I did a 30 year stretch of retail. 30 long miserable years. Don’t ask me why it took so long to get out of it. It was a comfort zone. Something that I knew and despite my utter hatred for the job, I continued to go back, year after year after year. Even down here in the Keys, after all I had gone through to get here, I still played the game for a few years. I’m finally out and intend to stay out.
For those of you in retail, the next 6 weeks are going to be the most miserable, frustrating, and stress filled weeks of your useless existence on the planet. For the retail working stiff, the holiday buying season is one of dread. What do you have to look forward to you may ask? Read on:
Note: I will not be held responsible for any depression, heavy drinking, strangling of bosses, managers, co workers, or customers, attempted suicides, bouts of insanity, screaming, loss of sleep, loss of dignity, or any other health issues. You chose your poison, like I did. So take it. Like I did.
Just to put things into perspective here, last year I wrote about people rioting over $2 waffle makers. This year so far, in one store, the mobs of shoppers in search of bargains panicked when the escalator to the second floor broke down. As of this posting the survivors where still stuck on the escalator while authorities were mounting a rescue effort. Little hope remains for them. And you, as a retail worker bee, get to deal with these morons.
For those of you just starting out in the wonderful high paced exciting field of retail, this is the high water mark of the year. For the next six weeks from Black Friday to the middle of January, your store will be determining, based on sales, whether to keep or can your ass for the next year. Rather than work to maintain strong sales over the entire year, many stores face the holiday season with the realization that the bottom line depends on how much is sold over this time period. Therefore, from the store owner on down to the chain of command, through all the managers, dept. heads, and office personnel, the bottom lines falls on your worthless hide to save the company. Your job is to sell, sell, sell. Get the money. You will be pressured, humiliated, harangued, hurried and harassed. If you fail, it’s your ass. If you beat the expectations, and outsell the goals, the management will take the credit, and the profits. You, will probably still be unemployed. The company will go on, with or without you.
Your sales goals will be unreachable. Well, they always are, that is the way management sets it up. Big promises like a carrot on a stick, but always juuuusssstttt out of reach. If only you did better, dedicated yourself more, went that extra little bit. Hint: It will never be enough. And if by some miracle of nature you did beat your sales goals, the next sales goal will be even higher.
There will be promises of bonus’s. Maybe an extra something in the old pay envelope. You won’t see it. You may get some useless company swag or an obsolete desk bauble like a paper calendar with a motivational saying for the day. As for actual money, well, the company simply did not make enough this year to hand out bonus’s. The boss will tell everyone this just before stepping into a limo for a ride to the airport to spend the holidays at some tropical or ski resort with family. Laughing all the way while lighting cuban cigars with $100 bills as you toil away behind your counter.
But the holidays are not just about money. There are the people. The customers. Those for whom you live to serve. I have other names for them. Few of which are printable, even by my low standards. You, as the retail monkey will be abused from all ends. When management isn’t jumping down your throat the customers will be berating you at all times. Wanting sizes and colors that are no longer in stock. Coming in on Dec. 24th., 30 minutes before closing and throwing a tantrum because you don’t have what they want and why the hell can’t you get it right now dammit?. Those $2 waffle makers are a bargain but why can’t you sell one for $1? Customers are rude, impatient, and godawful downright fucking stupid. And you have to stand there with a fake smile on your face and take every lump of feces they throw your way. Fail to do so, and they will run straight to management to tell on you, like a tattle tale in pre school. There is something about shopping for bargains that takes the average adult grown up human and turns them into a bratty 4 year old. If they don’t get their way immediately they will sit in the middle of the aisle, cry and hold their breath until they get what they want. It’s your job to humiliate yourself even more to appease them, and get all their money.
And of course, with all the other joys you have to deal with, this will be the time of the year where all the support systems will fail you, just when you need them the most. That 10 year old computer system running windows XP will crash. The credit card machine will fail. You will run out of paper for receipts, the power will go out, and it will all happen when you have a line of impatient customers ready to check out stretching from your point of sale to the back of the store.
A customer with a pile of crap will try to pay with a credit card that is invalid. Or by check which requires a management approval. But the manager is nowhere to be found. The next will want to buy a $2 waffle maker using a $100 bill. Your change is long gone and nobody has thought to make a bank run to get more.
The inventory staff has failed to properly price something and now you must listen to the customer scream and yell because your cash register over charged them by a nickel. It will be all you can do to resist grabbing them by the lapels and bitch slapping them repeatedly.
Want some more?
There are the hours. The long long, miserable hours. Forget about taking any time off now. No vacations, unless you are the big boss. No flying home to see your family that you haven’t seen in ten years. It don’t mean shit to the company if your gramma is 102 and just wants to see your smiling face one last time before she goes to the great beyond. No spending any quality time with loved ones. The only party you might get to attend will be the company party and even then, somebody needs to man the cash register while your co workers stand around, eat from a pre packaged party tray, drink some watered down punch, and listen to management talk about the tough times ahead. Not that you will be in the mood for any partying anyways. By the end of the day you are so burnt out and disgusted the last thing you want to do is interact with other people. And besides, you have some shopping to do of your own, even though the credit card is maxed out. But you are sure that bonus will come through and you can pay down the balance and get some breathing room going into the next year. You are just so sure it will.
By Dec. 24th you are tinseled out. If you hear one more holiday jingle or song on the store speakers you will snap. The store was supposed to close early so everyone could go home and enjoy what little bit of holiday is left but the manager, who has had a fight with his wife, is in no hurry to go home so he demands that everyone stay a little bit longer and get those extra last minute sales while he sits in his office and gets drunk.
Then the real hell begins. Return season. People who spend hours shopping and choosing just that precise correct gift now are returning it. You are instructed by management that under no uncertain terms are you to ever give actual money back to anyone. Replace something, exchange for something else, put the money on a gift card, anything but giving back the money, no matter how much the customer fusses. And they will. And when they do, after you have done everything including giving up your personal dignity to convince them that the store will be keeping your money, the manager will come out and hand them a check and say no problem. Then glare at you like you should have simply done that in the first place. It’s a no win situation. And you are the no winner.
If the holiday season was successful it was because of the leadership and cutting edge ability of management to make it so. If it was not, it was your fault. You failed to live up to the expectations of the company. You did not apply your self enough, did not go the extra mile. You will be demoted, if there is such a thing, or simply cut loose. Such is the life of a retail worker bee.
Laughing about all this? Think I am just spinning a yarn. Each and every instance I mentioned has happened to me when I was in retail. All of it. If you wonder sometimes why I come down hard against corporations and bosses and the like, it starts with the self imposed prison term I served as a retail worker bee. If you are in retail, or thinking of starting a career in retail, think again. You may regret your decision.
Sure I know, all companies make money by selling something. That is how it works. But there is a big difference in selling something that you have personally created or built, and selling for somebody else who could care less if you live or die, as long as you make the sale first. Instead of bowing to the corporate lords and masters, build your own company. Find goods or services that you can provide and as a result see the actual fruits of your own labor. Life is too important to be paid by the hour. You are better than a blue vest punching a time clock. Use that brain thingy and learn to innovate. If you fail you fail. So what. There are worse things than failing…like working retail for 30 years. Learn from your mistakes and try again.
And then maybe next holiday season, you can enjoy it like you want to.
What do you call a broken escalator?