I needed (or thought I needed) a new lightbulb for the mast-mounted light on my sailboat. Since I was going to be raising the mast for the season, this was my last opportunity to replace this bulb, because once the mast was up, this light was about 15 feet above the deck and impossible to reach. It was now or never.
When I took the mast down in the fall, I knew that I would need to buy a bulb, so I did two things: I wrote down the numbers that were on the base of the bulb, and I took a picture of the bulb so that I’d know what I was looking for:
It doesn’t look like an unsual bulb to me, so when I was at Lowes, I decided to pick one up.
Me (standing in lightbulb aisle): Do you have 12-volt bulbs, like what would be used in RV’s or boats or cars?
Lowes “Associate”: All our specialty bulbs are right there (as he points to the shelf I was already looking at.)
Me: Would it help if I gave you a number that was on the bulb? It has the number 12V6CP on it.
Him: What does it look like?
Me: The base is not threaded. It has a couple of small pins that stick out from the side. Would you like to see a picture? I’ve got a picture here.
Him: Like this one? (He shows me a high-tech LED bulb with no metal base at all.)
Me: No, it has a metal base. Here; look at the picture.
Him: Hmm. I don’t know if we have anything like that.
Me: That’s OK – I’ll try an automotive store or a marina. Thanks.
Now that I think about it, that whole exchage was predictable, and I probably could have avoided the whole thing. Why would Lowes have a boat bulb? In any event, I thought it was worth a try. It’s a big store, and they carry a lot of stock.
So I drove down toward where I keep the boat, and along the way there is a small, old-time marina called “Barrett Marine.” The place is a traditional mom-and-pop place. Whenever I’ve gone there in the past, I’ve come away with what I went in there looking for. My dad used to bring his boats in there for service, maybe as long as 30 years ago. The owner-operator-manager is still the same man – “Mr. Barrett.” Years ago I mentioned my dad to him, and he knew my dad by name. It wouldn’t surprise me if he knows all his customers by name. It’s not that he has a small number of customers; it’s that he has a memory that is second to none. This place is very small, and there is very little stock out on the “showroom” floor. He has a “back room,” however, that I’ve never seen. It’s kind of like a miracle, because when you tell Mr. Barrett what you want, he disappears for a few minutes and then comes back with what you asked for.
So I walk in to Barrett’s, armed with my number and my picture. Mrs. Barrett greets me at the door and asks how she can help. I tell her what I want, and I show her the picture and the number. While she’s looking at it, Mr. Barrett comes out of the back room and takes a look. Before he gets to me, she says, “It looks like either a ‘90’ or a ‘104.’” I said, “Well the numbers on the bulb say ‘12V6CP.’”
Her: That means “12 volt, 6 candlepower.”
(He takes a quick look at the picture) Him: That’s a 90.
He disappears into the back room. A couple minutes later, he re-appears with a packet.
Him: Here’s two of them. That’ll be $3.12.
Me: I love you guys!
Wow. Now that’s customer service, isn’t it? The whole thing took, maybe 5 minutes.
When I got to the boat, it turns out that the problem wasn’t the bulb in the first place, but hey, now I’m prepared for when any of the bulbs on my boat do burn out. Plus, the whole experience gave me this great story to tell.