Not a rant, a winge or a moan, just a celebration of the art and craft of how to sell clothes to a bloke, and a recognition of times that will be gone – all too soon.
We have a clothing shop in my home town of Lydney with the word ‘Legend’ written all over it. It’s real name is Raymonds. It’s been going for donkey’s years. Don’t go in there with the idea that you will be buying just a pair of socks, or with any pretence of being in control. You’re not. But rest assured it’s what shopping for clothes should be about. Slightly gladiatorial.
Take this morning’s visit. Scrap of paper with the words ‘Trainers for gym, 1 pair socks’. Didn’t like any of the more modern stores’ offerings. “There’s always Raymonds…..if you dare” were the last words my wife said to me as I left the house this morning.
Raymonds – 15, De Witt – 0
Looked in the window, and saw a pair of trainers that looked as if they could be walking boots as well – you know, with ankle guards on. Appealed to the ‘rugged man’ in me. Revised shopping list – ‘use existing trainers for the gym, pose in leisure mode in new rugged-man trainer boots.’
Raymonds – 30, De Witt – 0
So I go inside. Bear in mind Raymonds is not a modern store by any stretch of the imagination. On the left, it still has big, dark wooden shop fittings along the wall with a glass counter in front. The same one that greeted your grandparent’s generation. Not a computer generated sign anywhere. Every price is hand-written in felt-tip pen. Be not deceived. They know what they are doing. And it isn’t written down in any manual.
Then your mum comes from behind the counter. Well it could be. It ought to be. Someone you can trust. I wonder if they had those nice trainer-boots in the window in size 10. We go though to the shoe section (even more dark wood fittings going up the ceiling stacked up with shoe boxes). They don’t.
Raymonds – 30, De Witt – 15
Ah-ha, backfooted her. She moves quickly to return the shot with a ‘but we’ve got the trainer version’. The colours are not really me, and the fit is a bit sloppy.
30 – All
“How about these?” She serves a blinder of a shot, straight down the line. They’re usually £39.00, but she’s selling them for £20.00. Nice rugged-man brown. I’m hooked.
Raymonds – 40, De Witt – 30
“Let’s talk socks” I say as we head into the main sales area. I desperately need to regain control of the situation. “Just one pair” I say hopefully, “like these” hitching up an ankle and showing her. By now she’s definitely your mum.
I like the long black thick sort made by Diamond. They have them in blue, cream or any other colour or make other than the ones I like. (You can mix-and-match as they wear out if you have just one colour).
Her niece is sent up the ancient wooden stairway (with uneven steps, of course) to check the stockroom. Meanwhile we find not one but three pairs of black, long length thick Diamond socks in one of the cavernous dark wooden draws. I panic, having a vision of a world without black, long-length, thick socks. I take them all.
We chat, and I eye up the new rugged-man clothing section. We walk around it. Hawkhead has gone bust, so she has a large amount of excellent quality rugged-man clothing at knock-down prices. They are good. Fleeces, shirts, jackets anything a rugged man might need. I’m feeling strong again, and mumble something about talking to my wife about it.
Now comes the master-stroke. As we wander, she puts some top-spin on a deceptive cross-court shot. “How will you be paying?” I know the struggle retailers have, so I volunteer card, cheque – “or cash?” she eyes me up. Foolishly I open my wallet and four tenners beckon to me. And her.
She lines up for the final shot. “That’s one of our shirts you’re wearing now, isn’t it? I’ve got some more of those!” My leisure uniform. Black t-shirt, with a lumberjack check shirt worn loosely. I only have two at the moment. A green and blue one would look nicely rugged.
The ball skims the net at lightening speed, hits the court and I flounder like a spilled jelly as the crowd are on their feet watching it cannon behind me. My forehead touches the hallowed turf of centre court as I hit the ground.
Game, set and match – Raymonds.
She scribbles down the bill in pencil on a scrap of paper which unsurprisingly is just under forty pounds. She reminds me I’ve got all that for the normal price of a pair of trainers.
She’s right, of course.
I leave the shop on a high, knowing that we’ve both won. I’ve got more than I wanted and she exceeded my expectations. She’s served one more customer that will help her to keep her small business trading at a time when large conglomerates are going to the wall.
Will I go back there? You betcha. You can’t get service like that over the internet, or from large chain stores for that matter, because what she does cannot be documented in a manual, it cannot be taught in a national curriculum or downloaded to a PC.
And long may she and others of her kind continue.