In the Name of Better Relations

Last night I watched an old episode of Monsters where two men end up killing an alien they think is hostile, only to see that he's holding a sign that says "Merry Christmas" after he's dead. They walk around the corner of the hallway to find a decorated Christmas tree and discover that one of the guy's daughter helped with the festivities.

"Daddy, where's my friend Glim-Glim?" she says. "You didn't hurt him did you?"

I remember watching that episode when I was eight years old and crying uncontrollably. "If they had only stopped for a second to see he was trying to be their friend", I thought to myself. Sometimes, however, people shoot first and ask questions later. I find this type of scenario can happen often around the retail store, so I thought I'd try to explain a few things that in-store shoppers may not be aware of—in the name of better relations.

Every morning when I get to K&L, the first thing I do after dropping my wallet and phone down on my desk is head to the warehouse for stocking. It's not only about filling the shelves and making the store look nice, it's also about emptying boxes so that we have enough carry-out materials for the day. I spend at least two hours each day cutting off the tops, pulling out the bottles, and getting a stack of empties ready for the retail grind. When people buy wine at a wine store, they expect an empty box will be available at purchase time to help facilitate the journey back to their car. Boxes are always an issue for us, however. Think of it this way: they come in with twelve bottles inside, but often leave with six or seven.

The recent bag law in San Mateo County has only made this worse. By law, we have to charge customers ten cents if they would like a paper bag—even just a one bottle sleeve to walk out the door with. It's not like ten cents is a big deal, but you wouldn't believe (or maybe you would) what people will do to get out of paying it. The first thing they'll say is: well can I have a box instead? Because of this inevitable daily situation, we had to start enforcing a six bottle or more rule for all empty boxes, just to cut down on the losses. We also started paying a large truck to deliver empty wine boxes from wineries once a week—our manager coordinating delivery before the store opens each Tuesday. We began stashing what little extras we did have in the attic for winter rations, and we even ordered a set of do-it-yourself, put-them-together box kits just in case things get really hairy. It's at the point where boxes cause us a great deal of stress.

So when a customer comes in and says, "Hey, I'm moving and I was wondering if I could take a bunch of your empty boxes," we all get instantly sensitive.

"No, you can't. We need these for our in-store customers, unfortunately."

Then we both sit there, looking at the gigantic stack of boxes we've just amassed next to the register, and suddenly we look like petty assholes. Why? Because every morning there is indeed a humongous pile of cardboard that makes it look like we have boxes coming out of our ears. That isn't the case, however. It's usually only enough to get through the first hour or two of the morning. Sometimes customers will walk over and start helping themselves, only to have one of us quickly intervene and ask them what they need.

"Just taking a few boxes."

"You can't, I'm sorry."

And then we launch into the whole explanation all over again. If you knew what it took to get these boxes ready—the hours of cutting in the warehouse, the money we had to pay to get extras delivered, and the back-and-forth between the other building—constantly running to get more—then I think you would understand our sensitivity. But, of course, there's no way you would understand this issue unless you worked at K&L. Most people just end up thinking we're assholes or we're cheap. There are many assholes who work in the wine industry—people who are snooty just for the sake of it—but when it comes to empty boxes, it's just plain fear. You should see what happens when we run out. It isn't pretty.

Empty boxes: one of the many sources of frustration between retailers and customers. Hopefully now that you understand our plight, we can all work together in the name of getting your wine safely to your car without any hassle or hurt feelings.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll