Halfords, strap wrenches and grass seed

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Halfords has got a bit of a roasting from Which? for poor levels of customer service this week.

It gives me the opportunity to tell you my number one favourite story about stock and customers service.

I popped into one a Halfords in Guildford a while back looking for a strap wrench. The young lad had never heard of a strap wrench, so he went to get ‘the tool bloke’.

“The sort of thing for taking off an oil filter,” said the tool bloke.? Yes, sort of, but it was for a viscous coupling on the fan unit of a particularly dreadful VW Passat I bought off my father-in-law (never buy a car from someone you know).

“No joy. Try Machine Mart he suggested. The bloke in Machine Mart knew what a strap wrench was, but they didn’t stock them either.

Last chance saloon was a shop called Cummins in Dorking. It’s an independent hardware store that’s been in the town for decades and survived the nearby openings of B&Q and Wickes over the years.

“Of course,” said the man in Cummins, “would you like small, medium or large?”

Brilliant, but what can we conclude from this massive survey of three shops? That all independents offer better service, stock and knowledge than the chains?

That’s not always the case. In fact, Dan Kimpton from Mountney, who popped in to see us at CAT Towers last week, reckons unless you get the owner, you get someone clueless.

That’s almost, but not quite, the case at Cummins when, on another occasion, I went in for two kilos of grass seed and watched the new lad weigh out two pounds instead.

The other more experienced guys and owner were watching him like a hawk and put him right before I did, so no harm done. It goes to show that they’re training him, too, so that hopefully he can continue to help Cummins shine with the kind of service that you don’t always get at a chain.

Cummins can’t differentiate on price, but it sure can on service. Have you ever heard that before?

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  1. Surely the moral of the story is which store are you returning to and why? The price doesn’t end up coming into it