few years ago, Terry and I bought a new snow blower.
sure… I call it a snow blower. Most places, I think, refer to
them as snow throwers.
You know what I mean.
have a long driveway, one that rises, and the end result is that
we decided to invest in a big snow blower. A really big one.
shopping, Mike… the brother-in-law and all-around great guy… came
along. And, with more knowledge on the subject, he offered us
some great advice.
make the long version of this story a bit shorter… in following
part of his advice, we looked around our area to see what brands
were most often being sold so that we could feel more comfortable
about finding replacement parts or even repair work when needed.
know… for things like shear pins.
those of you that… like me, before I owned a snow blower and had
to replace a shear pin or two… don’t know what they are for: a
shear pin is actually designed to break. Yup. Break. One thing
a shear pin helps with is that they keep the auger moving. You
know… the auger… the blades. But if you hit something, like a
really thick branch or a rock, and there’s no give in the auger,
well… that can ruin more than your day. So the shear pins are
basically there to break away so that no major damage is done.
sound you are hearing is mechanics and more informed people than
myself pounding their heads into their desks at my description
of augers and shear pins. No worries. Trust me. Heck... not even
sheer pins... for my snow blower it’s sheer bolts. It’s
close enough for us for now. We can get back to the story.)
year as the winter was approaching, I was out for a day of errands
and I decided to grab some extra shear pins ahead of time. Just
to have them. Always good to have a few in the workshop and not
need them than to not have them with a foot of fresh snow on the
ground. So I stopped at a store location for the national chain
where I purchased the snow blower.
didn’t have them.
I went home and checked out the store’s web site. There I was
directed to the location down the street, which the web site stated
had the very shear pins needed in stock.
was nice to know… but instead of running out to the store, I just
wanted to order them and have them sent to me.
oh I tried.
matter what I attempted, I kept getting placed into this never-ending-side-street
of headaches. Essentially, here is what would happen…
to still having all of the materials from purchasing the snow
blower, I knew the exact part number and name for the shear pins.
I could plug those details right in to the search terms. That
worked, and I would be led to a page for the pins. So far… a lovely
that point though, it would not let me add anything to my cart.
There was no option for ordering the shear pins. I could only
admire how smoothly the web site located the pins and put a fancy
picture and description in front of me. For any attempt to move
forward, the site navigation kept going to a page asking me to
identify my zip code so they could select the nearest store to
me. And instead of allowing an order of any type, once a zip code
was entered it refreshed onto a page telling me the store nearest
to me had them in stock.
I tell you I tried everything… I mean I tried every-thing. I cleaned
my browser history so it would erase the information I had apparently
entered in order to select my favorite store when I entered my
zip code. I used different types of browsers. And no matter what
I tried I could not get an order or three of shear pins into my
even tried entering in other zip codes to try and find a location
where a nearby store didn’t have the shear pins hoping that it
would then allow me to order them. Nope. According to the web
site, even the stores in Miami (Florida) and San Diego (California)
had the snow blower shear pins in stock.)
one day, I drove to that nearest store.
they didn’t have any of the shear pins in stock.
tried to explain my problem to the sales associate in the area,
and he told me I was nuts and should just order them online. (Well…
sure… he didn’t use the term “nuts” exactly. But I left without
the shear pins, after he and customer service came up empty. And
I went right back home, pulled up the company web site, and found
myself again reading the information that the store had them in
I drove over to a local repair place that specialized in tractors
and other equipment… and, you know, just so happened to be an
authorized dealer of the particular company that made my snow
blower. I knew where they were because I had taken their efforts
into account when selecting the snow blower we purchased. Within
thirty seconds of opening the front door, we had not only laughed
about the web site and physical store that had been no help, we
also had two packages of the perfect shear pins on the counter
in front of me to purchase.
~ ~ ~
few years ago, Terry and I bought a new grill.
of the things I recall most vividly about the snow blower purchase
was a discussion with Mike about makes and models. Essentially
he told us to be careful, because those huge national chains had
a very interesting habit of changing manufacturers and models
in stock from year to year, and parts were not necessarily interchangeable.
(And, as you just read a moment ago, the lesson of the snow blower
went and in a wide variety of ways completely proved the point.)
we needed a new grill.
we went out and looked around and found a couple we liked. I looked
them over, and checked out the style of burners in each one. And…
yup… eventually we picked our unit based in part on the burner
style. See… I was smart. Having changed them for a different grill
we had years before and understanding I might need to replace
that part in the future of the new grill, I checked to see which
type the store used most often, and looked over the inventory
of repair parts for grills.
sure… you know what happened.
burners were dead pretty quickly… but just outside of the warranty
period. And when I went to the store, they didn’t carry a single
model of grill that used that style of burner. Had the same brand
available… with that company using a totally different design
for their burners now. And it had been the most popular size of
burners for the most popular design when we bought it. And, there
were no burners of that style in their inventory of replacement
where the story gets really funny…
I tried to find the burners on-line, I started coming across all
sorts of complaints. Couldn’t find the darn things any place.
But the complaints… about the store selling them… about service…
about how quickly the parts failed (and how amazingly they failed
just out of warranty)… oh, I found plenty of those.
~ ~ ~
now, how those stories tie in to why I began writing this…)
I came across an article that talks about Home Depot – and, actually,
that’s wrong, because thanks to some amazing experiences I’ve
had with the company, I’ve learned that they take the “the” in
The Home Depot quite seriously – so to start again… I
came across reports that talks about The Home Depot and
how they are focusing their future endeavors as
a company on improving online sales.
I’d point out that I didn’t buy the snow blower or grill at The
Home Depot, but that would only pretty much tell you that since
I told you I bought both from a national chain, I got them at
Lowe’s. And I don’t want to talk badly about Lowe’s. I like Lowe’s…
and I like The Home Depot… overall. I just have some
isolated moments of very painful headaches as a result of blindingly
stupid advice from ill-informed associates at both places. (And
their web sites.) Anyway…)
article ended up bringing me close to hysterical laughter. It
talked about how they have more or less realized a saturation
of the physical store market, and need to improve the online experience
to take advantage of the way most people shop, and so on.
see… all of that is true.
here’s the thing…
number one -- I’d like to think I can hit average scores when
it comes to working around the house. Over the years, I’ve learned
a lot. And, I’m fortunate to have some tremendous family and friends
to help out with advice… and occasionally, by showing up to work
on something with me.
though, my toolbox isn’t packed with experience and knowledge.
I’ve added several things thanks to home ownership, successful
(and unsuccessful) efforts, and the thoughts of others. But, proud
as I am of some of my efforts, my troubleshooting checklist isn’t
long and unending. It has limits.
number two -- I’m not usually one to purchase the extended warranty.
In most cases, if I can’t afford to replace it, I probably shouldn’t
be getting it. And considering how fast technology is moving,
the reality is, many items are out of date by the time the warranty
things are so damn frustrating. Who the hell was in on the meeting
where it was decided that a washing machine should only last five
years? They’re not kidding either. Instead of improving the quality,
most units have reduced their lifespan while adding those wonderful
features like calling your cell phone to tell you the load has
finished and is ready to place in the dryer. (It’s a beautiful
concept referred to as “planned obsolescence” in the industry.)
that thing… maybe you thought I forget the “here’s the thing”
from a moment ago… is that everything has become disposable. Somehow,
we’ve been trained to accept it. Somehow we are all supposed to
agree that we can’t fix it and we need to replace it.
I fill the rototiller at the beginning of the season and it won’t
run… when the starter cord on the lawnmower snaps… I only have
a few tricks to attempt or calls to make. And then? It’s new lawnmower
think you could make a reasonable argument that’s exactly what
these places are relying on. If you can’t get a new burner… the
majority of people will buy a new grill. Heck… it’s out of warranty…
it’s time to get a new one anyway!
if the fix is simple… a shear pin of all things… some people may
not be able to figure that out. And for want of $5-or-less part,
it’s a stop at the ATM to pay for the servicing. Often it’s cheaper
to buy a new one than it is to repair the old one.
so now we have them talking about home deliveries and on-line
concept is dead-on-center-accurate. Overall.
here’s something funny… many people go to Lowe’s and The
Home Depot because they want to fix things now… today… right
now. There’s more than one reason the stores open at 7am.
Don’t waste the day… get the part before the sun has really risen
and get to work.
the web sites aren’t going to be easy to navigate… if the parts
keep changing… if people need something they couldn’t plan far
enough ahead and want it now… I’m not sure if online efforts are
going to make the difference.
should help. By no means am I saying it isn’t a smart thing to
investigate and improve.
I just want to pause for a moment, and say that from my experience
once I get online the whole worldwide web is my marketplace. The
Home Depot needs to not only do it better and faster online than
The Home Depot does it at their stores… they need to
do it better and faster and less expensively than everyone else.
I know for a fact... several other places will offer the shear
pins I need, and actually have them in stock.