Glowsticks for Food
It’s always bothered me how my mother and grandmother are treated in retail establishments because of their accents. As a result, I’ve always been the one to have to “take it up with the manager” or “write a letter” when injustice happens. Combine this with the fact that I’m a writer and sort of an ass, and it makes for interesting letters written on contact forms. So….enjoy.
Dear Dollar Tree, Inc.,
Let me tell you a story.
A story about $1 glowsticks.
Back in March, I was planning a non-profit event that required the purchase of large number of non-toxic glowsticks. As I stood in the middle of the isle, baffled by your sea of chemiluminescent of assorted plastic tubes, a kindly store clerk asked me if I needed assistance. What I needed help with was some simple mathematical forecasting. Probably not the best thing to ask from a retail clerk wearing a Spiderman band-aid to cover her eyebrow ring (thus drawing more attention to the eyebrow ring) but I give everyone a shot. And it really was a cool band-aid.
My equation was this:
My quarterly events with $0 cover charge generally attract 220-260 people.
We charge $1 per glowstick, thus averaging 1.5 glowsticks purchased per person = 330-390 needed
When we charge $5 for the event, which includes one free glowstick + $1 for each additional glowstick, attendance drops to 40-50 people with an average of 1.2 glowsticks per person = 96-120 glowsticks needed
Based on this tiny market study, what is the projected glowstick consumption if I was enacting a $2 cover that includes one free glowstick? (get your calculators, kids!)
The girl laughed, told me the event sounded awesome, and I should just buy a case of assorted glowsticks (350) to be safe and to guarantee the largest array of colors for my guests. Then I could return the unused ones for a credit on my card as long as I provided a receipt. She also assured me that by purchasing a case, “positive thinking” rather than “over-thinking” would cosmically attract more people to our event. I figured a larger marketing budget rather than some sort of glowstick mediation exercise would bring more people, but I don’t try to argue with people that base their entire life on principals of “The Secret”.
As I was checking out, I happened to notice the vague return policy. “I’m not sure if I’m going to use all of these,” I told the cashier, “If I charge this to my card, will I be able to return the unopened ones, even if there are a lot of them?”
“Yes,” he replied, “It’s not a big deal, we return stuff all the time – just hold onto your receipt.”
So, the event rolls around and as expected, starving artists don’t like to pay any kind of cover, we only had 70 people (But 1.7 glowsticks per person. Fascinating statistical anomaly right? Oh, you’re asleep. Sorry. I promise, I’m getting somewhere with this.) The event left me with an overage of 230 glowsticks, which were still completely sealed, sorted by color, separated into stacks of 20.
The next day, I came with the case and the person behind the desk went into a fit of rage when I attempted to return them. She claimed there was no physical way to credit my card back and that I would need exchange them for other items. She also said that creating a store credit would be out of the question because “your systems can’t handle this kind of thing”. Then some smoke came out of her ears. Okay, maybe that part didn’t happen, but seriously, she was pissed.
I politely left with my glowsticks and decided I should try another time, with a different person that wasn’t having such a bad day. Who knows – perhaps her dog died or she was forced to use a public stall without any toilet paper in it and she got some kind of rash. Or she might have received a call from her credit card company, alerting her that she accidentally ordered a cake for her daughter’s birthday party from an erotic baking company with a hard-of-hearing customer service person and instead of “Happy Birthday Alice,” someone was delivering a $1,200 “Forty Foot Phallus” cake to the nunnery where her sister lives while I was yammering on about stupid glowsticks. I mean, that would ruin anyone’s day, right?
So, I called later to talk to the manager, and the girl on the phone (Beth?) told me I could return them and there would be no problem. She apologized for “Crankie Jo” and said that she was on meds or something (not kidding. She actually said that). I went all the way BACK to the store, dropped the giant pile of glowsticks off with “Beth”, picked up a few jars of delightful name-brand mustard (way to go, Dollar Tree! That’s stuff seriously costs like $3 at the grocery store) and checked out. Once Beth finally looked back at my giant stack of glow-stick, her expression was that of a teenage girl looking at a “plus” sign on a pregnancy test (which is also conveniently available at the Dollar Tree. Score two for you guys.)
“Oh, no, you can’t return that many,” she said, shaking her pony tail furiously.
“Wait, WHAT? You said on the phone I could.”
“Well, I didn’t know you had that many.”
“Well, the store told me it would be easier if I BOUGHT this many…”
“Let me talk to my manager….”
SURPRISE! Beth actually had no authority. (It occurred to me that after reading “SURPRISE”, you might have been expecting the erotic cake rather than a lack of infrastructure at your store. I assure you, the cake is on it’s way to the nunnery and it’s out of my hands. Sorry to disappoint.)
Beth walked around for a while and returned with a grim look on her face.
“Well, how many can I return?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Some?”
“What do you mean, ‘Some’? What did your manger say?”
“She’s not here. She’s….gone.”
“What? For how long?”
“I don’t know?”
“Okay…so if she’s dead, who’s next in command?”
“Me, I guess.” Beth looked very concerned. I guess she didn’t understand my attempt at lightening the situation.
“And you said I could return all the glowsticks, I have the original receipt and credit card I charged them for, I just bought them last week, and they are untouched.”
“Uhhhhhhhhhh….Maybe 20 would be okay, but I had to buy something else before I give it to you.”
“That’s not gonna work for me, Beth. I need you manager and I don’t want to hold up all the people behind me. Can you find her? Is she actual dead? Do you sell shovels here? I can help you…”
“Yeah, okay. I mean. Wait. I mean…..But you should still at least buy a few things while you’re here so I can give you your money back.” I guess this is Dollar Tree logic. Poor Beth, she just doesn’t “get me,” , even after all we’ve been through together.
As I walked through the aisles of tape that never sticks to anything except for itself and detergent that is affordable, but causes my sensitive skin to have horrible allergic reactions I pondered the life, the universe, and Everything Bagels (which you sell now, too. Way to go!) In the midst of my spiritual enlightening in the cleaning isle, I considered mixing some bleach and potpourri into a magical potion and offering it up to the VISA gods in exchange for a credit card allow for a refund, but I thought it might look like an act of terrorism so I resisted. As I continued to wander the isles, grabbing bags of Festingo-Brand-Cheesy-Orange-Triangles® and assorted treats for my volunteers and high school interns, I could feel the piecing stares of the employees and hushed whispers. The employees had gathered and it seems that they thought I was trying to pull some sort of Dollar Store Glow Stick Crime Caper™
Finally, an older lady that looked really mad came over, so I assumed she was the manager. I waited in line again, patiently, and smiles at Beth.
“Okay, here, I bought twenty items, how many am I allowed to return?”
Beth looked around frantically. The mean lady came to her side and looked me dead in the eye, “For twenty? I can take 30 glowsticks back and give you $10.”
I’m a fairly mild-mannered person, so it takes a lot for me to get flushed and angry. “Listen, this is not let’s make a deal. This is not the Beijing Silk Market. It’s the frakkin Dollar Tree in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania. Please, I’m begging you, can you just take the glow sticks or issue me some sort of receipt so I don’t have to store hundreds of glowsticks in my small house or office that’s prone to flooding?”
“It’s our policy,” she replied with a smile, pointing to the same Return Policy that the previous cashier said allowed for this type of transaction. “You see, you’re not just trying to return just anything. This is a SEASONAL item, you’re lucky I’m even ALLOWING you to exchange anything because there are NO RETURNS on SEASONAL items, MA’AM. $10 for 30 glowsticks plus whatever else you’re buying. Take it or leave it?”
What was I supposed to do? It’s not even my money, it’s the charity’s money. And I hate being called Ma’am. So, I took it. And instead of following my mission statement to “exhibit, promote, inspire, and connect creative people,” for the last few months, I’ve been exchanging glowsticks for food, 20-30 at a time (pre-counted & rubber-banded for your convenience), having to wait for the lines to clear as to not inconvenience other guests, explaining the situation to a new cashier each time, enduring the rolled eyes and the leers and the wasted time. All because I can’t track down the girl with the Spiderman band-aid that told me it would be okay.
I’m not trying to be difficult. I know everyone is frustrated because they are getting paid minimum wage in a depressed economy, but look at it this way – some of us are in this world literally earning NOTHING. I used to earn a comfortable living in the corporate world, and then I just got sick of the lies, lack of respect for creativity, and injustice. I’ve literally put every last cent on the line to grow my community organization – which is up the street from this Dollar Tree location, by the way – to help shake things up in our town and maybe create a few jobs in the arts.
At first, I was honestly terrified to write this letter for fear of getting “blacklisted” for future charitable donations now that we’ve obtained our 501(c)3 status. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that honesty (and a little bit of snarky humor) is worth potentially getting “blacklisted” for if it means that I can make a change. Or at least make some laugh. Or annoy the heck out of you like you annoyed the heck out of me. Eh, I take what I can get.
I could have saved you a lot of time if I had just written, “Your return policy sucks, Dollar Tree,” and hit send. The same way you could have saved ME a lot of time by saying, “No, ma’am, you should buy an entire case of glowsticks because you won’t be able to return them if your event sucks due to lack of funding.” So, do me a favor. Even if you don’t change your crappy return policy, can you please clarify it to your employees so future generations of glowstick buying fools don’t end running around with glowstick packs like some kind of futuristic hobos? Thanks.
Founder, Project Twenty1
Co-Founder, Member & Advisory Board of SEVERAL other local arts orgs that I won’t name (but I’ll make sure to BCC on this letter)
Attached: Stock photo of a girl carrying a chicken with a windup key on its back. Because it makes just as much sense as your return policy.)