Saturday, 28 January 2012


Have you ever encountered such startling levels of stupidity as to make
you want to wring your hands in sheer frustration and despair - or even the
necks of po-faced, petty perpetrators of moronic madness on a massively-
monumental scale? (Yes, I know that "massively" is redundant in that last
sentence, but I'm waxing lyrical.) Here is such a tale.
So, I'm walking past a charity shop in the main shopping centre of
town when I see a teddy bear through the glass frontage and decide to buy
it for someone. I make enquiries inside and am told that it's not for sale -
it's a display item only. At the back of the shop are various other teddies of
diverse shapes and sizes sitting on a low shelf, which are for sale. "Can't
you sell me the teddy I want and replace it with one of the others?", I
enquire. In short, "No!"

"Why not?", I ask politely. "Because it's for display only, not for
sale!", comes the reply. The shop's most expensive teddy is only £3,
so I offer them £10 for the one I want. "It's not for sale!", I'm told again.
"Can't you use one of the other teddies for display?", I again venture.
"No!", I'm told.

I'll give you the abridged version of events, otherwise we'll be here
all week. In short, over the course of several days, I speak to assistant
managers, managers, supervisors at head office, blah, blah, blah, and ask
why it's so bloody difficult to purchase a teddy from them and swell their
coffers by a tenner - more than three times the amount they're asking for
one of Ted's even bigger-sized pals. This is what I'm told:

1) "Our staff aren't trained to rearrange the displays." (Can you
believe this cr*p? Not trained to take one teddy from a shelf at the back
of the shop and exchange it for one near the front? Gimme a break.)

2) "We want our displays to look their very best to entice people into
the shop." (Fine, but what's the point of enticing them in if you're then
going to refuse to sell them the very item that caught their attention and
which they want to buy? Isn't the raison d'etre of the charity to
raise money?)

3) "Our staff are too busy to accommodate individual customer
requests." (I pass this shop practically every day. It's in a remote corner
of the shopping centre and as quiet as the tomb. I don't think I've ever seen
more than two customers in the place since it opened last year, and the
staff sit around looking bored for most of the time.)

4) "It's our policy. If we make an exception for you, we'd have to
do it for everyone" (Well, then it wouldn't be an exception, would it? But
we'll let that loopy lapse in logic pass. I thought it was their policy to raise
money for charity, by selling items that people donate for that very purpose -
not to try and win the 'window display of the year' award and deter folks
from spending cash by refusing to take it from them in exchange for that
which they wish to purchase.)

I'm on my soapbox now, but consider the absurdity of the situation.
They're turning money away, instead of grabbing it and saying:
"Thanks very much, do call again!" Their mission should be to sell every-
thing they've got as quickly as possible, and furnish their dispalys from fresh
donations - not say "I can't sell you the item you want because it'll mess up
our display and we'll have to start again." No, we can't have them incon-
venienced, can we? That would never do. Not even when some cold,
hard cash is at stake.

Charities are run (or so I've
always thought) for the bene-
fit of the recipients of said
charities, not the organisers,
and the best way to facilitate
that is to (in the words of the
song) "keep the customer sat-
isfied", not alienate them by
implementing and enforcing
ludicrous dictats. They're
there to make money for the
less fortunate, not refuse it
on the grounds that moving
one soft toy into the position
of another is "against policy'"
or is beyond the abilities (or
inclination) of the staff.

In the end, I got Ted, who now sits proudly in the living room of the person
for whom he was purchased. I also bought the other one (which has likewise
gone to a good home), thus adding £13 to the funds for the charity's cause.
Money I had to practically force on them by kicking up a fuss and reminding
them that such places exist to help others less fortunate, not to fulfill the
ambitions of those who want to rule over their own private fiefdoms in a
self-indulgent attempt to satisfy their feelings of self-importance.

Rant over. 


Dougie said...

Who aranges the displays, then, if the staff can't?

I've worked for two charities, one where the chief executive's recently been given a redundancy payoff of £500k- money that was earmarked for a primary school. The only thing I ever saw him do was sing "New York, New York" on a desk.
I also worked in a community centre where the cafe was staffed by volunteers. It was shambolic.

Returning again to furniture, last year, our former head teacher came down from her office to swap my chair for the receptionist's because it was an expensive one and highly prized. The message being, a receptionist is more important than a teacher- I can be replaced. Scottish priorities are bizarre.

Kid said...

Madness reigns, Dougie. When I worked in a library, the chief librarian's bloody secretary was given to acting as 'though she was vested with the authority of the chief librarian himself. I call it the 'Traffic Warden' mentality - give someone a bit of responsibility and very often it goes to their heads.

Oh, as for the 'displays' (a teddy sitting on top of a bed is a display?) - I was told that someone comes in every fortnight to do it. They've apparently been 'trained' to leave stuff lined up along the side of the walls.

StuartK said...

Window dressing is an art. Didn't you ever see Norman Wisdom's TROUBLE IN STORE?

Kid said...

Sure did - must watch it again some day. However, Ted wasn't IN the window (there's no closed-off window area), I just saw him near the front of the shop THROUGH the window. (I'm beginning to sound like a Playschool presenter.)

Mike said...

You ought to have gone to the proper papers about this and done some naming and shaming. It's the sort if story a local rag would eat up, and the backpedalling would potentially actually slow the earth's rotation, meaning more daylight!
In other news I got 3 Japanese "Doujins" (their word for 'self published comics' that Otaku seem obsessed with using instead of, er, self published comics) from the window of Oxfam last week. Maybe I only got away with it because I took them myself and kept it quiet.

Anonymous said...

I wanted to purchase 2 items for my house ( a small bathroom cabinet and a very nice modern vase type thingy) from 2 separate charity shops in EK - Initially they said they weren't for sale but were for display (which I thought was fine to be honest) but immediately the manager said I coiuld have them no problem so not all are as bolshy as your experience which does seem strange - I work indirectly with the charity sector funding some of them and I could tell you some stories (but wont as there are so many genuine ones)McSScotty

Christopher M. Sobieniak said...

I suppose "The Customer Is Always Right" doesn't quite work all the time. I personally would've simply dropped it quickly and took the Teddy for the price they were asking for anyway from the back of the shop and said nothing more on the matter. Of course if they had been all out I would've kept persisting on the display model if they could sell that to me for the time being.

Christopher M. Sobieniak said...

In the US, the worst I usually see is cool display stuff put out by beer companies like director's chairs, bar stools, guitars, canoes and such, yet they're never for sale after their promotional stunt is over (the store manager usually gets first dibs on everything).

Kid said...

Mike, I really did think about going to the newspapers because I was so disgusted with the shop's attitude. After all, surely their number one priority should be to raise money - and the way to do that is to sell the stuff which people donate, right? In the end I decided to satisfy myself with a blog rant so as not to bring negative publicity to those charities with a sensible attitude.

McScotty, I'm really at a loss to understand their initial inflexibility on the matter, especially as it seems total madness to turn away money. It makes absolutely no sense and surely goes against the reason for their existence.

Chris, I hear what you're saying, but I wasn't looking to buy just any old teddy bear (I wasn't looking to buy anything in fact). It's just that the one at the front of the shop had it's own unique charm which appealed to me and made me want to purchase it for someone. I only bought the second teddy on a spur-of-the-moment impulse.

Again, I still think that charity shops primary goal should be to sell as much of their stock as they can in as short a time as possible. That's why people donate it, not so that it can sit about unsold in order to indulge someone's unfulfilled sense of design and layout.

Thanks for commenting everyone.

Anonymous said...

I saw your measured critique of charity shops and agree they are a major source of irritation and nests of ignorance. From the books perspective they are bizarre. They have a tendency to regard anything over fifty years old as rare and price it accordingly: battered cheap late Victorian editions of standard authors such as Dickens which were printed in their millions are proudly displayed in glass cases with prices to match when proper secondhand dealers put them out in a shop front stall at £1.00 each six for a fiver.