Wednesday, August 8

Yakity-Yak. They Don't Seem To Talk Back.

A few weeks ago I took a visit over to the East Bay to check out some of the shops I'd been hearing about for long too long without ever having paid a visit. One I've always been excited to visit was Tail of the Yak. It's hard to describe the shop, but suffice it to say, it's got a lot of what you'd never expect. And it's all laid out in a kind of Alice in Wonderland, fairytale kind of way. Crowns of sterling silver, little angels lined up like marching troops, Buddha's smiling, ribbon, stationery and wrapping papers beckoning you to buy. As you may be able to see from these photos, it's all pretty enchanting and unique.

Except for one thing...the staff. You know me, I rarely post anything too negative, that's not what I like to be about. But with this shop, I just couldn't hold back. It's beautiful and beguiling, so it was so disappointing when I was greeted with barely an arrogant grunt by a woman more interested in eating her frozen yogurt than offering a smile and a hello. I introduced myself, asked if I might write about the shop and take a few photos. She put a spoon full of yogurt in her mouth and nodded in the direction of the owner. Again, I introduced myself with a card and the owner shrugged and said fine and then turned away. So, with all that said, Tail of the Yak is no fairytale land where everything is shiny and perfect. I can find a ton of inspiration here, no doubt, because it is beautifully done and they have exquisite taste. But the prices are quite high and honestly, I don't go into a store to be treated as unkindly as I felt visiting Tail of the Yak. It gets me down the way gracious behavior has gone out the window these days, and it makes me a little sad, so I had to be honest. I couldn't just tell you it had beautiful things, and then have you go there and have a bad experience. Just like people, I hope to find a shop welcoming, not just in appearance but in attitude, as well. So, just take a look at the photos and gather any inspiration they may offer. Then you can either pay a visit and make your own decision, or simply find these beautiful, but somewhat tainted objects of desire elsewhere.


All photos by sfgirlbybay.

25 comments:

Bacchus said...

Thanks for writing this. It is so very disappointing in this day and age to have this kind of experience in a boutique store. We expect it at Macy's but not in just beautiful shops.

I had the same experience at Urban Nest in Noe Valley. The owner couldn't be bothered to say hello while on a personal call. Needless to say none of the cute items came home with me.

Part of the draw of small shops is the experience and to have such cute merchandise and displays be soured by poor service is inexcuseable.

I'd like to hear more about the service when you write about stores. Good service would certainly draw me to someplace new.

Dianne said...

Thank you for pointing out just how important it is to feel welcomed in a shop. Customer service does seem to be at a premium these days, so I'm happy to see someone who isn't afraid to tell it like it is. Hopefully someone hips this place to the reputation they've gained by being so rudely uninterested in you. Especially appalling after you've made the effort to introduce yourself and told them you would be writing about them. I just discovered yoru blog through a google alert today, so I'm off to explore it and learn more about you!

chez shoes said...

You know, I've almost come to expect that type of experience in small, beautiful shops. Unless one is clearly there to drop a fistful of cash, it seems the treatment falls into one of two categories: apathetic, or, often in my case, suspicious - I tend to be followed around and hounded by salespeople repeatedly asking me if they can help me find something, as though I'd steal something if they let me out of their sight.

Anonymous said...

The name fits the attitude! With the prices being high, they ought to want to be nicer so they could get rid of their merchandise. But one thing is for sure, they will keep business away at that rate.

Anonymous said...

Sad but hilariously ("these beautiful but tainted objects of desire") told. Thanks for sharing the story and these beautiful pictures! -- Joyce

Gracehoper said...

Here they are living this nice life in their beautiful and successful shop and along comes a person who appreciated and shares their tastes and wants to spread the word (or photos) and they can't be bothered for a smile. It takes two seconds to give a decent smile.

You don't have to be my best friend but give me a smile or a nod or some acknowledgement that you appreciate having a customer for Pete's sake!

That kind of thing really gets me worked up (obviously)

housemartin.typepad said...

Victoria- this is so true it hurts! I have been a customer there for 15 YEARS! I have always felt the same...love the ambiance and product, hate the (lack of) service. Why dont people know that service is part of the experience. Especially after all these years. I hate to be mean too but it is pretty over the top. They all dress up in their Victorian finery and hold their noses high. Go look people, but take your money elsewhere.

jordan said...

When I saw these photos (before I even read your post) I said out loud "I can't believe she got pictures at Tail of the Yak." I've wanted to blog about this before but every time I've asked they always shut me down. At least you got the photos!

As for the rudeness, I make it over there about every two months and they've always been friendly. (Even when they said, "no photos."

That sucks they were lame to you.

Kimberly said...

I was in the shop visiting from the east coast last May and had a good experience. The owner and salespeople were all nice (though not overly enthusiastic). Maybe you caught them on a bad day...?

Miss Natalie said...

Tail of the Yak is one of my favorite stores for inspiration and small gifts. I describe it to friends as falling through Alice's looking glass, and part of that journey is dealing with the Mad Hatter and the Duchess. The shop is full of unique oddities, and that includes the staff. I always feel that they dress and act in character. I pop into the store on a monthly basis and I've never had a run-in with them, but they are a bit distant and don't fall all over themselves to help you. It's a different idea of customer service than we're used to in America.

I believe it's still worth the trip to Elmwood to see the shop in person. Plus, while you're there you can zip in around the corner to Ici ice cream for a handmade and delicious pick-me-up.

Deepa said...

I don't think it's out of place to comment on the service of a place. It's part of the entire buying experience. When I am treated badly I tend to think it's because of my skin color. So in one way it's encouraging to know that in some places sullen attitudes are dished out irrespective of race. Thanks for speaking out. I think more reviewers need to do the same.

sfgirlbybay said...

I appreciate hearing about everyone's experiences, good and bad. You know, I debated for a couple of weeks about posting at all, because I just didn't know what to say.

And, yes, I've gone into plenty of shops where the staff is aloof, and not super friendly - I live in Pac Heights. I don't even like it when a shop is overly friendly and won't leave you alone. In this case, it really just felt awkward, and uncomfortable. I think I just get fed up with anyone, be it a store, a post office, a driver - whatever - being rude and distant. I think it's a sad commentary on our culture to think it's okay to be that way, or that acting that way makes people superior. It's just my biggest pet-peeve, I suppose. I think I should have lived in the fifties, where manners and being neighborly was much more commonplace.

Anne said...

Hello (from your old Saus neighbor)!

I couldn't resist telling you this - I had the exact experience at Tail of the Yak (and strangely enough, I'm wearing a pair of earrings today that I purchased there a few years back). I found the staff there to be absolutely intolerable as far as rudeness and indifference. In fact, I even had one of them tell me to please not touch anything - as if I was a child! Sad, indeed.

shopping monkey said...

Ow ow ow! Feeling the pain of your experience from both sides: I own two little shops (Bend, Oregon), and am hyper-sensitive (meaning I'll have a major freakin' fit if I hear of transgressions) to the #1 rule, which is making people feel welcome and comfortable. My training manual is full of pet peeves, do's and don'ts that I've learned from years of intensive shopping. We little indie shops only have a couple of aces in the hole that help us survive and compete with the big boys: a good eye for merchandise (and merchandising), and customer service. That second part goes beyond the hello you get when you walk in the door. It means being sensitive to when people just want to wander about, lost in their thoughts, without pressure or salesmanship... or on the other side, being ready with a good idea and fabulous wrapping when someone dashes in for a last-minute gift. And in case anyone hasn't noticed, the economic situation sucks right now; we can't afford to turn away customers in any way. My dear, I'm afraid I would have gushed all over you had you come to my store to take pictures and put me in your blog!

Sarah said...

Victoria good on you for posting this. Bad customer service drives me crazy. It's not hard to be friendly and if you are, it can really help drive sales. To me it's a no brainer. I don't want to asked as soon as I step through the door if I need help but I like to be greeted, then if I need more help I feel I can approach them.

one black bird said...

i have been going to tail of the yak for probably twenty years now. they are aloof as you say but i have never had them be out and out rude to me. so sorry to hear you had a bad experience. no one wants to be made to feel uncomfortable when entering a place of business.

on their behalf (not excusing the rudeness) i know they have always prided themselves as a small word of mouth business and haven't gone the route via advertising or exposure that many businesses go. the blog world, magazines, and promotion are all things people expect businesses to get all excited about but some businesses really don't want to be written about and want to stay small, quiet and special.

it is a feather in your cap that you did get photos. i tried to take some many,many, years ago and they were reluctant then too. so not much has changed and it seems they want to keep it that way.

i will always love tail of the yak. it really is a gem of a store. and at the holidays they do give away (not sell) their annual, very gorgeous, screen printed calendars as a thank you to their customers. i have a very large collection of them from years past which i treasure.

sfgirlbybay said...

thanks one black bird for the other point of view. the thing was, i only introduced myself so that i could ask permission to write about them and take the photos, as i always do. i did not expect, or want, any extra attention or special treatment - it's just a blog. if they hadn't wanted to the exposure, they could have politely said 'no thanks'.

i'm sure these ladies have good and bad days, so everyone can judge for themselves. but my friend who was with me, and i both felt a distinct chilly vibe that made the experience a disappointment. again, they have an amazing shop, so maybe just go in armed with polite indifference.

Anonymous said...

I live in the East Bay and always have to stop by Maison d'Etre after Tail of the Yak in order to restore my faith in the cohabitation of beauty and kindness or liveliness. I don't know that I could say anyone at TOTY has ever been outright rude, but they aren't warm, curious, engaging or interested in me as a customer or as someone who supports their business and their ideas. As a business model and a buying environment, I find that unfortunate.

Last August I had a friend and his 11-year-old daughter, Georgia, visiting from Minneapolis. We spent one day collecting beach glass and other ocean treasures, and the next day I took them to Tail of the Yak to choose some special glass dishes for Georgia's finds. As we walked to the car afterward, Georgia was sullen and moody, and I asked what was wrong. She said, very emotionally, that she hated the store. Strong word, I offered, and asked her if she would tell me why. She went on to say that she felt like the women there weren't nice and were looking down on her (and more feelings in that vein). She was stung by the atmosphere and had really internalized the experience. I couldn't and wouldn't argue with her, as I know that chill well. All I could do was tell Georgia that she belongs anywhere she wishes to be, and that she is welcome anywhere regardless of whether or not others know how to be welcoming. I also asked her to try and think of the lovely things in the store separately from the people who work there, as I don't want Georgia to think that she doesn't get to love refinement, beauty, and form (expressed as I hate that store) because she associates those things with being made to feel unwelcome and unwanted.

I've never mentioned it before because, frankly, I don't think the culture of the store values anything other than the culture of the store. Which, to my mind, means it will always be small -- and I don't mean the space.

katiedid said...

I was so sad to read all of the comments abou this store. They obviously put alot of effort into the display and thoughfulness into the merchandise. It is really too bad that thier enjoyment in creating the store does not translate into the enjoyment of watching others admire the shop.

nice-etc said...

yeah that sort of attitude can really ruin your shopping experience.

..besides the snooty won't give you the time of day attidtude, i've come across a lot of shop owners who have developed their bad attitude due to lack of sales, and all of the "window shoppers"....I mean i imagine it would get extremely disheartening if your shop is going through a rough time..the stress of bills, lack of interest, etc..but i wish someone would give them all a pep talk about customer service and just the use of the world "hello".

hopefully you just caught those two on a bad day!

Bacchus said...

I run a small store and it is disheartening on the weeks that you scrape by to make a few tiny sales. I try to keep my staff more focused then. I buy them lunch or ice cream, I put my paperwork away and try to use my own energy to make things better. Customers should trump paperwork any day. Unless it is payroll. LOL

A little friendliness goes a long way.

Dorian said...

I have shopped at Tail of the Yak for years. I guess it just depends on the day you are there - I have had exceedingly nice ladies wait on me that were enthusiastic about the merchandise and on another day, someone whose nose seemed very long as she looked down it at me.

anahata said...

OMG! I actually saw your pretty feature here of Tail of the Yak and purposfully didn't read it for many days because I was SO put off by the staff when I went out of my way to visit them as well. I too felt very offended by their intense snobbery. ANd I agree about not bad mouthing folks. But it's so wierd to seem like a tresspasser when trying to be a patron. You got me? definitely odd. Glad you posted this and I finally read it. Maybe they will too and realize they come off less than welcoming.

amy said...

I can honestly feel what you've said here. I love the idea of supporting small (non-chain), local businesses as much as possible. However I am equally disappointed (and maddened!) by the increasing lack of good customer service at any type of business though specifically at these otherwise hidden gems. I have access to a great little neighborhood grocery with speciality cheeses, meats, etc. (vs Safeway, etc) but I rarely go because the people are always too aloof to talk about their products or offer simple friendly talk. I don't know what has happened to our society in this regard. For me, there is a direct connection between great customer service and my repeat business. Thanks for sharing; maybe it will catch the eye of some of these shop owners.

Leah said...

Hey Victoria,

I was totally bummed out when I first read this. I just think there's NO excuse for treating customers (even admitted lookie-loos) badly, or for acting chilly and snobby. I have turned tail and walked out of shops -- never to return -- from which I'd been fully intending to buy something when I got that kind of vibe. (Another thing I can't stand: When salespeople silently follow you around the whole time, like they think you're going to try to stuff something in your pocket if they take their eyes off you for a second.) Those stores and owners don't deserve our patronage.

That said, I stopped in at TotY today after having driven past the place at least once a week for the past five years and vowing that the next time I would actually park the car and go inside. Today was the day, since I had a half-hour or so to kill before my daughter got out of school.

Anyway, I didn't have high hopes after reading your post, but I found the service to be perfectly pleasant and helpful, though not overly chatty (which makes me uncomfortable in a different way). I wonder if someone sent them your write-up, and whether they've had an attitude adjustment as a result?

The wares there are beautiful, but I found the prices for most things absolutely ridiculous. (I asked to see a set of four Venetian glass goblets that were up on a high shelf. The saleswoman happily climbed up, moved several things aside, and grabbed the set for me to examine more closely. Turns out, they were $950.)

Oh well.

Thanks for having the guts to post such an honest evaluation of the place!

Leah