemed to think my son had been jumping up and down on it,” I said.
“Well, that wouldn’t have caused this, kids do jump on furniture – shouldn’t cause this,” he asserted, “No, this will be poor quality assurance, failing at the last fence – it does happen sometimes but I can fix it, don’t worry. I’ll do what they should have done in the first place. I am an upholsterer.”
I waited while he set to work. We had a young Lurcher, at the time. Jess watched the man as he flipped the sofa onto its back and pulled out a sewing kit. I was impressed. Jess was intrigued.
The flipping of the sofa was impressive because the gentleman only had one arm. Despite this disability, he managed to hold the sofa and sew up the seams by hand. How he did this was what intrigued Jess. Unstrapping the false forearm, he used the stump which formed his elbow to balance the sofa and hold the material firm, whilst the wooden limb swung free behind him.
I could see Jess eyeing it eagerly. Her tail wagged a little more and she crouched, ready to spring…the arm continued to swing to and fro, in hypnotic fashion. I grabbed Jess’s collar in the nick of time.
“Lovely dog,” the repair man said.
“Yes,” I agreed, still hanging on to her collar and only releasing it when the arm was safely strapped back on its owner.
We were never entirely happy with that suite and even less happy with Mr Chalk. In fact, it took us a further seven years to visit that particular store again. I hoped he had retired by then. We ordered some wardrobes for our new house. The wardrobes were to be built in situ by the company on the day.
The wardrobes arrived.
The suited gentleman, rolling up his shirt sleeves to begin the installation looked familiar. No, surely not, it couldn’t be could it? I nudged my husband.
It was true. The smiling, jovial chap standing in our bedroom, slotting the doors into place, was none other than Mr Chalk.
“Cup of coffee or tea?” my husband asked,
Mr Chalk gave no sign of having recognized me. Still, I had no wish to be reminded of that shouting match of yesteryear.
I stayed out of the picture and let my husband deal with Mr Chalk this time. I might have been tempted to put something nasty in his tea otherwise.
It is ironic that at this time, the company’s latest TV advert portrayed two children bouncing up and down on a settee. I would have loved to have shown that to Mr Chalk.