Paste it in the head!


Saturday, August 12, 2006

When I first came here one weekend last August, I was looking for an apartment and a job. Having found both--or having at least made steps toward finding both--I took myself on a little tour of Toronto's yarn shops. I feel that a city's yarn stores say a lot about it: Portland is teeming with places to fondle yarn and fiber, mostly of the natural variety (you're not gonna find much glittery shiny acrylic there!); one could say that they were down-to-earth, no-nonsense and natural, kind of like Portlanders and the city itself. Miami's one LYS is the polar opposite--it is all glittery, shiny acrylic yarns, a decent selection of cotton and, tucked in the way back, a smattering of Noro and Lamb's Pride. Kind of like Miami--lots of style and very little substance.

After almost a year here, it's time to consider the question, what do Toronto's yarn stores say? I've never been disappointed by a lack of selection at the LYSs. It's just that I'm not sure what that selection means. For a city that is so bitterly cold in the winter (so I've heard, at least; last year was pretty mild), there seems to be an awful lot of cotton. There's an abundance of gorgeous hand-painted yarn (Fleece Artist and Hand Maiden, I'm looking at you) but, when turned into the inevitable shawl or scarf, it would only get hidden under my peacoat/winter jacket and that is a shame (though perhaps others are more adventurous in their fall and winter wardrobes than I am, and so allow their scarves some freedom; I'm usually too concerned about them getting blown away by the wind to allow that). What's up with the contradictions?


One complaint I do have about one particular LYS is the attitude of the employees. Much like at bookstores and record stores, yarn store staff must be knowledgeable about their craft and the store's wares and, at the same time, have a tolerance for low pay and customer service. I worked at a bookstore; I know what a pain in the ass it is to be expected to have read every single volume in the place, work shitty hours for no money, and deal with annoying customers. I know that. However. I would like to take this opportunity to state that, just because my job was frustrating and, at times, I wanted to kill customers/my coworkers/my boss, does not mean that I was patronizing or condescending to people because of it. If someone's idea of a great read is the Shopaholic series, I'll recommend Bridget Jones's Diary. If a customer loved Painting the Map Red: The Fight to Create a Permanent Republican Majority, why, they'd just inhale Ann Coulter's latest. My point is, even though I sometimes thought our customers' reading choices were abominable does not mean that I felt the right or the need to treat them with disrespect.


Today, Lorien, her mom, and I went to an LYS that we'll call Corriedale. This store is known for its comprehensive selection, which really is pretty hard to beat. However, most of the times that I've gone there, and from what I understand, most of the times that Lorien's gone there, the service has been seriously below par. They have it totally made, though, cause they aren't rude enough for someone to actually call them on it. It's more of a tone of voice than nasty words. The store owner and a man who I suppose is the store manager both have shitty attitudes. No question has ever been answered with anything even approaching respect, that I've ever heard. Cheerfulness? Forget it. Service with a smile? Not likely.

Um, to get to the point. Lorien's mom saw a pattern online that she loved but wasn't able to purchase the pattern separately from the yarn, and the whole thing was in British pounds and was from a Rowan designer, so it was pretty expensive. At first, we were just looking for a similar pattern. One of the store's employees assisted us, and she was actually quite helpful. She recommended a couple of magazines, then went through the loose patterns, trying to find something suitable. Even though we didn't find anything, it was great that she actually tried.

Meanwhile, as she was in the middle of answering Lorien's question the guy who I think is the manager actually yelled across the store to her, "Hey _______, when are you gonna take your break?" Ok. First rule of customer service: when one of your clerks is busy assisting someone, DO NOT interrupt them. And with an inane question. And by yelling. Just don't do it.

Then, as we were standing near the checkstand a bit later, an older woman came in with a ball of black yarn that someone had purchased for her from the sale room. The yarn had been missing a ball band and so the customer was unable to identify it, but she needed more to complete her project. The employee (not the same one who helped us) asked if she'd already looked in the sale room for more, and when the woman said she hadn't, the employee directed her downstairs to another Corriedale employee. At first, I thought it was because the first employee was busy and wrongly assumed that she was going to help us next, but as soon as the customer walked away, she turned to run off to the back of the store. This isn't that bad of an infraction, I suppose, but I can't help thinking that, instead of sending the customer off on her own, she could've just taken the two minutes to walk her downstairs, find the other employee or, if that person was busy, she could've helped the woman find the yarn herself. At Books & Books, we were expected to actually physically SHOW our customers the section or the exact book they were looking for, and I can't say it ever hurt me to do so. Even if I had to pass the person off to one of my coworkers, I would walk the customer over to them. People seemed to really appreciate the attention, especially if they were in a hurry, and our store had a reputation of great customer service.

Ok. Back to Corriedale. At the end, I was explaining to this manager person, who I have dealt with before and have never really liked, that we were trying to figure out how much of a certain yarn we would need to create a cardigan that we'd seen online, but we unfortunately didn't have the measurements. I wasn't really expecting him to pull the answer out of his ass or anything, but he asked if we needed help so I explained. He was slouching behind the counter, leaning on it with his chin propped up on his hand, and he explained to me how to substitute one yarn for another. Complete with the whole "You read the pattern and find out how many yards of yarn it takes, then you pick out a different yarn, figure out how many yards you get per skein, then divide the number of total yards per project by the number of yards per skein" routine. In a ridiculously patronizing voice, like he was talking to a toddler. I might be taking this a bit personally, but dude? Seriously? I KNOW how to substitute yarn. Believe me, I'm cheaper than you could ever imagine, not to mention more creative, and I will do anything to avoid spending my hard-earned money on $15-a-skein yarn by Insert Name of Big Yarn Manufacturer Here.

I guess I'm just sick of dealing with people who obviously hate their customers. I can understand that it's difficult to deal with problem people, but there are certain things you just don't do when you work in customer service. I mean, I compare this experience with my visit to Knit-O-Matic a couple of weeks ago, where the store owner was incredibly helpful and nice and showed me some of her favorite new patterns, and I ended up spending over $100 on yarn, which I never do, and I wonder why I even bother with Corriedale.


  • Was 'corriedale' Romni wools? or is it just my bad luck with people in general?

    By Blogger Messy_Jessie, at 1:23 PM  

  • Dude, you are so blowing my "cover." Yes, it was. Unfortunately, their selection is pretty impressive, so I probably won't stop shopping there, but I am definitely tired of the attitudes!

    By Blogger Tasha, at 3:12 PM  

  • It's funny... I've only had GOOD experiences at Romni, although I've always gone in with trepidation. Normally when I go I have some sort of list or physical pattern. They seem to like that. I've gone to Lettuce Knit a few times and NO ONE talked to me and I was ready to plunk down some $$. Passion Knits I've also had problems with. I bought over $100 worth of yarn one time and the woman acted like I was keeping her from something.

    I have to throw in my 2ยข about customer service in general in TO... it sucks. The behavior you speak of at Romni is the same I get at Indigo, Dominion, Global Pet Foods, insurance companies, Sporting Life, countless restuarants (hello?! you're working for tips!). My list could go on and on (and it does). Oh, and don't get me started on the lady who works at the 2nd Cup for Wednesday Night Knitters.

    I haven't walked out of a store yet, where I've been like "Wow, that person was so nice." I've given up and I find that I tip less and I say "thank you" less often. And I don't like that I've started to do that.

    By Blogger jacquieblackman, at 8:32 AM  

  • Hey Jacquie!

    I definitely have to agree with you about the lack of good customer service in TO. I have had a few consistently excellent experiences--at Wiener's Home Hardware and Outer Layer in the Annex--but I have dealt with a lot of surly or downright rude customer service clerks.

    While I can sort of understand employees of Loblaws or Dominion being less than sublimely cheerful, I cannot understand how yarn stores, that cater to a specific--and small--niche market, can get away with not having better attitudes. I would think that these stores would be trying to attract and retain a loyal customer base. While I've never had bad experiences at Lettuce Knit, I've also never needed that much personal attention there either, so a "Can I help you?" will suffice. Knit-o-Matic was the only yarn store here where I've actually needed help selecting something and the store owner helped me immensely. I definitely think that part of customer service is helping someone choose the appropriate item, not just asking if they need help or offering a "it's up to you" platitude when their opinion is sought.

    Anyway. End rant!

    By Blogger Tasha, at 11:49 AM  

  • Yup, I completely agree with you.

    I will add that Haley and Knit-O-Matic totally rock the (knitting) house.

    By Blogger jacquieblackman, at 2:22 PM  

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