Wednesday, April 25, 2012

why I boycott Ace Hardware

A man walks into Ace Hardware and asks where he can find plumbers' putty. 

"Right down aisle 12," comes the helpful response.

A woman walks into Ace Hardware and asks where she can find plumbers' putty. 

"What kind of project are you working on, ma'am?  Let's make sure we find you what you really need."

Womenfolk, you see, can't be trusted to know what they actually need.  A girl may tell you she's looking for plumbers' putty when she really wants a monkey wrench.  All of these manly terms tend to get jumbled up in a girl's pretty little head, which is why Ace Hardware is there to offer assistance to all those poor misguided females who want to try doing a man's work.

The final nail in the coffin of my customer relationship with Ace Hardware came when I was repairing my toilet.  I had already hacksawed off the rusty old bolts and removed the toilet when I discovered that the toilet bolts I had previously purchased were too large to fit in the bolt holes in the floor.  Since I was in the middle of the project, I decided to make to make a quick trip to my nearby Ace Hardware store to buy new bolts, despite my reservations based on prior bad experiences there.  I soon began to regret that choice.

When I arrived at the store, I could only see toilet bolts in the size I'd previously tried.  The young male employee spotted me looking around for smaller bolts and came over to ask if I needed any help.  I showed him the old bolt I'd removed from my toilet and told him I was looking for this size of toilet bolt.  "Oh, the toilet bolts are right here," he told me, showing me the large bolts I'd already seen.

"Those are too big," I told him.  "I need this size."  I again showed him the rusty old bolt from my toilet.

"What are you working on?" he asked me.

"I'm replacing the wax seal at the base of my toilet.  I already tried that size of bolt, but it was too big for the bolt holes.  I need this size -- this is the bolt that was on my toilet before."

"No, if you need toilet bolts, you need to get the ones I just showed you.  Those are the toilet bolts."

"That may be the standard size, but those bolts don't fit.  I need this smaller size."

"Ma'am, these are toilet bolts, and they'll work for your project.  Do you want me to refer you to someone you could hire to repair your toilet for you?  It sounds like you're having trouble doing it yourself."

"All I need is some help finding the right size of bolt.  I removed this bolt from my toilet earlier, so I know it'll work."

"You must be mistaken.  A toilet bolt would never be this short.  Let me explain how this works.  You see, the toilet bolt has to go through the base of the toilet to attach the toilet to the ground, so it needs to be longer than this."

"Yes, I know.  The reason this bolt appears short is because I hacksawed it off my toilet earlier. What I need is a bolt that has this diameter.  The ones you've shown me are too big diameter-wise to fit in the bolt holes in my floor."

"No, these bolts will fit into toilet bolt holes.  Are you sure we're talking about a toilet here?  You seem to be confused."

"Look, will you please just show me where I can find this size bolt -- and by that I mean a bolt with this diameter.  If I turn out to be mistaken, I'll come back and buy the bolts you think I need."

At this point, the employee apparently realized that there is just no reasoning with irrational females, so he decided to humor me and look around, although not without some loud sighs at my evident stupidity.  Finally, he discovered a smaller diameter of toilet bolts tucked away on some obscure shelf.

"Okay, I suppose these look like the same width, although they're not as short as the one you seem to be looking for.  Is this what you think will work?"

I politely and insincerely thanked him and left for the check-out stand, but not without receiving yet another suggestion that I should hire someone who knew what he was doing to take care of this repair job for me.  I then went home and finished the project without incident, with the help of a female friend of mine.

When I told one friend this story, he commented that this employee's real problem appeared to be idiocy, not chauvinism.  I'll concede that this individual was an idiot, but I certainly don't think idiocy and chauvinism are mutually exclusive.  At Ace Hardware, you can experience both. 

Disclaimer:  Maybe my local Ace Hardware store is anomalous.  Maybe the downtown Salt Lake City store is the only one in the country where they've had the misfortune of hiring a whole passel of male chauvinists.  I don't know, but my local store has annoyed me enough that I don't care to find out. 

Disclaimer the second:  There was one time when I went to my local Ace Hardware store and the employee who helped me was extremely helpful and not at all chauvinistic or patronizing.  But the rest of the employees I've encountered there on various occasions have treated me in a very different way than they've treated the male customers who were in the store at the same time.  So, I'm not saying that every single Ace Hardware employee is a chauvinist.  Just most of them.


Ryan said...

I spotted a flaw:

"A man walks into Ace Hardware and asks where he can find plumbers' putty.

"'Right down aisle 12,' comes the helpful response."

Men don't ask for directions. :)

--Some guy who wouldn't even recognize plumber's putty in a hardware store if he saw it (not to mention toilet bolts)

Cindy said...

Good point. :)

Cindy said...

But, back in non-stereotype world, I have seen men asking for help finding things in the hardware store, and they're always given the benefit of the doubt. Men are considered competent until proven otherwise, and women are accorded a presumption of cluelessness that can't be rebutted without a great deal of evidence.

Brien said...

Great post!

I can kind of understand your frustration as a man who knows very little about the things to be found in a hardware store. The reaction I get when I ask someone to explain to me how to use something I need (like plumber's putty) is usually humiliating...which is, I think, what they intend. I should be humiliated to have to ask such a question.

Cindy said...

Thanks, Brien. That's an interesting point. I think it is a lot easier to get help with this kind of thing when you're a women, since that's part of the gender norm.