Originally published in Travel Weekly, October 1998.
Buying paint from a hardware store …
Customer: Hi, how much is your paint?
Clerk: We have regular quality for $9 a gallon and premium for $15. How many gallons would you like?
Customer: Five gallons of regular quality, please.
Clerk: Great. That will be $45 plus tax. And by the way, if you will take just a moment to “check in” on Foursquare or Facebook, for a purchase of more than 4 gallons, we will deliver to your home and throw in stir sticks and a drop cloth free. Just fill out your address here and we’ll have it to you by the end of the day.
Buying paint from an airline ..
Customer: Hi, how much is your paint?
Clerk #1: Well, Sir that all depends.
Customer: Depends on what?
Clerk #1: Actually, a lot of things.
Customer: How about giving me an average price?
Clerk #1: Wow, that’s a hard question! The lowest price is $9 a gallon, and we have 150 different prices up to $200 a gallon.
Customer: 150 different prices?? What’s the difference in the paint?
Clerk #2: Oh, there isn’t any difference, it’s all the same paint.
Customer: Well, then, I’d like some of that $9 paint [pointing at the gallon of white paint on the shelf].
Clerk #1: Well, first I need to ask you a few questions. When do you intend to use it?
Customer: I want to paint tomorrow, on my day off. We have company coming and my wife wants it ready when they arrive on Monday.
Clerk #1: Sir, the paint for tomorrow is $200 paint.
Customer: What? When would I have to paint in order to get $9 paint?
Clerk #2: That would be in three weeks, but you will also have to agree to start painting before Friday of that week and continue painting until at least Sunday.
Customer: You’ve got to be kidding!
Clerk #1: Sir, we don’t kid around here. We have been around for more than 50 years, selling quality paint. Of course, I’ll have to check to see if we have any of that paint available before I can sell it to you.
Customer: What do you mean check to see if you can sell it to me? You have shelves full of that stuff. I can see it right there.
Clerk #2: Just because you can see it doesn’t mean that we have it. When the price of the pigment of the paint went up, we had to park thousands of gallons in the desert and that made what we have left here very precious indeed. And what you see may be the same paint, but now due to the cutbacks in our capacity, we sell only a certain number of gallons of the kind that you want on any given weekend. We just can’t keep up with the same frequency and demand that we had before the pigment crisis. [bell heard ringing in the background] Oh, and by the way, since you came in, the price just went up to $12.
Customer: You mean the price went up while we were talking?
Clerk #1: Yes sir. You see, we change prices and rules thousands of times a day, and since you haven’t actually walked out of the store with your paint yet, we just decided to change. Unless you want the same thing to happen again, I would suggest you get on with your purchase before the bell rings again. How many gallons do you want?
Customer: I don’t know exactly … maybe five gallons. Maybe I should buy six gallons just to make sure I have enough.
Clerk #2: Oh, no sir, you shouldn’t do that. If you buy the paint and then don’t use it, you will be liable for penalties and possible confiscation of the paint you already have. But please make sure this is what you want, as if you want to buy more than what you have here, then when you come back in, there will be a change fee and there will potentially be a price increase on the new paint over the $12 [bell heard ringing in the background], make that $14 per gallon.
Clerk #1: That’s right. We can sell you enough paint to do your kitchen, bathroom, hall and north bedroom, but if you stop painting before you do the other bedroom, you will be in violation of our tariffs and if you decide later to paint the master bedroom and bath and come back in to get the additional paint, that may cost much, much more than $14 per gallon. Same thing if you want your wife to help you paint.
Customer: But what does it matter to you whether I use all of the paint or if she helps me? I already paid you for it! And I heard that the Paints.com site has a hovercraft that delivers a check if someone buys that paint at a lower price later!
Clerk #1: Sir, there’s no point in getting upset; that’s just the way it is and we are currently suing that online retailer, so you might want to think twice about using them. But getting back to our pricing, we make plans based upon the idea that you will use all of the paint, and when you don’t, it just causes us all sorts of problems. And if your wife helps you paint, then it impacts our brush inventory projections.
Customer: This is crazy! I suppose something terrible will happen if I don’t keep painting until Sunday night or if I buy from the online guy?
Clerk #1: [sternly] Yes sir, it will.
Customer: Well, that does it! I am going somewhere else to buy paint!
Clerk #2: That won’t do you any good, sir. As you can see on the paint metasearch sites online, we all have the same rules. And you may be able to buy paint for your bathroom and bedrooms, and your kitchen and dining room from someone else, but you won’t be able to buy the paint for your connecting hall and stairway from anyone but us. And I should point out, sir, that if you paint in only one direction, it will be $300 a gallon. You might as well just buy it here, [ring…] while the price is still $16.
Customer: I thought your most expensive paint was $200!
Clerk #2: Pretty much! But that’s if you paint around the room to the point at which you started. A hallway is different.
Customer: And if I buy $200 paint for the hall, but only paint in one direction, you’ll confiscate the remaining paint.
Clerk #1: No, we’ll charge you an extra use fee plus the difference on your next gallon of paint. But I believe you’re getting it now, sir.
Customer: Unbelievable! OK, I will take 5 gallons of paint to match this swatch.