Don’t be afraid to ask
In this line of work there are no dumb questions.
Everybody makes mistakes. There’s no two ways around it.
At some point, we were the new person at our place of business. And more times than anyone would care to admit, we’ve all committed blunders. I wanted to keep it light this month and talk about some of the foolish mistakes I made coming up in this business and some stories I’ve heard from others along the same lines.
When I was a toddler and learning what things were, in my head a sink was the combination of a faucet and a sink. When I started working in the warehouse, I often would refer to sinks as faucets and faucets as sinks. I knew there was a difference, but for the longest time I couldn’t work it out in my head. I always played it off as misspeaking, but it was far worse than that.
When I first started, I continually would get “three-quarters” and “three-fourths” wrong. As I was training, I’d constantly ask people where a “three-quarters inch copper ninety” would be. I did this for about a week before someone finally clarified that the more popular nomenclature is “three-fourths inch.” I felt pretty foolish.
Speaking of nomenclature, I’m embarrassed to admit how long I spent looking in the back of a Delta Faucet catalog for a delta adapter. It’s the little things such as how tradespeople refer to products that someone less familiar has no idea about.
Growing up, I knew the bathroom contained a toilet and a sink. Working in the warehouse and at the counter, you start to hear a range of different words being used to describe the place I was so comfortable in my knowledge of. Now there is a water closet, a lavatory, people talking about how many holes are in the lav and the different types of faucets. It all went over my head for the longest time. I thought the lavatory was the entire bathroom and then I heard the water closet was the entire bathroom. It took me far longer than it should have to get everything into place.
I asked my warehouse staff members what problem they ran into the most: When packing an order, they’d view the upcoming items. They came across a 1-in. 300-lb. valve. They promptly got a fork truck and drove to the location only to find that not only was the valve not 300 lb., but they could hold it quite easily in the palm of their hand.
I’ve heard many stories about not checking box quantities. When one of our salesmen first started, he was packing an order than included one 3/4-in. sweat ball valve. He scanned a case on his RF gun, and without having any knowledge of the item, proceeded to ship an entire case of ball valves when it called for a quantity of one.
One of the best stories I’ve heard was about someone who was looking for a temperature and pressure gauge. They asked and someone told them, “Oh, Tridicator.” After hours of searching, the person returned to say, “I can’t find ‘Dictator’ in any of our vendor lists!” What was heard was “Try Dictator.” Not quite.
The biggest problem I hear about is the different lingo the trade has for items. Many former countermen were stumped when asked for dish 90s, dollar plugs, marvel adapters, doggy dishes and the list goes on and on.
We all make mistakes. For the young guys coming up in the business that may be reading this, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Worst case scenario, you’re wrong about something and you get corrected. For the older generation, remember what it was like coming up in the business and how many times you may have mistaken an adapter for a bushing or a slip coupling for a regular coupling.
There are a lot of opportunities to make mistakes in a wholesale building, but the biggest mistake of all is not asking questions. It’s the best way to learn and the best way to not make a mistake that will end up in a follow-up to this article in 10 years.