Monday, November 30, 2009
Released from Captivity
There is a book I enjoyed very much - French or Foe, written by Polly Plat, an American expatriate living in France. The book is oriented towards those who will be in France for extended periods, living or working there. However, it is of value to the armchair traveler as well, or just those who want a window into the French culture, much like the Culture Shock! series of books. In French or Foe, each chapter examines and explores a different facet of French culture.
In one section, Platt explains how to navigate the bureaucracies of France, which can be quite vexing. The secret, according to her, is to develop a relationship with an employee. Individuals in those positions can certainly pull strings and make things happen.
In many ways, the concept is applicable on this side of the Atlantic anywhere you have a public agency or in the private sector, where you have a captive audience. How can that be in New York City, with so much competition?
In Manhattan, the business environment has become very difficult, even prior to the economic downturn. Vacancies are everywhere. However, there are still plenty of merchants in many sectors - there is no shortage of clothiers and restaurants. Where there is a particular dearth of merchants, however, is in essential services, where markups are limited and luxury pricing is not doable (laundromats, shoe repair shops, lumber yards, and hardware stores), and in industrial supplies, due to both real estate costs and lack of customers, since most industry has left the city.
With industry gone, many industrial/commercial supply houses have also left or gone out of business, such as Tunnel Machinery, Commercial Plastics, Space Surplus Metals, Victor Machinery, and Zelf - a fascinating place in SoHo that offered rental of heavy machinery.
But industrial/commercial suppliers are still needed by the trades. Ordering online is not always desirable; often repairs and work cannot wait for shipment. As I wrote in No Students After One, most suppliers to the trade in the city operate at street level and are subject to patronage by retail customers, many who are very unfamiliar with the product line and would be better suited shopping elsewhere. Compound this with the dwindling number of these places, and you have all the basic ingredients for a captive audience with impatient salespeople and brusk, occasionally abusive, service.
The solution is much like dealing with the French bureaucracies: develop a relationship with someone there, earn their respect, and you can be treated like a customer.
This area was once home to forty dealers of machinery, now gone when the last dealer, Grand Machinery Exchange, relocated to Long Island in 2006. Some suppliers to the trade remain, such as Faerman Cash Register and Lendy Electric Supply, located at 176 Grand Street in Chinatown/Little Italy (seen in the photo). Lendy's atmosphere is unmistakably one to the trade. There is no self service or browsing aisles - the customer takes a number and waits in line to be served. Products are brought to you as you ask for them, so you need to know what you want and what it is called. At times, the place can become quite crowded, but here you will find a knowledgeable staff with products you can trust - the bulk of the customers are contractors. You will get honest dealings and no-nonsense recommendations. Upselling is not going to work here.
I found my recent visit there quite pleasant and my salesperson very informative and accommodating. Lendy's has a broad range of hardware and electrical items, including many unique specialty products nearly impossible to find in the city. However, they do not take advantage of their captive audience and punish the customer. If you go there, you will find as I did, a French tutorial will not be needed. At Lendy Electric, you are released from captivity :)