Serenity Now!

You know that movie where a normally mild-mannered, rather nerdy-looking Michael Douglas suddenly snaps and just starts running all over town, going ape-shit on everyone? Today, for the first time, I actually felt a little sense of kinship with him.

I think I might have just been soured on the whole JoAnn Fabrics experience today. Shock and horror on your part has no doubt followed this statement. After all, I’ve written more than one entry here professing my devotion and appreciation for JoAnn’s in the past. Believe me, I’m not happy about having to say that I had an extremely bad experience there. At the moment I’m willing to blame the whole thing on grand opening kinks and bad store location karma. We’ll see if, upon repeat visits, the service and experience improves.

I wasn’t all that happy about the prospect of the store moving in the first place. The location out at Burke was incredibly convenient to get to. The new store is out at Fairfax Towne Center, which is a bit trickier to get to. The traffic out that way is frequently maddening. It took me about 30 minutes to get there today. Compare that to the 15 minutes the old Burke route took.

Willing to give the store the benefit of the doubt, I pulled into the parking lot, locked up the van and headed inside. It was nice to move through the store with a brand new shopping cart whose wheels hadn’t yet become immovable due to random thread build-up, I’ll admit. The seasonal stuff is all located in the front of the store. Someone had turned on one of those little toys that plays music and shakes and there was a little girl there dancing like it was going out of style. It was rather cute.

I was actually kind of surprised by the new layout of the store. It didn’t feel like there was all that great a selection. At least, nothing like what was in the old store. There was a LOT of fleece, which seemed kind of odd – I’ve never seen such a large offering of fleece before. The plain broadcloth didn’t look as big as at the old store and there were some specialty fabric types that only had three or four offerings on the shelf. The red tag area was almost non-existant. Well, the red tag area for regular fabric is almost non-existant. The red-tag area for upholstery fabric was filled to the brim.

Now, the whole reason for my trek out to the fabric store was to get the stuff for my Kowl costume. I was hoping to find something fuzzy and lightweight in the right color for the body/head and the inner ears. I figured I’d wait a bit before getting the fabric I’ll need for the hands/feet/eyebrows and the neck fluff. I managed to find some felt that was a pretty close match to the color on the reference picture I had with me. I had hoped to find something a little more lightweight but the felt will have to do. I think I’m going to build some vents into parts of the costume so it doesn’t get as warm as I fear it might.

After I found the fabric for the body and the ears I headed off the cutting counter.

That’s where the big problem came up. There were a couple of employees puttering around in the general area. All but one made eye contact with me and immediately ignored me. I finally figured out that I needed to take a number. Like someone waiting at a deli.

Now, if there had been a huge crowd of people awaiting the cut-out counter I might consider this a good idea. After all, the counters aren’t arranged in an orderly way, as they are in most fabric stores, so the creation of a line might be problematic. However, when there isn’t a crowd of customers waiting the whole “take a number” thing doesn’t seem to be all that important. I went ahead and pulled a number anyway and kept pretty close to the counter. I didn’t need anything else in the store, so there was no reason to wander anywhere else while I waited. Again, everyone in the area looked at me but failed to acknowledge me. There was only one person actually cutting fabric for a customer. While I was standing around, waiting for my number to be called, another employee wandered by and asked if I was waiting for the cutting counter. I told her I was and she said to take a number and someone would be right with me, then she wandered off. I moved to the other side of the cutting counter to wait, just so I wasn’t blocking one of the aisles.

While I was standing there, waiting for my number to be called, about three customers came up to the counter. It sure seemed to me like they were being helped without a number. Especially since the number on the deli counter thing was still at “64,” like it had been when I pulled my number. Another 20 minutes went by. By this point I had moved over to the thread section. Yes, I was basically lurking around the cutting counter. Biding my time like some fabric store tiger, stalking a gazelle.

Wait. That analogy doesn’t work. Tigers don’t stalk gazelle.

Biding my time like some fabric store tiger, stalking whatever prey that tigers stalk.

I looked up at the counter again, assuring myself it was still on 64 (despite another person now talking to the woman behind the counter – the same woman who had told me to take a number in the first place). I looked down at my phone long enough to send Maggie a text that said “The new JoAnn’s is really starting to annoy me.” When I looked back up right after the counter said they were now serving ticket #69. My ticket number was #68.

In the time it took to type nine words they had somehow managed to help three other customers and skip over me. Riiiiiiiight. I’m sure that’s what happened. When I noticed that they had side-stepped my number I stopped lurking. I decided to stand in the middle of the way. By this point I’d already been waiting for more than half an hour, just to have fabric cut. One of the ladies who was standing at the counter looked straight at me, turned around, and walked off. Eventually a random employee, “Claire”, walked by and asked if I was waiting for fabric to be cut. When she suggested I take a number I told her I not only had one but that they were already serving the one after mine and that they hadn’t even called mine. She took a look at the next number in line and told me they’d call me next, and then wandered off again.
I wondered how they’d know to call me next, as she didn’t tell anyone behind the counter that they needed to call #68 next. And yes, there were still a couple of JoAnn’s employees milling about in the general area.
A few minutes later “Claire” wandered back over and said she’d cut my fabric. While she cut the three pastel fabrics that I had pulled for the ears she proceeded to shout into her little mic thingy, calling for back-up at the cutting counter. She set the three cut pieces to the side, tapped a random employee on the other side of the interfacing bin on the shoulder and told her to finish cutting my stuff. Then she walked off. Without scanning the fabric she’d already cut and without finishing helping me.
Really? I had one more piece to cut. It would’ve taken all of 30 seconds to flip the yardage out and cut it. And, honestly, “Claire” should’ve been scanning in the lengths and bar codes of the fabric she had already cut as soon as she had finished it. I know that much, after years of going to JoAnn’s.
The woman who took over the cutting went ahead and cut my felt and then went to scan things. Which took forever. She couldn’t get two of the bolts to scan. She fumbled with them for another ten minutes, occasionally looking around for help from the other people who were supposed to be working at the cutting counter. She wandered off around the corner for a moment, and when she came back she asked another employee where the fabric that I had picked up had come from. No surprise, the other employee hadn’t the foggiest idea. Of course, the woman could’ve just asked me.
After all, I was the one who had picked up the fabric to begin with.
I told her where it was and even told her the type of fabric (specialty cotton) and what the price on the sale sign said it would be. That’s right, it was for sale. 50% off. She toddled off and pulled two other fabrics from the same general area (but they weren’t really the same price) and tried to scan those instead. When they didn’t scan, she decided to just go ahead and scan the barcode of the third pastel bolt three times. “It’s cheaper than the other two,” she told me. The trouble was, it wasn’t. With the 50% factored in, the other fabric was much cheaper.
She wandered back off, in search of someone who could help her with the scanner. While she did this, another employee wandered over, presumably answering the earlier plea from Claire about more helpers needed at the cutting counter. He stood in the middle of the area, looking incredibly confused, for about a minute. Then he called the next number in the queue. And, by “called”, I mean he said “70” just barely loud enough for me to hear – and I was standing right next to him. It was the first time I had heard anyone actually call out a number. No one had called out any of the other numbers. Certainly not in anything resembling an audible volume. What if the customer had been blind? They can’t see that the number on the deli counter thingy has gotten to theirs and the employees certainly weren’t keeping up with calling out the numbers so people could hear them. If they had, I’d have heard them call mine.
The woman holding #70 had apparently been paying really close attention to the deli counter thingy because she immediately piped up and said, in a loud, clear voice “I’m #70! I’m #70, right here!” As she moved over to the section of the cutting area where the young man was standing, one of the other employees called, in a rather snotty tone, “#70? Is #70 here?”
The woman who came back with the lady who was “helping” me tried to scan the bolts, despite being told that the code was popping up saying that the fabric wasn’t in stock. I shook my head. How can the fabric not be in stock? It’s in the freaking store! Doesn’t it have to be recorded as being in the store to actually be in the store? They kept fumbling with things and I finally had enough.
“You know what?” I said. “Just scan the two that are going through. I’ll take the yellow and the felt.”
“You don’t want the other ones?” they asked.
“I’d love the other ones, but it’s not working, I’ve already been here a ridiculously long time and I need to go pick someone up for a meeting. So just scan the two that are working and I’ll be on my way.”
The woman who had been trying to scan everything through asked “There’s two yards of the yellow, right?”
No. You know that there was a yard of each. You had repeated the amount several times when you tried to scan the other things through. I didn’t say that, of course. I was good and kept as much snark out of my voice as possible. “No, it’s a yard of the yellow and four of the felt.”
She went ahead and scanned the two fabrics, printed out the receipt and I was finally able to head up to the register. The woman there asked if I found everything I was looking for. I kept myself from saying “Yes, but the store wouldn’t let me buy it.” It took maybe three minutes to go through the check-out. When I finally got out to the car, I took a look at the clock.
I had been in the store for an hour and 15 minutes, people. It took me ten minutes, at most, to find the fabric I wanted and, as I’ve already mentioned, it took less than 5 minutes to actually purchase everything. That means I waited at the cutting area for an hour. An HOUR! I’ve NEVER had to wait in a line at a fabric store for an hour. If there had been an extremely long line and they were in the middle of a major sale on a holiday weekend and they were horribly understaffed I might have understood the delay. But the delay this time was just incompetence, poor manners, and general ineptitude. And poor planning in terms of store layout.
Here’s a little tip for you, if you ever decide to go into the craft supply business: If you operate a store that has “fabric” in the name and that markets specifically to people wanting to buy said fabric then, for the love of all that is holy and for the sake of your customers’ and employees’ sanity, have a cutting area that is large enough and laid out in a manner that allows for people to actually cut the yardages. I would’ve thought that would be obvious when planning the store’s layout but I guess I’m wrong.
Now, you might be thinking to yourself “Wow, Meg. The experience couldn’t have been all that bad. Don’t you think you were just over-reacting a bit?”
I don’t think being upset at being stranded at the cutting counter for a solid hour is over-reacting, though. I like to think I’m a fairly patient person. I put up with a lot and I try to give folks working in retail the benefit of the doubt in most situations. After all, I’ve been in that kind of situation myself – understaffed, overworked, etc. However, when I’m left with the impression that the people working in the store had just been pulled in off the sidewalk that morning and told “Come work in our store” without any kind of training, I’m not likely to be as forgiving.
One of the quickest ways to annoy customer-me is to ignore me. It’s kind of related to the storytelling part of my life. In case I haven’t mentioned it before, I’m a storyteller. Want to know what’s the worst thing you can do to a storyteller? Ignore them. Disregard the things they say. Wander off when they’re trying to talk to you. Don’t even acknowledge that they’re worth your time. All of that happened at JoAnn’s today. Perhaps that’s why the whole experience has left such a foul taste in my mouth.
I was so terribly flustered and frustrated and just in general out of sorts when I finally left the store that I didn’t even want to go to the grocery store to pick up stuff for dinner, as I had originally planned. I had to sit in the car in the parking lot and meditate for a few minutes before I could even think of driving back home! That’s not normally something that I have to do, even when I’ve had a particularly bad day.
It’ll be at least a few months before I even attempt to go back to the JoAnn’s at Fairfax Towne Center. I don’t care if it is small and cramped and doesn’t usually have exactly what I’m looking for – I’d rather go to the JoAnn’s out at Seven Corners. I think, however, that my fabric store jaunts are going to be centered more around G Street Fabrics and WalMart. WalMart usually has a crappy selection and G Street tends to run a little more expensive, but at least the people there know what they’re doing.

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