Why I’m never again shopping at Colpitts Office Products

When I first moved to Charlottetown 17 years ago, Carter and Company was still in business on Queen Street. Carter’s was your stationers’ stationer: creaky wooden floors, a vast range of products, excellent customer service.

You couldn’t ask for anything more in a stationery store.

And then came The Great Consolidation of the downtown stationery market in Charlottetown. Staples arrived on the outskirts. Carter’s closed their Queen Street store and opened on Kent Street. Eventually we were left with one stationery store downtown, Colpitts Office Products, seemingly a hybrid of Premium Office Products, Carter’s and Colpits that’s now part of a small Quebec chain.

It seemed like every move from the original Carter’s into today’s pale shadow involved a decrease in selection, friendliness and service. But, committed to downtown business as I am, as much as possible I’ve been shopping at Colpits just to help keep them alive. (After all, who wants to drive out to the edge of town to buy a pencil).

Until today.

Today I needed to mail a big book to Germany, so I needed a big envelope.

I went over to the Confederation Court Mall to Colpitts and in the envelope section I found exactly what I needed: big manila envelopes sold individually.

I went up to the counter to pay and was told “oh, you can’t buy this, you have to buy ten… they should have had a rubber band around them.”

I just want one envelope,” I replied.

You have to buy ten,” said the clerk.

So you can’t just sell me this one envelope here?”


Not needing 10 envelopes, nor wanting to spend $12.00 on 10 envelopes to get one, I left.

Five minutes later I had a single large envelope in hand, purchased at the Canada Post outlet at Shoppers Drug Mart. Where they sell big envelopes both individually and in larger quantities.

I’m never going back to Colpitts Office Products.


Because this experience, perhaps a result of “store policy” or a computer system incapable of selling items a la carte, and very obviously the result of a company that doesn’t allow its employees to be, well, friendly, was completely devoid of humanity.

Here I was, a guy with an envelope and the cash to buy it. An envelope sitting, individually and ready to purchase, on the counter between me and someone who should have been happy to sell it to me.

And her only response was “you have to buy 10.”

This is a violation not only of fundamental laws of customer service, but also of fundamental laws of human decency. A real person, in a company that gives their employees to latitude to be real human beings, would have said “give me a loonie and we’ll call it even.”

Instead their service quite clearly said “we don’t want to sell you what you’re looking for.”

So now they are never again going to sell me anything.


Wayne's picture
Wayne on May 18, 2010 - 23:53

give me a loonie and we’ll call it even.”

or the expectation/entitlement that would be next…

Sure, take it. And keep the loonie. We are not in business to stay in business with a plan. We are in business to further the pampering of customers who know how to run our business better then us. We can start by giving things away and we are going to start with you.”


People just love to tell others they should only shop downtown and complain about the lack of services there…until the price does not suit or the service does not suit or the hours or the pampering does not suit. And for some, it is about being pampered or having life changing events daily. Because they think they deserve it.

Eventually, they join we “early adapters” in line at the local box store.

JM's picture
JM on May 19, 2010 - 00:34

I agree it might not be the best customer service, but I think saying this business practice lacks human decency goes too far.

Sometimes businesses need to make decisions like this and have policies that are not always the most popular. I once owned a web hosting business that was acquired from the previous owner who wasn’t able to keep it afloat. They took payment in various ways from clients (cheque/cash/credit card etc.) and some paid monthly, some quarterly, some annually etc. with no real standards in place. Which sounds great and convenient for the customer, but it so happened for the low price of web hosting at $5/month, by having all this administrative headache the business was too inefficient and lost money.

We took it over, implemented standard annual billings via credit card or pre-authorized payment, no exceptions. Some clients were annoyed. It wasn’t the best “customer service” or as flexible, but it kept the price low, kept our operation efficient and with this and other measures helped make the business profitable so we were still around to provide service to the clients.

My point is, sometimes businesses need to make policies such as this, and I fully understand and can appreciate why they must do so. For their business model, clearly a cashier ringing in a single envelope, incurring a charge for swiping a debit or credit card, then processing this in their accounting system later, adds up to a loss. Their business is probably built for larger volume purchases. Perhaps this doesn’t suit your particular desire, in which case by all means shop elsewhere. But I wouldn’t call this business choice on their part “lack of human decency.”

For what it’s worth!

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on May 19, 2010 - 01:20

A small downtown is never going to compete on price or hours. The only advantage they have is service.

Having the opportunity to purchase a single envelope isn’t “pampering,” it’s simply good customer service; selling large envelopes in packages of 10 is big-box-style anti-customer-service that is not only annoying, but also needlessly wasteful.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on May 19, 2010 - 01:27

This is an issue of human decency. And also a matter of good business.

15 years ago I bought a short piece of metal strapping from&#160Clow’s Red and White in Hampshire. They charged me 37 cents. There was no “sorry, the minimum order is $10” or “I can’t sell you that little amount.” Clow’s likely didn’t make any money on that sale, if you factor in the cost of keeping metal strapping around just in case anyone wants to buy a few inches.

But their neighbourly approach to the matter meant that (a) I left feeling the world was a good place and (b) every time I needed to buy gas, groceries or a snow shovel, I went to Clow’s.

When someone says “you have to buy ten envelopes” it’s like they’ve thrown the regular rules of social conduct out the window, and taken on some foreign “business persona” where they’re allowed to be assholeistic.

I left Colpitt’s feeling like the world had let me down. I can’t imagine that’s good for business, and it certainly isn’t a way to make the better place.

Wayne's picture
Wayne on May 19, 2010 - 01:38

Good Customer Service does not equal being held in servitude to the public without proper care or concern about margins. But I need one Polident tablet to clean an instrument. I don’t need 96. So, I am going to Shoppers Drug tomorrow and demand that I be able to buy one tablet. Might even throw a drama queen hissy fit…tell them I demand “proper” customer service and that more then one is wasteful since I have all my own teeth. We will see how that good customer service works out for me.
We all got a chuckle over the “poor service” Helena Gurkis got at our airport a month or so ago. The only two things better then reading about demanding jump-thru-hoops customer service hissy fits are seeing them in person or throwing them yourself.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on May 19, 2010 - 17:18

A couple of points:

<li>I wasn’t looking for a “deal” – I was willing to pay whatever it cost Colpitts to provide me with a single envelope, including a reasonable margin. I&#160just wanted to buy one envelope, not 10.</li>
<li>For really big envelopes – the kind so big that can fit a copy of the Whole Earth Catalog – the standard unit of purchase has got to be “one.” Who actually needs 10 really big envelopes (unless they need a whole bunch of them). “10” seems like an absurd amount of really big envelopes to sell.</li>
<li>Really big envelopes are more like canoes then they are like Polident tablets. &#160It would be unreasonable to force customers to buy canoes in quantities of 10, wouldn’t it?</li>
<li>If the clerks response was something other than “no, you have to buy 10,” I would have likely been placated. “If we sell you a single envelope, no matter the cost, we’ll lose our envelope contract,” or whatever.</li>

RP's picture
RP on May 19, 2010 - 17:55

Buy the damn envelopes and go on with your life, Peter. You gotta choose your battles, and this wasn’t one I would have chosen. The dramatic declarations of “never again” probably won’t get you very far, either. They weren’t asking you to buy 1000 envelopes. 10 is a quite reasonable quantity, IHMO.

Btw, nice to see you’re using Mollom, although I believe it removes the necessity of having a separate captcha field as well.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on May 19, 2010 - 18:10

No, it’s not life and death. But humanity doesn’t erode all at once, it does so in little fits and starts, and it’s important to stop along the road every once in a while and declare inhumanity for what it is.

Envelopes don’t matter in the grander scheme of things, but the combined effect of a thousand little interactions we all have every day, stripped of their humanity, makes for a much lower quality of life for everyone.

Ken's picture
Ken on May 19, 2010 - 19:58

Internet killed the stationary store.

Rob Lantz's picture
Rob Lantz on May 19, 2010 - 20:22

Much like Peter’s experience 15 years ago at Clow’s, I can walk into my owner-operated neighbourhood store and buy a spool of cotton string, if I need a whole spool, or they will simply GIVE me four feet, if that’s all I need. I can also tell them, “I need these eggs right now but I don’t have any cash. I’ll get you back later” without so much as a blink of hesitation. I get back a quarter in change when I’m only owed 22 cents. That have this kind of relationship with many of their customers. They know I will continue to spend money there and the occasional transaction where they may not profit, or possibly even lose money, is inconsequential to them. And for all that I love them and I am a loyal customer.

zuma's picture
zuma on May 20, 2010 - 20:43


I was debating to join this debate. The service i was provided today has swayed me. I have been across Canada, lived and worked in 6 provinces. I have driven across Canada and Europe. I have been to the northeastern and west coast US.

I must say the worst customer service, i have ever experienced bar none has been in PEI. It amazes me that we pride our selves on being such a friendly, open tourist destination. Dont get me wrong there are some great spots in PEI and i will tip well and (in cases where i cant tip) i thank people for their service. In my opinion service is bad at least 85% of the time. Why does it feel that as a customer i am imposing on a cashier, waiter/tres, etc. Is it lack of training by employers or something else?

Just one more. Please employers(stores, gas stations etc.) instruct your employees to put the phone down, pause the conversation and focus on the customer.

Let the debate continue

Curious's picture
Curious on May 21, 2010 - 01:16

Peter ,

I have to wonder why you voiced your strong opinion here and not with the store manager from Colpitts at the time of your purchase. When I first read your words , I thought they were written by a five year old , to quote you ” I’m never again shopping at Colpitts Office Product s”. If the experience was a bad as you’re ranting about, why didn’t you comment to the one person that might have been able to assist you , the store manager.

I deal with Colpitts all the time. It’s one of my favorite stores for the fact , that it does offer excellent customer service.
With in a few minutes of my entering the store , I’m always greeted with a smile and an offer of help. I think it’s a
wonderful store and when ever I need office supplies , it will be my first stop to shop.

Chuck Stevenson's picture
Chuck Stevenson on May 21, 2010 - 01:29

Peter — I say good for you. We all have the right to vote with our hard earned money and the retailer or service provider that provides me good service at a reasonable price is going to win every time.

oliver's picture
oliver on May 21, 2010 - 10:20

If a seller has nobody else in the store to ring up, then any (cash) sale is a money maker for the store, provided it sells for more than the store paid for it. There is no transaction cost. The cost of providing decent service is overhead.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on May 21, 2010 - 13:01

A valid question, certainly. And something I’ve done in other places when similar lapses in service have occurred. All I&#160can say is that in this case the situation seemed so fundamentally broken that it didn’t seem worth the effort to address with a manager. Of course (good) managers will tell you that this is exactly the kind of feedback they want, so perhaps, in retrospect, this would have been a good idea.

Justin's picture
Justin on May 26, 2010 - 02:04

Maybe you were a bit premature. Likely you weren’t speaking to the owner or a manager of the franchise — a hired clerk would be a bit afraid to screw with the inventory system on the fly like that. Someone with a bit more savvy and authority might have written off the 10-pack from the files and continued selling the rest of the singles to other customers as time goes by. No “prolie” in any organization has the authority make the smallest of business decisions like that. Maybe you could have asked the clerk to phone a superior. Any business should entertain request by their customers and yours should be considered… even for a buck. But your request was to the clerk not someone who makes decisions. Colpitts isn’t losing your business for how you were treated, but rather because their inventory system has no Part Number for a ‘single envelope’.

Oliver's picture
Oliver on May 26, 2010 - 20:08

I think Peter’s point was that the clerk was absolute and final, and so had not been well trained in serving customers well. If you staff your store this way, who’s going to shop there, unless it’s to save money or time? Maybe the owner’s kin and close friends—and the unwary—but nobody else. A big box chain or corporate service provider has a large and changing staff to shuffle, faceless automated phone lines, and no real location. What they do to you or fail to do for you is less personal and less likely to register as an insult. A small local works without that protection. That’s not all to its disadvantage, because it brings the chance of customer loyalty. This one seems to have blown its chance with Peter. I suppose if the owner took an interest, showed contrition and persuaded Peter that no such thing would happen again, he or she would probably earn another.

Amanda's picture
Amanda on May 28, 2010 - 15:20

I understand feeling upset or dismayed in response to what you deemed “poor customer service”, I just can’t seem to fathom why a grown man would try to destroy a small buisness over a single envelope.

I guess it takes all kinds.

oliver's picture
oliver on May 28, 2010 - 20:19

Amanda, maybe Peter just does not realize his influence is so great in PEI that by blogging about an experience and his choice to shop elsewhere that he is condemning a business to failure. Or maybe he doesn’t realize that a blog is no place to get emotional or idealistic, or that blogging commits you literally and irrevocably to whatever you say, and never revisit the topic. Or maybe I’m being sarcastic. But seriously “try to destroy a small business”? Withholding charity is not the same as trying to destroy, and neither is blogging about something that occurred in public and isn’t even embarrassing to the parties involved, let alone damning, at least to judge from the reception it’s getting here. Maybe you should thank him for the better service your liable to enjoy now from your local stationer.

Bruce MacNaughton's picture
Bruce MacNaughton on May 30, 2010 - 22:03


This conversation is interesting; but the fault does lie with Colpitts. They had the envelopes displayed in a manner in which the customer could pick “one” up and hold it in their hands; there was no signage saying other wise but one would conclude that you would be able to purchase “one”. After coming to the counter, it is quite simple, give him the envelope; explain the policy as it applies but temper the customers future expectation and go fix the display. Simple.

Peter was not unreasonable in his expectations; Colpitts was sloppy in their management of the inventory and they lack leadership somewhere in the organization that does not allow staff to be thoughtful and empathetic to a situation such as this.

Colpitts would be wise to apologize to Peter; and make a donation of envelopes to the Voluntary Resource Centre and thank all for their contribution in making Colpitts a better company.

I love customer service issues.

Kevin's picture
Kevin on June 16, 2010 - 01:04

The counter attendant should have said, “give me a toonie and we’ll call it square” (not a loonie) but the point is valid. Whenever a customer asks a store to do something unusual (unusual in the store’s point of view, not the customer’s) the store should do whatever they can to accommodate the customer AND exact a price for it.

That way, not just good customer service with be there tomorrow — the store will be as well.

I understand burnout — I really do, but stores should always try to improve things even when things are going just fine. The maxim “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” is death to a retail or wholesale business; they should be fixing all the time if for no other reason but to keep the staff alive and awake — there’s nothing worse than a clerk/waiter/attendant/boss who has nothing left to learn about their job.

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