Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Pie Reactions

Writing a post on a blog is an interesting thing! You never know when you'll really strike a chord and the comments will keep coming! Yesterday was one of those posts that I didn't really think too much about - just typed what was going on in our lives and you all really responded!

If you are like me, hospitality is one of those things that I have a great desire to reach out and extend but sometimes wonder where to start or get shy about the reaching out part. Yes, it was a bit out of my comfort zone to walk into a store and offer them an apple pie! I was nervous! But, I also knew the idea was on my heart for a reason.

Since so many of you were curious about the reactions - here is a bit more info!

I have wanted to do something like this for these three particular stores for a while. I hadn't really decided what or when. But, after reading this book - I knew it was time to take some action.

I did have one problem, though. I don't always receive friendly service and how would I present something like this without lying or having false motives? I sincerely did just want to do something nice for the employees of the stores - but I knew I could not truthfully say, "thank you for serving me with kindness" or for being so nice or anything like that!

I think my biggest goal was to come right out and say that I know I am not the easiest customer to help (just the logistics of coupons, rebates, sales), I will question a price if I don't think it rang up right. If I don't get my rebate for a certain item, I will return it. I know this is hard for them.

So, I wanted to acknowledge this and hopefully allow them to see that I am not trying to do anything to make their lives harder - in fact, I'd like to make it a little better just for one moment on one day.

I worked on a draft of a note I would include and here is what I eventually came up with:
Dear Walgreens, CVS or Rite Aid,

I am a regular customer in your store and I am appreciative and thankful for the opportunity to come in for sale items on a nearly weekly basis. My family and many others greatly benefit from these sales! I realize it is more work for the cashier to help a customer like me who is planning my trip around sales, rebates and coupons. Without each of you working here - I would not have the opportunity to stretch my dollars as far. I thank you for the part you play in serving our family.

Monica Xxxx
Here is how this played out - I had prepared my pies on Sunday evening. I chose pies because I still had lots of apple pie filling in my cupboard! And, I had three disposable pie plates - coincidence? I think not.

I counted out plates, napkins and plastic forks or spoons and a plastic knife for each store and put these in a small paper bag. I didn't want to create any extra work for them. So, providing everything they would need to enjoy it and that was easily disposed of seemed the best choice. I did not buy anything extra for this - just went through what I already had and made it work.

Store Number 1: CVS - I walked in with my pie and little paper bag (oh, and my four transaction list for shopping!) and went up to the counter. I saw a cashier I have had multiple times before and I said something like, "I am a regular customer here and I appreciate the opportunity to shop here - I made you a pie to enjoy. Thank you!"

There were two cashiers standing there and another customer. The cashier who I did not recognize was just speechless. She made some comment about how nice that was and the other gal said, "We have the best customers." The man next to me was pretty quiet too until the cashier told him I had brought them a pie. I moved on and let her assist him ~ and you know what? It felt really good to do this! Now I was energized for the next store.

I made my selections and headed for the register. The cashier I was not as familiar with was just floored at how much I got for how little and said, "How do you know how to read the coupons like that?" I admitted to her that it is a lot of work and I do spend time on Sunday afternoon planning out my shopping trips. It's worth it!

Store Number 2: Rite Aid - Again, I just walked right in with my pie and bag and saw two cashiers standing right by the door. One I'd never seen before (turns out he was in training as a new employee) and the other one I'd had a couple of times. I started to get shy - and just put the pie and bag in my cart as they seemed to be discussing something and I didn't want to make it awkward.

When the conversation was finished, I was still right up front - so I just walked up to the lady and said I had made them a pie just to thank them for the opportunity to shop there - I am a regular customer and I hoped they enjoyed it.

She didn't even look at me. She could not seem to take her eyes off the note I'd written as she was reading every word. I don't think she really knew quite what to do. She did thank me then.

When I went up to check out, they were both there again and she made a mention to the gentleman that I had brought them a pie. I thanked them again and said I hoped they enjoyed it. I was trying not to belabor the thank you's and oh, that is so nice - the point here was that they felt appreciated.

Store Number 3: Walgreens - Ok, I was nervous about this one. They aren't very friendly to me in here and I just wanted this to come across right! There was a long line at the check out, so I put the pie in my cart and started my shopping. I walked down through cosmetics and saw a gal I knew was a manager. She was emptying a shelf onto a cart - I just stopped and gave her my little spiel - I'm a regular customer and just want you to know I appreciate being able to shop here - I hope you enjoy your pie.

She just stared at me with her mouth hanging open and said something I won't repeat. Clearly, she was shocked. She thanked me and vanished into the back room with it. I did not see her again - but, I do hope it brightened her day.

I think that sometimes people who work in stores don't really understand the sales and coupons and rebates. I think sometimes they feel like we are sort of ripping them off. You know, I hope this was one small step toward changing that and giving something back to them. There is nothing wrong with shopping smart - but not everyone understands that. And, sometimes when we don't understand something we can feel threatened by it. Maybe this will begin a small seed of change in thought sprouting in their minds.

Regardless, they were served a blessing and you never know how God is going to use even the smallest thing when we obey Him. I love to think of the chain reaction of something like this. Just think - you go into a store and a manager is grumpy, so the employees are probably a bit on edge. Someone steps out in an act of kindness and suddenly they thaw around the edges a little. Maybe they smile or are kind to one of their employees and it becomes a cycle that improves all day.

Perhaps some of you remember reading in one of the Mitford books about Puny making a bunch of apple pies and Father Tim running around delivering them! Think of the happiness and joy that spread! After reading that one time, I baked a few pies and took them to our dentist office and our church office.

I know how much I love an encouraging word or someone acknowledging my work - just because we don't know those who wait on us in stores doesn't make them any less desiring of this as well.


Anonymous said...

I was recently at a ladies missionary conference that was about sharing Christ in the marketplace. It was very convicting as often I think of "other" friends or family that I want to know about the Lord. The sweet woman spoke of looking at those who serve you in the various areas of life, and seeing them as your mission field. One way was bringing them baked goods or flowers, etc...building up to a relationship where you could give them a tract. I LOVE the CVS, Walgreen idea, and love your blog.

Lee said...

Thanks for the follow up Monica. I think this is a GREAT idea and I'm so grateful to read how you handled the hospitality issue with someone (a business) that wasn't always kind to you. Again, a really great idea.

Angela - Life w/ Two Busy Boys said...

What an encouragment you are!!

Tracy said...

You are an inspiration! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Well done, Monica! :) Thanks for sharing the rest of the story. :)
Love you, Mom

Anonymous said...

Monica...when I read your blog this morning, it made me think of this email I recently received..

Dear friend, here is a daunting thought. You are a letter. I am a letter. God has written His message on our hearts and mailed us out to the world. People read His letters in our actions. They read His letters in our words. What will they read in your letter? Will they welcome the words like a soldier hungry for news from home, or view it a junk mail to be tossed in the trash. Will they dread the words like a bill that needs to be paid, or will they see it as God intended... a love letter wooing them to Christ.
What does your letter say today?

:o) Tamara...North Carolina
Thanks for sharing yourself and your family!!

Anonymous said...

Monica, I remember once you posted your apple pie recipe but can't find it anymore? Reading this post makes me want to try to make it! If you have time will you post your recipe?

GeonHui's Bakery said...

Inspiring! Thanks for sharing and thanks for being honest about being nervous about their reactions too :)

Brenda@CoffeeTeaBooks said...

What a wonderful idea! I want one of Esther's cakes, myself. :)

Now you have me thinking, who could I do this for?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this wonderful follow-up. I am sure that everyone was very surprised by your treat. I am sure it made their day better.
Thank you for the inspiration. I know I would be quite nervous too if I tried this.

Dianna said...

I really admire your conviction. Thanks for sharing your story!

Anonymous said...

You Wrote ~ "I think that sometimes people who work in stores don't really understand the sales and coupons and rebates. I think sometimes they feel like we are sort of ripping them off."

I'm a manager at east coast wholesale chain (as well as a CVS and Walgreens shopper), and as a manager, I work with employees with a variety of retail experience in their past, so I hear and learn a lot about how other companies treat their employees, as well as their policies and procedures. In our chain, we also have an instant rebate program, and we accept in-store coupons as well as manufacturer coupons, and we actually will accept an in-store coupon and a manufacturer coupon on the same item (it’s called “stacking coupons” I believe?). Many of our customers combine our sales, in-store instant rebates, store and manufacturer coupons to get some incredible deals. For example, yesterday I purchased a package of Lipton Teabags (remember, we’re wholesale, so the package had 312 teabags) taking advantage of a sale, an instant rebate, a $1 manufacturer coupon and a $2 in store coupon, getting the whole caboodle for $1.29. The week before, with rebates and coupons, I got a free four pack of Febreze candles and a large bottle of Benefiber for $.25. This practice is encouraged in our store, and our employees always love to see how people utilize our sales and rebates to get great deals. You have no idea how many times I’m told over the radio by cashiers “Hey, a customer just got X, Y, and Z with coupon A and combined with rebate B, and only paid $1.00!! Can you run to the floor and grab me some X, Y, and Z?” followed by a chorus of employees requesting I pull for them so they can get the same deals. I will proudly say that more than a couple of the deals I’ve taken part in are entirely to the credit of our proactively frugal customers, and we’re all grateful when they show us how to save a few dollars. We, like them, appreciate saving a few bucks and love any tip we can get.

However, some of our cashiers who come from other retail establishments are a bit wary of these techniques… After speaking with some and finding out why, maybe I can shed some light on the subject.

First of all, in many retail chains cashiers are accountable for their drawers, which means at the end of their shifts they must sort, count, and balance their drawers. Coupons have to be counted and totaled, which takes extra time. And coupons are rascally buggers, they constantly pop out of the drawers and go missing. When that happens, they either have to locate them, or their drawer will be “short.” If it is short by a certain amount (as determined by the store), then employees are written up. If they’re habitually written up, it can mean they are terminated. While this doesn’t excuse rudeness for accepting coupons nor should it make you feel bad about using them, it does go a bit to explain why some cashiers are less than excited about receiving coupons. I think you will find, generally, where cashiers are not accountable for their drawers, or have less strict policies on drawer overage/shortage, the cashiers are more gracious in their accepting of coupons and especially multiple coupons.

Secondly, even in our store, we are not as lucky to have all of our customers be courteous, gracious, and honest as you obviously are. Unfortunately, many customers will try, intentionally, to use coupons that are expired (or not yet valid), issued specifically for use for other stores only, or use coupons as they are not intended (using multiple on one item, or not buying enough product to take advantage of the coupon… ie only one when the coupon is good on two or more items). And even more unfortunately, these customers also tend to be quite rude when the issue is brought to the attention of the customer.

I remember one day when a customer tried to use expired coupons from another grocery store and when the cashier didn’t accept them, the customer started yelling at the cashier in the hopes of intimidating them into accepting the coupons. When that didn’t work (as our systems do not allow for coupons that are of certain types to be entered without a manager), I was called up front to assist. When I explained that the coupons were not valid and not from our store, the customer threw their coupons at the cashier and a pork loin they were holding at me, called both of us vulgar names, and stormed out of the store leaving all of her items in the collection area of the belt, and causing quite a scene. The incident reduced the cashier to tears, and I know for a fact that when that cashier sees somebody in her line with a wad of coupons, she gets an uneasy feeling. Further investigation revealed that this customer habitually causes a scene to get her coupons accepted, and many times to avoid confrontation, the supervisor, manager, or cashier will just accept them, which reinforces not only her bad behavior, but the uneasiness felt by some of the cashiers who’ve had experience with bad customers who cause scenes to save a few dollars.

And it may not be fair to the rest of the customers, a scene like this can ruin a whole day… A cashier who may seem unreasonably surly or rude to you, in spite of your friendliness, may have only 15 minutes prior, had a very bad encounter with a mind blowingly rude customer. Ideally, such an issue wouldn’t impact other customers, but after having coupons thrown at you and being called names, it’s hard to not let that get to you. Some days, you have a parade of customers who’re not so outwardly nasty, but who take little pot shots at you or what you’re doing, and that negativity does weigh you down after awhile. And as I said, as a CVS and Walgreens shopper, I’ve seen some pretty shocking behavior by customers there too. I’ve come to assume that if a cashier seems unfriendly towards me, it’s probably got little to nothing to do with me, and more to do with somebody else taking advantage (or trying to) of a deal that the store is running, or a series of equally rude or curt customers who came before me.

One thing to remember, by using coupons, you’re not ripping off the store. In fact, stores are reimbursed the face value of the coupon, PLUS another amount to defer the cost of handling them, usually $.8… Though some are as high as $.10 now because of increased shipping costs. So for example, in our particular store, we accept about 900 coupons a day (more on weekends and holidays). We are compensated the whole amount of the coupon, then the handling amount… With our average of 900 coupons a day, that’s at least another $72 a day, or $504 a week, or $2016 every 4 weeks, a large part of which, in our store at least, goes to a employee enrichment fund in our corporate office, and is divided amongst the stores in our chain to buy everything from employee of the month prizes to lunch, dinner, or ice cream for departments to reward them for hard work. In smaller stores, that overage amount works wonders to defray the cost of items that are sold with little-to-no profit. I know that in some stores, like CVS or Walgreens, with sales, some of their items are only sold for a few cents profit. The reason they point out in their Sunday’s circular that a sale item has a coupon is because they WANT you to utilize it, so they can make a few cents more on items with an already no or low profit.

Coupons are also tracked by the companies that distribute them, and go a long way to determining everything from deals that they make available to stores in the future, to what type of coupons they release in the future. Did you know that when customers use a lot of coupons on an ExtraCare item, that is basically like sending a “thank you!” to both CVS and the company featured in the sale? Sales that are of a resounding success, as seen in the use of coupons, are an enticement to have the sale repeated. So coupons not only are a way for you to save money, they are a way for stores to make a little extra money, keep tabs on the item spending habits of their customers while protecting their anonymity, as well as a guide used when the companies are formulating future sales and incentives. And yes, CVS does get reimbursed for their ExtraCare bucks by the company who sponsored the sale… They’re exactly like manufacturer gift certificates (like diaper or formula “checks”) issued only to that store. If you don’t spend them, I do not believe they get reimbursed for them. So, again, they want you to spend it so they get their money back, and so they can gauge the effectiveness of their marketing, and so they can get a feel for what sales bring people to the stores.

So if you get a rude person, don’t take it personally… Cashiers and retail folks have a tougher job then they get credit for. Long hours, rude people, not great pay… Combine all these factors, along with the fact that they’re people with feelings too, and it makes it a little easier to smile even when they’re down. Little gestures, like what you did, are a nice token to people who probably get put down at least 10 times a day.

Though one tip I will give you… Some stores have policies about accepting gifts from customers when the gift is a food item. If the item isn’t wrapped/factory sealed, the regulations of the store may require that it be thrown away and not eaten. I’d hate to think that you’re making pies for folks that they have to throw away instead of enjoy. It may be, unintentionally, kind of a bummer to receive it. :)

Sarah M said...

This is so sweet, I'm glad you shared!

Elise said...

That is great, Monica!! And I love how you never take the credit for these things. You just seem so humble. Hopefully, the Walgreens manager saw a little Jesus that day.

Anonymous said...

Awesome Monica! Thank you for the inspiration to do good works for others!

Anonymous said...

I'm impressed you were brave enough to do this! I think it's fantastic. Thanks for sharing the responses you got too. :)


Tracey said...


Anonymous said...

What an inspiring idea, thanks for sharing the details. (o:

Amy said...

Thanks for sharing the details, Monica. I would have been very shy about it too and you never know how people will take these things. I am so proud of you for putting yourself out there like that!

Monica Wilkinson said...


You can find a link to the pie recipe on my post yesterday. Otherwise, it was posted on September 11, 2006.

Hope that helps!

mama k said...

I got a little chuckle out of this post. Very sweet of you to do!

I worked at Hallmark for years. We had lots of difficult customers... the ones that came in 5 minutes before closing and then expected you to be their personal shopper for 30 minutes comes to mind... Anyway, it's not always an easy job serving the public and it means a lot when people are actually nice.

We had some regular customers who would bring us donuts and treats every once in awhile and it was always a sweet surprise.

Anonymous said...

Monica, I saw the recipe - thank you very much! Question - do you have to can the apples first or can you just cook them and then put them directly into the pie?

OnlyOnSale said...

you are a great encouragement.

Willys and Elizabeth (Lizzie) said...

Thanks for sharing this great idea... I recently made some dessert chocolate balls and took them to the guys at our local dump that we go to every weekend. I included a tract to also share the eternal gift of salvation with them. I will have to try doing something for the drug stores I go to. I know coupon shopping can be hard on the employees... so this is a great idea.

Anonymous said...

You are truly a gift! I think most people today are not used to this type of kindness. You deserve many blessings!!

Monica Wilkinson said...

Grace - sorry it took me so long to respond! I think it would work fine to use the sauce/apples fresh as well, though I have only tried it by canning and then using the apples.