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I waited in line for the next available clerk at the Plow and Hearth store in Barracks Road Shopping Center. When it was my turn, I stepped to the counter and pulled a bag from my purse. Then I explained the problem.

FatSticks“Last month, I used the store’s 20% discount coupon to purchase a 50-pound box of fat sticks—I do this every fall. The box was loaded into my car, but when my husband unloaded it, he noticed it was lighter than usual. He opened the box and discovered it was partially-filled with sticks that look like this instead of these.” I opened the bag that I’d pulled from my purse and showed her the different-sized sticks.

“Let me get the manager,” she said. “His name is Hank.”

After Hank arrived, I repeated my story, showed him the fat sticks, and said, “I apologize for not having my receipt with me today, but I have my copy of your catalog.” I placed the catalog on the counter. “I know the store is closing at this location, so in the future I’ll have to order fat sticks online. But before I do that, I wanted to know, is this how they’re being manufactured now?” I handed him the large fat stick, and he examined it.

“I’ve never seen them come like this,” he said.

“Neither had we. My husband and I decided to keep the box we paid for because we’ve already used several sticks—it takes twice as many big sticks to start a fire. And since there are fewer of them, we’re not going to make it through the winter.”

“I can see that,” Hank said and lapsed into thought.


AmyFishComplainingEarlier this year, I read Amy Fish’s The Art of Complaining Effectively, a little purple book I’d picked up at HippoCamp last year. In this 2013 publication, Fish—an ombudsman by profession and humorist by nature—walks the reader through the Five C’s of effective complaining: Calm, Concise, Concede, Compromise, and Copies. For my encounter at Plow and Hearth, I also utilized some problem-solving strategies from her 2019 book I Wanted Fries with That: How to Ask for What You Want and Get What You Need.

I began with the first two C’s, staying calm and speaking concisely. Then I implemented three of Fish’s techniques from I Wanted Fries with That: “Go step-by-step,” “Show the evidence,” and “Admit when you’re wrong.” I respected the complaint process at Plow and Hearth, presented the different-sized sticks, and conceded I didn’t bring my copy of the receipt—two more C’s.

When mentioning the store closing, our plan to purchase fat sticks next year and concern about the quality, I employed two more Fries-with-That pieces of advice: “Put yourself in their shoes” and “Involve the Artist.” Finally, by stating we’d keep the already-purchased box but would need more sticks, I indicated our willingness to compromise, the final C.


Back at Plow and Hearth, Hank gave me his decision. “I can give you a 35-pound box,” he said. I smiled and thanked him.

While loading it into my car, Hank said he’d opened the box and checked to be sure it was full of small fat sticks. I thanked him again and asked about ordering online next year. Use the 20% coupon, he advised, and watch for free shipping announcements on your email subscription.

“Thank you for your business and for being a loyal customer,” he said as he closed the back of my car.


Thank you, Hank. And thank you, Amy Fish, for helping me complain effectively. I asked for what I wanted and got what we needed.


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