It was about this time of year, early in the flower-planting season, that plugs started disappearing from the trays at our garden centre. This was a bonus for some customers who sidled up to the till with a four-pack containing three marigolds and asked for 50 per cent off, which, out of embarrassment, we often gave.
The missing plugs eventually turned up in the middle of the racks or under the benches. The flowers that survived were tucked into packs and given a thorough soaking.
Buddy Keith said the best thing to do was combine them into decorative pots. We had stacks of unsold 10-inch pots plus a few bags of soil and peat damaged from being on the bottom of the pallet. Understandably, consumers were reluctant to take these home in their clean cars, no matter how much tape was applied.
A potting station was set up outside the hoop house where we potted during slow times under Keith’s careful tutelage. Quickly an assembly line began to form with the staff, and curiously, customers began to cluster and watch us at work.
Every pot was a new adventure, a clean slate ready for interpretation. Many customers added their brush to the easel too, and we added their name to the pot they helped paint. Many came back to buy them after some greenhouse time with us.
I should mention at this point that Maria was a daily shopper at the grocer next door. She always made a point of walking through our garden centre en route home and, unhappy with the stock, would complain in her native tongue, then shuffle off in a flurry of hand gestures.
Many feared Maria. Forever dressed in black, she could be spotted from miles away and some staff actually hid when they saw her coming.
One day, I saw Maria furtively working away at one of the racks. I hadn’t seen her arrive.
Cautiously, I approached her to see if she needed some help and found her quietly customizing the four- and six-packs she wanted for her garden while tossing the plants she didn’t want behind the rack.
Clarity arrived for me. Not only had we found the culprit but the person running our till was ringing in a four-pack containing one petunia, one marigold and two pansies and didn’t find anything odd about it.
I said to Maria, “I will gladly give you those packs if you think they are too expensive.” Clearly surprised at being caught in the act, she spun on her heel and slapped me across the face.
I was equally surprised, though stunned might be a better word. But my folks taught me well, and I automatically took one pace back, bowed my head to the senior, and apologized for any offence. She quickly shuffled off empty handed.
Maria disappeared from the radar screen for a while but she and her daughters showed up en masse later in May and didn’t waste their time with four- and six-packs; they bought whole flats of Romas, cukes, lettuce, parsley, squash and zucchini. They pretty much cleaned us out with little question on price.
A couple of weeks later Maria returned alone, rubbing her chin while asking the staff for me, the bearded guy. She bought the last ornamental pot we had assembled from her pulled plugs, the one with the huge geranium surrounded by a sprinkle of pansies and overflowing wave petunias.
Our peace made, she shuffled off quite content. And yeah, we replaced our cashier.
Editorial: May/June 2007
Appeasing a Plug Puller
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