One word…Pictures! When you are going to the hardware store, you understand that the pipe comes out of the wall about “this much” and turns “this way” but it’s usually too complicated to explain properly. Take pictures from as many different angles as possible. If you don’t have a picture phone, you better be prepared to draw the situation.
Along those same lines, you should know that most things in home improvement are known by several names. You shouldn’t get angry when the person trying to help you doesn’t know an item by the same name and seems confused. Draw the item or describe it a different way! People at hardware stores are very good at translating a description or drawing into exactly what you need.
If at all possible, take a sample of what you are looking for with you or be ready to provide measurements to the person helping you. The only thing standard, in the entire store, is a painter’s pole. There is no standard door, standard wall, or standard screw in your entire house. Just trust me on this. NEVER expect that the item you have is “standard” or you will be incredibly disappointed and you’ll make thousands of extra trips to the store.
The more information you take to the hardware store, the more satisfied you will be with your trip. If you are wondering what information you really need to take, you can always call and ask. I always tell people, you can never provide too much information on your project.