Poor customer service sent me elsewhere

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Recently I went to get skates sharpened for my youngest daughter.
I went to a small local business, whose primary focus appears to be skating/hockey related.

Telegram letters

I made my decision based on a recommendation from the local “experts” at the skating club a few years ago when my oldest started  learning to skate. I have used their services for the past five years.

No more.

I walked into the shop and found a single customer ahead of me. I waited patiently to be served. When it was my turn, I stepped up to the counter and was told to write my name on a tag so I could identify the skates when they were done.

“It will be about 20 minutes,” I was told.

I replied, “That is fine, I will wait.”

After taking my skates into the back room, the man comes out and says, “It is going to be more like 30 minutes. … There are eight people ahead of you.”

I looked around the shop and there were three people other than staff: myself, the customer ahead of me, and a third man behind me.

“I am not sure I understand,” I said. “There are only three people here, how can there be eight people ahead of me?”

It was then that the man’s attitude turned from indifferent to downright rude. He went into the back room, brought my skates back out and said, “If that’s the way you want to get on, here are your skates.”

I said I’d still like them sharpened.

The man became irate and said, “No, we do not need to sharpen your skates. Take your skates and leave.”

Not wanting to cause a bigger fuss, I took the skates and, as I was leaving, remarked, “This has to be one of the worst customer service experiences I have ever had.”

The man replied, “Well, that’s how we run our business. If you want to do it differently, then you can buy the place and run it yourself!”

I had asked a simple question and was treated so rudely that I will never step into that shop again. Has the small business owner (at least in this case) become so indifferent to the lifeblood of the business that they can treat people in this fashion? I would understand if I had become belligerent or rude, but that was not the case.

I am writing this for two reasons. First, to express my complete surprise at how I was treated at this local establishment, and second, to silence the critics of big box stores and mega-chain establishments. People have long extolled the virtues of mom-and-pop stores and of buying local products. In most cases, I agree. I went to a local business rather than take my skates to Canadian Tire or Sport Chek for exactly that reason.

But why, if this is the type of customer service I can expect, would I ever return? Quite often, larger chains have so much more buying power and deal in such great volumes of product that they can offer a better price than the local merchant. So when customer service is not up to par, why would a consumer choose to subject themselves to this?

People protest multinational corporations such as Walmart and Costco because they can make it impossible for small businesses to compete. I submit that Costco isn’t killing small business, it’s merchants with chips on their shoulders and poor attitudes.

I can’t wait until Costco opens a skate-sharpening counter. The price will be cheaper, the service  quicker, and the person who serves me will have a smile on their face.

Steve Blackwood


Organizations: Costco, Canadian Tire, Walmart

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Recent comments

  • petertwo
    January 24, 2016 - 10:43

    This sounds like a change in policy, but clients not being advised of a change. Obviously the business knows what it is doing and probably for some improvement, in their estimation. While Steve had been receiving one type of service up to this point, he expected the same as "usual" Obviously he had been serviced differently and had been expecting the same usual service he had always had. Some folk enjoy the game of gotchas, knowledge is power, and often used to put other people in their place(ie down). People can not be expected to know the ins and out of every business venture and it is entirely the responsibility of a venture to make sure their customers are aware of the service they do offer their clients. A simple sign explaining the change would probably have saved Steve, and others, some embarrassment.

  • g b
    g b
    January 24, 2016 - 08:59

    wow it seems many commenters here don't know what service quality is. I think the point of the article is that the clerk/owner didn't say to the customer that "even though there's three people in the store that people drop off their skates and pick them up later and they sharpen the skates in the order they were dropped off" Instead he gave the customer back his skates and told him to leave!

  • Steve Blackwood
    January 23, 2016 - 21:20

    To all of you who took the time to read my letter and then go on to comment, pro or con, thank you-I am flattered. Please allow me to clarify a couple of points. This letter as it appears was edited for length. I was told this was happening prior to its publication, and have no issue with it... however it did make some of your comments arise which other wise may not. First, I didn't identify the man as the owner of the business, simply the clerk who served me. I did this because, quite frankly, I do not know who owns the business. Second, In my original letter, I made the statement that "often" big chains can offer better prices due to volume purchasing, not always. Next, I did not identify the business by name because my intent here was not to maliciously attack the business, but rather bring a situation to light... some of your comments have not been as kind to me, despite never having had any sort of encounter with me at any point. Lastly, I do support local business, and will continue to do so, as long as they continue to deserve it... For example, I regularly shop at The Outfitters downtown. Every item I buy from them I can readily get online, but because of the customer service I receive from them, and their complete willingness to go the extra step for their customers, I regularly shop there. Again, for those of you who took the time to write a comment, thank you... but for those of those comments which attacked me personally, or made assumptions about my character not revealed within my letter, let me just say, I would never be rude to anyone who was not first rude to me... and I won't be so presumptuous as to judge you as you have judged me.

    • Tony Strong
      January 27, 2016 - 06:03

      If the ( clerk )..taking the skates would ask those who were dropping off skates, when they would return, he could accommodate the, in store , customers in a more timely fashion.. ???

  • Jerome
    January 23, 2016 - 09:49

    I can understand your frustration with your service from this local company, but don't paint us all with the same brush. Your statement about the larger chains with greater buying power and better prices is not accurate however. I operate a local business, we sell the same products as the larger chains and we can easily beat there prices, some products to the tune of 20%, Don't forget these large chains have to pay big time for bricks and mortar, have major advertising expenses and a CEO that demands millions in reimbursement. The smaller store often offer better service and customer relations, more product information and honesty. When you come to our store , you will see the same employees that served you for a number of years , will probably know your name, stand behind what they say and sell you. People don't realize that these small store pay their employees much better than the chains, retain their employees and if you are a regular customer will offer you a price break. Just because you had a bad experience with one local doesn't mean we are all the same. It is the small business that keep this province alive, the chains will leave at the first sign of falling sales and leave you, the customer, high and dry. We the small businesses will be here for the long term and the money we make goes back into the community and not some corporate head office located in this country or some foreign country .

    • a business man
      January 24, 2016 - 09:01

      Sorry,Jerome, I do paint all small businesses with the same brush. I have too often dealt with small businesses that refuse to return the price difference when a product goes on sale a few weeks later, small businesses that refuse to match or beat the prices of a large retailers sale, small businesses that refuse to exchange a defective product and insist that I deal with the manfacturer, and small businesses that do no offer the convenience of free online shipping. I have tried to deal with local businesses before, and it just makes more work for me. Never again. Big businesses offer all those things, and I appreciate it. Firstly, I don't care what retail workers are paid, and from a business point of view, it is my opinion that retail workers should be paid minimum wage. If you are paying them more, than that is another reason why I want your store to fail and die. Additionally, I cannot buy shares of your company and therefore cannot cash in on your profits. Since I cannot cash in on your profits, you are of no use to me. As a result, I actually have a financial interest in the failure of your business, because when you fail and close, your sales will be absorbed by a large competing retailer whose shares I either owner directly or indirectly as part of a mutual fund.

  • Me
    January 22, 2016 - 21:24

    I work at a small business and I can say that the big oil money has taken most of the good employees. People expect more from small business and as most lack the required amount of staff we can't always serve the amount of people wanting service so sometimes it's best to skip the difficult ones. It's sad but there are only some many people you can serve and you sometimes have to choose who gets your attention.

  • Taylor
    January 22, 2016 - 19:40

    Poor customer service is evident in many places here on the Rock, especially downtown stores (which is to bad considering the tourists there). That said, big chain stores are similar as well. There are 4 WalMart chains in the city - at the time of me writing this, not one of them have the same refund policy, and none of them are compliant with the Canadian WalMart Chains corporate office of refund policies as well. They are here, and thinking we have no choice. I have been and will continue to be an online shopper - the fewer interactions with 'service' the better!

  • T
    January 22, 2016 - 15:42

    Mr Blackwood will now take his business to a place where he will receive the special VIP service that he feels he is entitled to. And if that other store doesn't satisfy his sense of entitlement, he may post another letter complaining about them. Got any mirrors in your house, Blackwood?

  • Frequent Sharpener
    January 22, 2016 - 14:29

    Observer...maybe your not observant enough. Pretty sure the content of the article below suitably explained the situation. "After taking my skates into the back room, the man comes out and says, “It is going to be more like 30 minutes. … There are eight people ahead of you.” I looked around the shop and there were three people other than staff: myself, the customer ahead of me, and a third man behind me. “I am not sure I understand,” I said. “There are only three people here, how can there be eight people ahead of me?”

    • james
      January 22, 2016 - 18:28

      Eddie , because people drop of their skates and pick then up later no that hard to understand

  • Eddie
    January 22, 2016 - 13:31

    So, is the guy who served you the owner? My experience is that owners are rarely disagreeable, but when they're not around their employees sometimes are. Use not be that way but oil sucked so many of the competent people and paid them so well that it was almost impossible for small business to find staff. Talk to some business owners. They'll tell you horror stories. People who don't let you know when they're not coming in. People who don't even let you know they quit - they just don't show up anymore. If what Blackwood says is true, then it boggles the mind that any business owner would react that way. All it would take is to say I've got drop-offs that I've got to have ready. Can you come back later maybe?

  • Same Experience Different Business
    January 22, 2016 - 13:11

    I had experiences a similar experience in a Privately owned Clothing Store that has businesses in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia and God knows where else. I didn't like the way the manager treated me and I complained to the Owner as well as to The Department of Consumer Affairs(that I believe now has a different name). Word of mouth on how these owners treat customers will get around and hurt their business as no one wants to be treated like that. In the meantime, there may have been other people that dropped off skates before you and were going to return when they were told how long it would take. Just trying to think why he told you that there were more ahead of you than what you had thought, but still no way to treat a customer.

  • A
    January 22, 2016 - 12:17

    Mr Blackwood seems a typical example of someone full of their own self importance and expects to be treated as such. Seems he also has supporters here who are just like him, and, even worse, those who are so ignorant posting comments who write just to insult us.

  • George M.
    January 22, 2016 - 12:05

    Whatever happened to the old business creed 'The customer is always right, no matter how wrong they are'? Actually the creed of business today, whether big or small, should be 'customer relations'. A major problem in today's society is cellphones and social media such as Twitter and phone messaging. Why can't people take the time to be polite and talk with each other and not at each other when they do glance up? Offering a smile and courteous response is not half so hard as most think and not restricted to 140K!

    • DWI
      January 22, 2016 - 15:50

      Customers are more often than not, WRONG; and very often, IDIOTS with an inflated sense of entitlement.

  • Jim A.
    January 22, 2016 - 11:23

    I'm wondering if you just got what you were asking for. Essentially, you called the clerk a liar, but it's more than likely that there were other pairs in the queue ahead of yours. Some people think because they are the customer that their ignorance should be put up with. You reap what you sew.

  • Good letter
    January 22, 2016 - 10:52

    This is not uncommon in a number of places. Several years ago our community lost one of its hardware stores and now the one store has a monopoly on the whole south coast. The attitude changed overnight and the owner now does not care to help customers at all as we have no where else to go. One particular employee who has a lot of authority have clearly stated to customers that if you don't like the price, which is now jacked up, go to another store, then he laughs and have gone as far as to ask people to leave the store.. When they are making money we the customer are not important. We were when there was competition. I think Mr. Blackwood did the right thing by leaving and it was great that he had someone else to turn to, we don't and simply have to stand at the front counter and take the crap that is shovelled out to us.

  • jane
    January 22, 2016 - 10:51

    Obviously the people referred to as ahead of you had dropped off their skates and left. So rude of you to presume that you get to jump the line. They dropped off their skates first and get serviced first. It's not rocket science.

    • suzanne
      January 22, 2016 - 11:13

      so right JANE!!

    • Tony Strong
      January 25, 2016 - 06:24

      Would it no be more appropriate to do the skates of the customer who is waiting and then do the ones that were dropped of.. More likely the dropped off skates would not be picked up until the owner would be on their way home, for example..

  • SkepticalNewfoundlander
    January 22, 2016 - 10:45

    I have no way of knowing who was rude to who here. But I do notice many shoppers have come to view retail workers as their servants. They're not your employees, they're there to make money either for them or their employers, not cater to every whim of every shopper. And they'd be a lot better off if they told certain types of shoppers to go elsewhere. If you're not buying you're wasting the store's money. If you're buying and returning, you're wasting their money. If you're making a small purchase and expecting hours of free support along with it, you're wasting their money. Meanwhile there is probably a real customer waiting who just wants to conduct their transaction and leave.

  • Political Watcher
    January 22, 2016 - 10:37

    Mary, it is a lame excuse that you are here only because of your job! If you are so ready to leave then what is topping you? I am sure that you will find equal or maybe even a better job elsewhere. Half the problem with small local businesses is that they are usually run by the owner and not many others and when a customer comes in they wan everyone to jump because they may be in a hurry. While most times these type of customers can get away with mouthing off to an employee at a "Chain" store in small business the owner can tell the customer to move on if they are not prepared to wait. All too often there are some who feel they are the most important person and must be tended o immediately. Like I said earlier, I am confident that I know the business the writer is referring and I have never had a bad experience or service. The owner is hard at work getting skates out the door and we all know that there are parents who have the next "Prodigy" and they need their skates NOW! Keep up the good work small business because you know there are thousands in this region who will not take their skates anywhere else.

  • Mary
    January 22, 2016 - 09:28

    Steve, I am sorry but so glad to hear that I am not the only person who realizes the "local" vendors have become complacent. Customer service, specially in St. John's, does not exist. Steve and Stephen Redgrave nailed it. I am a Newfoundlander only here because this is where my job brought me. Hoping for a transfer.

    • Stephen  Redgrave
      Stephen Redgrave
      January 22, 2016 - 10:35

      Right on Steve: I'm glad that I'm not the only one who's noticed the 'Grand deception' that is Newfoundland. Friendly---Ha! What a joke. Ignorant yes!

    • Stephen  Redgrave
      Stephen Redgrave
      January 22, 2016 - 11:13

      Thanks Mary for noticing the same things I do. Some Newfoundlanders wear blinders 24-7

    • Mick
      January 24, 2016 - 03:46

      Stephen Redgrave. You seem to have a pretty big problem with Newfoundland and Newfoundlander's? Why are you living here?? Yes things are not always perfect but that goes for many places not only Newfoundland. I have lived in Toronto, and Alberta traveled many places and you face a problem at some point but I won't say its everyone from the places I have been.. I have seen you comments on other articles and all you seem to do is bash Newfoundland and its people..

    • Jerome
      January 24, 2016 - 13:28

      Unfriendly Newfoundlanders??? I guess you reap what you sow. Everywhere I go in Newfoundland, I treat people with respect and a smile and that is what I get back. I have talked to many tourists in my day, and I always tell them to smile and maybe talk first or ask a question, and you will always get a good reception. Plus I have told them is you give attitude you will get it back, smile and treat people with respect and you will get it back ten fold. It is all how you tackle things, this attitude even works on the mainland if you give it a chance:)

  • Bob
    January 22, 2016 - 09:25

    That is unacceptable service and I believe that no matter how good the quality of work performed may be that this type of service will kill a business. I too try to support local business and recommend Sports Shack on Smith Avenue. Great quality, fast service and friendly personable staff.

  • Colin Burke
    January 22, 2016 - 09:18

    On the other hand, this letter shows that someone running his own shop and doing it well is not obliged like wage-slaves of big chains to take scoldings from customers lacking the sense to ask politely for an explanation of why they don't get what they want right away.

  • Not right
    January 22, 2016 - 09:07

    Assuming this is exactly what happened, it's not right. The customer just asked a question and there was no need of the response. Maybe the owner will see this and give his side of the story. You may have a bad day but this attitude will only make the day, and future days, worse.

  • Joe
    January 22, 2016 - 08:59

    Maybe the Telegram won't print this. If you want excellent service and good work, go to the Sports Shack, 254 Pennywell Rd. NOTE: I am a customer and have NO connection to this business except to get the children's skates sharpened.

  • Join a union
    January 22, 2016 - 08:54

    maybe the skate sharpener would join a union with the other people that hate their job and feel the world owes them a good living.

  • Native advertising?
    January 22, 2016 - 08:50

    He should run for Premier. Maybe Costco can just appoint him as our Lord Protector of Free Smiles?

  • Da Pearl
    January 22, 2016 - 08:35

    I know everyone has a bad day. I work small business retail and not every day is roses. I have been mad before work and mad during work, but I leave my anger and issues at the door or in the back room. The number 1 rule is customer service. Sure they can get what they want else where or online, but service brings them back. Even if they are wrong, you deal with the customer like you would want to be dealt with. Sorry, a bad day just does not cut it anymore. With that said, we have shopped at this store before, and had nothing but the best of service. Just this past December, we were waited on hand and foot, shown all the options and were recommended what we needed. I will always go here first over the Big box stores.

  • Two sides
    January 22, 2016 - 08:35

    Blackwood, what do you think you were accusing the owner of when you contradicted him by saying there were only three people in the store? You think perhaps your demeaning attitude toward him might be a factor?

  • James
    January 22, 2016 - 08:06

    Maybe he had a hard day, dog died, wife left him, got his business tax assessment from city hall who knows. Not saying his attitude is correct but many people I know working retail would just for once put the customer is always right saying in their back pocket and simply tell a person where to go. By the way - the purpose for the tag was to ID your skates to put them in the queue of people who had done so before you. BTW - cheap skate sharpening, fuel at Costco is to lure you there so they can then empty your wallet while you are inside waiting.

  • Ev
    January 22, 2016 - 07:56

    Exception to the rule I'm sure but still not good enough. The customer is always right, even when they are not.

    • Wil
      January 22, 2016 - 09:41

      I disagree. The customer is NOT always right. This antiquated term has been used by customers to get a lot from retailers which was, in my opinion because I previously worked in retail, simple GREED. Retailers have a right to say no however, if it is because it's a power trip, it only hurts themselves especially if you have a small shop and service and repeat business is your future. Bad press spreads faster than good and in this case, it will only hurt this retailer. There are two, maybe three sides to the story and it doesn't matter if reacted because he was having a "hard day". He should have thought about it first before acting.

    • k
      January 22, 2016 - 10:32

      Customers are not always right. The owner said there are so many people ahead of him. Did they have to stay in the store? Of course not. Maybe Blackwood wanted to jump ahead of those not present. All are equal not the customers alone.

  • JoeK
    January 22, 2016 - 07:33

    I agree and have stopped buying or going to anyone local for anything. Customer service sucks with locals! I won't spend a dime if it's not a big chain. I'll get better service, prices and a guarantee I can take it back if it's not what I wanted. Try any of that with a local. They are out of business because they put themselves there. Good Riddance!

  • justin case
    January 22, 2016 - 07:32

    Steve....you have to leave the rock to experience acceptable customer service. You won't find it often here. Poor service and attitude towards customers is prevalent on the rock. It's the never ending circle that can't seem to be broken...unfortunately. Not in this and many other cases, but there are also customers just as rude and expect more than what's reasonable from a business. Frequently referred to as the "customer from hell". Good luck with future skate sharpening : )

  • Sandra
    January 22, 2016 - 07:16

    It would be great if you named the establishment so others could share their experiences. Small businesses do operate on word of mouth although many would disagree.

  • Political Watcher
    January 22, 2016 - 06:20

    Steve, I believe I know the business you are referring to here and I have to say that I must disagree. I have been frequenting this place for several years, as both my sons played hockey, and have never experienced what you say you did and have never witnessed it either. While you say there were no people in the store, did it ever occur to you that some people may have dropped their skates off and pick them up later? I have often dropped in and if the skates couldn't be done then I would be told when they would be done and to drop back. It is sad that because you didn't ask or appreciate the businesses of this business your first notion was to attack. This gentleman sharpening the skates is the only one there and he is constantly running between machines and trust me; even though you may not see anyone in the store, chances are he has many pairs of skates in back waiting to be done. So you go ahead and go to Costco, Canadian Tire or elsewhere to have your skates done but you will not get the job done like they do there. There and about three places in the Avalon region where you can get skates done properly and this place is at the top.

    • Frequent Sharpener
      January 22, 2016 - 09:00

      PW. I agree. I've been going to this location for years. The owner is not going to chat your ear off but I'm not going there for the social interaction. My wife went there a couple of weks ago and though there were only a few people in the store there were dozens of pairs of skates in the queue. I think Mr. Blackwood wasn't aware of the process and this created some isuues for both himself and the owner. It is what it is.

    • Observer
      January 22, 2016 - 11:03

      So, instead of the saucy response that Mr. Blackwood received, why didn't the proprietor tell him that there were skates there that had been left by other customers? And thus that he was in the queue behind those earlier customers. That would have been the right way to respond to his question. Mr. Blackwood is right to be offended.