I DON’T REMEMBER exactly when yacht chandlers turned into huge fancy supermarkets. The marine stores of my youth were mostly dark, dank places that smelled intriguingly of tar and hemp, and had a long wooden counter with a couple of tough-looking guys behind it. One of them invariably had a wooden leg and a parrot on his shoulder. The other never wore anything above the waist other than a dirty singlet, the better to show off his tattoos of ladies with long legs and exposed bosoms.
Unless you knew the exact nautical terms for the things you wanted to buy, it was an intimidating experience to go shopping in these places. You had to know the difference between a futtock shroud and a gammon iron, otherwise you risked a severe dose of scoffing and derisive snorts of laughter, especially if you owned a vessel that displaced less than 600 tons deadweight.
But my, how things have changed. How genteel it has all become. And how overwhelming. And confusing. My local marine emporium now caters for clients who live in smart homes in the suburbs, and who go to work in suits and ties. They own fancy yachts that they keep in the downtown marina. They’ve never heard of a futtock shroud and the store assistants don’t give a damn because they don’t have to serve you any more. You have to serve yourself.
And this is the problem. Whereas in the olden days you could just ask the guy with the parrot to find you half a gallon of reddish-brown, hard epoxy, antifouling paint, you now have to wander aimlessly on a solo circumnavigation, back and forth between the serried ranks of shelves piled high with glittering trinkets for smart yachts. The best you can hope for, as you back and fill your way around the store, is to catch a glimpse of something that looks like a paint can, or something that at least looks as if it might logically lead you to a paint can, such as a piece of 180-grit sandpaper, or a 3-inch bristle paintbrush.
The fact that I can never find anything in the same place twice is, I think, a deliberate ploy to lead me to collide with merchandise that I would never bump into normally, with the object of creating what the marketing experts call an impulse buy.
Now, I am fairly resistant to impulse buying. In the first place, I hate shopping, and in the second place, all I want to do is grab the thing I really need and get out of there. Because I get mad when I can’t find what I need straight away, I sometimes walk out in a huff without buying anything at all. It’s not a clever thing to do, because eventually I have to come back and start shopping again, but I can’t help it, and it makes me feel better, at least temporarily.
So what I’d like to suggest is that marine supermarkets should fit little GPS units to their shopping carts. You should be able to punch out your desired purchase on the keyboard, and the GPS should guide you right to the very spot on the very shelf on which your intended purchase lurks. If you have ever tried to buy one flat-head, stainless-steel, machine screw, 1/4-inch by 3 inches, with a slotted head, plus washer and nut, you will know how handy the GPS could be.
It could have a husky lady’s voice saying: “Turn left; straight ahead 20 paces; second aisle on the right; third shelf from the top; Oh-oh, you’ve gone too far; recalculating . . . make 180-degree turn . . .”
There is probably a fortune awaiting the person who perfects this kind of GPS. It could be a stand-alone unit or an application available to those who can afford smart phones. And never mind marine stores. Think of how many you could sell to food supermarkets. No more frustrating searching for that elusive Belgian chocolate or that special Alabama moonshine your girl friend likes so much.
The technology exists. It’s such an obvious need that someone is bound to fill it soon. I can’t wait.
The customers had a tendency to stop shopping when the baskets become too full or too heavy.
— Sylvan N. Goldman, (On why he designed the first grocery carts in the 1930s.) NY Times, 27 Nov 84
Overhead at a Boy Scout meeting:
“Did you ever have one of those days when you felt just a little untrustworthy, disloyal, unhelpful, discourteous, cowardly, and antagonistic toward those wretched old women who always wait for suckers to help them across the goddam road?”
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)