My mom has been wanting to wear wigs for several years, and I’ve bought her a few shorties that never quite worked out and she never wore. She also tried to purchase her own online a few times and ended up falling prey to the cheap prices on some overseas sites that use pictures of good wigs like Raquel Welch and then ship the customer a piece of crap that in no way looks like the stock photo. Every time I go visit her, she calls me over to her computer and asks me to point out to her which wigs would look nice on her, which I do repeatedly, but she never pulls the trigger and buys anything.
So when I went out there last week and she started to do the same thing again, I insisted that we find an actual wig salon where she could try some on and make a decision; otherwise, she was going to spend hours clicking on the same pictures of the same wigs over and over at different sites and not buy anything (not that I don’t do the same thing all the time, but still). A quick Google search revealed that an online store I recognized – Headcovers Unlimited – had a physical store about 20 miles from my mother’s house, and, knowing that a lot of brick and mortar stores frown upon drop-ins (as well as knowing that without setting a date my mother probably wouldn’t ever go through with it) I called them up and made an appointment for her this morning at 11:30 AM.
I was surprised when we got to the store at how big it was – this was the front building, and there was another entire building behind it. It looked brand-new and even appeared to still be under construction, and although when we got inside there were no other customers, I noticed right away that the back parking lot was full (my GPS took us around to the back lot when we should have parked in the front one, otherwise I never would have seen any of this). I even made note of it to my mom, because I’ve never seen so many cars parked in a wig salon parking lot before. Keep this in mind because it’s going to be important later.
There was a $50 charge that we had to pay upfront before the salesgirl would even work with us; I was not surprised by the sitting fee because I know how a brick and mortar store struggles to stay afloat when people can come in, spend an hour trying on wigs, and then leave without buying anything only to find a cheaper price online and purchase it that way. And Headcovers Unlimited didn’t do anything shady like cut off the tags so we did not know what it was we were trying on, so okay, we paid the $50 upfront with the understanding that the price would be deducted from whatever we bought (well, the full $50 would be deducted if we bought something they had in stock, but if we had to have it ordered only $25 would be deducted from the price, but fine, whatever). Once we’d paid the fee, the salesgirl took us to a little corner of the foyer where they had a vanity table set up for her to try on the wigs.
As you can see from the photos, the “store” section of all this space was actually quite limited, and was in fact just a tiny little sliver of the front foyer. The rest of the building, from what I could tell, was office space. NOT that I was allowed to see any of it, and I mean ANY of it – because here was the one real bitch of the whole experience, IMHO: by the time I’d driven the 50 miles it took to get to this place, where, might I remind you, we had made an appointment, the salesgirl WOULD NOT LET ME USE THEIR BATHROOM. And after driving fifty miles to get there, believe me, I needed to pee! I kind of just stared at her and blinked a lot when she first told me this, but she insisted it could not be done because they didn’t have a bathroom at all in that building, and they couldn’t have me walking around to the other one due to ‘liability issues.’ Um, okay. She then told me there was a McDonald’s up the street that had a bathroom I could use, so I had to leave my mom at the store and drive back up the road, through fairly heavy traffic and one very long stoplight, to run into a nasty McDonald’s and use their toilet.
Needless to say, ya’ll, when I got back about 10-15 minutes later, I was – pardon the pun – PISSED. I’m not going to lie, I pitched a nice little hissy about it at the time, asking the girl if they would SERIOUSLY make my seventy-year-old mother who could barely walk due to her back and knee problems load up in my car and drive to a fast food restaurant to pee after MAKING AN APPOINTMENT at their shop, and she insisted that because their restroom was in the ‘other building’ and there were ‘liability issues’ that yes, that would in fact be the case. I told her that was basically stupid and needed to be recitifed because it was pretty unacceptable, and she continued to apologize but stuck to her guns about the matter. Whatever.
Every time I’ve attempted to shop for wigs in a brick and mortar store, there’s been some sort of weirdness like this going on. My experience at Cookie’s store was better, but going there without an appointment was my first encounter with being treated like a criminal from the moment I entered because I didn’t have one. And yet, even after learning that lesson, I still got treated like a second-class citizen because, after driving almost an hour to get to the store where I’d been sure to make an appointment, I had the audacity to need to pee. What the hell IS it with these places and their bizarre rules and restrctive behavior?
Speaking of rigid rules, this little section in the photo above was their entire collection of visible wigs (notice in the other photos it’s all hats on the mannequins), so I think you get the gist of how tiny the actual ‘salon’ area of the place was. And you can’t see it here, because my mom is blocking it in this photo, but at the entrance to this little area was a standing sign instructing customers not to go back there. So later, when my mom wanted to look at some blonde colors (she was mostly trying on grays) the salesgirl asked her to walk over to this little area and indicate a few blondes she wanted to try; my mom mistakenly thought that meant she was allowed to walk back there, and once she stepped past the sign the girl actually made her step back and stay out of there, instructing her to just point to which wigs she wanted to try. Seriously? I mean, I get that wigs are delicate and they don’t want their sample wigs being handled, or that I dunno, people try to steal them or something? But again, for someone who has already paid $50 just to try some stuff on, I mean, you really can’t let them walk back behind the counter and look closely at the wigs? Even with the saleperson standing right there to prevent whatever horrible damage it is they think someone might do if they get back there – set everything on fire with a blowtorch, maybe? Pee on the wigs because they’ve been holding it for an hour and aren’t allowed to use their facilities?
Maybe it’s the whole not wanting people to get too much of a look at the tags and brand names, but that didn’t seem to be the case here. All the wigs my mom tried on had their internal tags as well as the hanging tags, and the brand names and colors were clearly marked. In fact, we were instructed to look at all the wigs the store had available on their website and send the names of them in ahead of time, so they could pull what they had in advance. So I don’t get how it could be that. I did take those three pictures of the store, though, and I certainly didn’t hide that I was doing so, so maybe they didn’t trust me with my camera? I dunno, by the time they went over to look at blondes I’d put up my phone and wasn’t using it at all, and if they’d had a problem with me taking pictures I certainly gave them the opportunity to tell me so, because again, I wasn’t hiding the fact I was taking pictures at all. So yeah, I don’t get it.
OK ranting aside, though, the salesperson did pull several short wigs for my mom and was helpful as well as patient (my mom wanted to try them all on over and over and wanted to try lots of different colors, and overall the appointment lasted an hour). And the wig my mom bought, which was the Winner by Raquel Welch, ended up only costing her about $120 which was a surprise to me. I expected a much bigger markup than this store was adding, and there was also no pressure to purchase anything at all. The girl didn’t try to talk my mom into buying a more expensive wig, or to buy more than one, and in fact, while she was as helpful as she needed to be and always pleasant and patient (even when I was chewing her out over the bathroom situation) she really wasn’t trying to sell to us much at all. She was definitely knowledgeable enough about the wigs she was showing, she just didn’t seem too concerned about whether or not we ordered anything.
Her laid-back attitude, the size of the salon space – especially as opposed to how big the entire two buildings were – and the weirdness about the bathroom all lead me to believe that a negligible amount of the store’s profit comes from in-store sales. In fact, if I had to guess (which I do) I’d surmise they make all their real money from their online store, and the whole operation is a warehouse and ordering center servicing their website, with a few square feet of space thrown in to offer the occasional customer a place to try some on. So, we were basically visiting their warehouse, which is why they didn’t have a bathroom for customers and wouldn’t allow me to go into the ‘other’ building to pee (this would also explain why there were SO many cars in the parking lot when there was no one but us in the store/foyer). Okay. Not exactly sure it’s legal to call yourself an open-to-the-public retail store and not have a bathroom on the premises, and even if it is, it really isn’t wise; but in the end, my mom was happy with the wig she ordered and the service she received, and she really had fun trying on different wigs and getting that personal attention.
So just like the strange experience I had the last time I shopped in a physical store, I will once again chalk this up to a place that can be useful to someone who really needs a wig (my mom’s hair has thinned considerably over the years) and wants to be sure they get to try some on first before they buy. But to get that priviledge you’re going to have to follow some really weird rules that may make you feel like you’re doing something sketchy, or secretive, or just plain icky. It seems to me that when dealing with people who have hair loss this would be the last way you want your clients to feel, but my guess is those personal interactions and appointments are so few and far between it’s not worth it to accommodate them any more than they already are. In fact, if you look at their website, it doesn’t advertise the aspect of a physical store anywhere; the only reason I thought to call and make an appointment at all is because the store has been in operation for a LONG time, and I used to work in the area, and back in the 90’s they did have a big physical store with tons of wigs to try on, so I was still remembering that when I Google-searched for my mom and was reminded of the location (they were in another space back then, BTW).
It’s a shame, though; I get that online ordering has made having an online component a necessity, but it shouldn’t mean that good service goes out the window because of that; if a store really no longer has time to work with people in person because it isn’t worth their time financially, then they should just close up that part of the store and commit fully to their online model.
But hey, that’s just my opinion.