A recent incident described in detail over on the peanut brought back some wonderful vivid memories for me…just kidding, they were scream inducing nightmares…of one of the worst decisions, in a long line of bad decisions that I have made over my lifetime. A decision to pursue a “career” in retail. Let me splain’ all the sordid details:
In 1978, I moved to Daytona Beach, Florida. I had spent the 6 previous years out of high school wasting my time in college where I majored in volleyball and alcohol abuse. In between I worked road construction, dropped out of said college, moved to Delaware where I played lots of volleyball and abused alcohol. I finally saved enough to head for warmer climates and chose Daytona because I had been there on a vacation and thought it would be a good place to live, play more volleyball, and abuse more alcohol. (It wasn’t but that is an entire other story in and of itself.) Whilst there I got yet another road construction job and late the first summer took scuba diving lessons at a local shop. It was a lifelong dream of mine to learn to dive and I fell in love with it. So much so that when I was done with the course and a genuine scuba diver, the shop had an opening for a retail/worker bee position, so I took it, little knowing the horrors that would befall me for the next 30 years of my stupidness. My first day on the job should have been a clue. I fixed a toilet and repaired a water pump on an AMC Gremlin. It became readily apparent that this job would involve very little scuba diving. I was working for less than minimum wage, 6 days a week, no commissions on sales, and the boss made it abundantly clear from the beginning that he was a flaming asshole. But I stuck it out believing that things would get more better. Well, they changed, but not much more better. The asshole sold the business to a rich couple who were looking for a hobby to impress their wealthy family. Promises were made, of better pay, lighter hours, even a commission scheme was put in. But it was so complicated that it was impossible to make any money off of it. Through all this I was given extensive training in the art of salesmanship. And I will say at this point, it did pay off in that I did learn how to sell, I just seldom had the desire to do so.
Anyways, after about 5 years in the shop I was offered a sales rep position in the dive industry which paid well, but had way too much travel and other bullshit. About this time I got my first Harley and I knew that the diving career was over. I quit, went to mechanics school in Daytona, and got a job the day I graduated in Orlando. That began 15 years of moving from dealership to dealership. Working the retail floor, selling expensive motorcycles and over priced crap to whiny ass biker wannabe’s who had more money than they knew what to do with, and personalities of grade school children. It all came crashing down, literally, with a couple of bike wrecks and I went into the paddle industry. It allowed me to make a move to the Keys but the little bipolar thug I worked for in a kayak shop about drove me to commit a foul and physically impossible deed with a kayak paddle. I left, did my own gig before finally heading down here to the end of the world and starting up the app and web business.
Now I can pick and chose my customers, and battles. No upper management nor corporate rules to abide by. My own hours, I lose when the money doesn’t come in, I win when it does. And trust me, I am much more content and happy than I was when I was standing behind a counter shilling snorkels, oil, and paddles.
Working in retail is beyond a doubt, one of the worst career decisions a person can make. It is the bottom of the bottom of a deep barrel of bottomless shit. The average retail worker bee makes poor wages, works way more hours than they should, never has things like weekends off, paid holidays, or affordable and usable benefits. They are promised the moon, the sky, and the stars above if only they would apply themselves to their job just that much more. And just that much more is always just that much more out of reach. Retail worker bees have no power, no authority, and no leeway to bend the rules. Remember that when you are dealing with one, like a car salesman, trying to get a discount or some other perceived extra. Retail worker bees are regulated by a litany of corporate rules, regulations, and punishments for not following said rules and regulations. They are trained to do one thing and one thing only, sell you whatever shit it is they have to sell. That is all. Those who stray outside of the hive, and offer things like helping a little old lady load up a couple of lawn chairs she purchased, are chastised severely. (Seriously, if a little old lady just bought a couple of chairs and needed some assistance getting them loaded into the car, this is a no brainer. Get off your fat fucking lazy ass and help her. There is no “store policy”. It’s called manners/politeness/doing what is right. The manager and the warehouse worker bee are damn lucky a certain marine doesn’t come by to discuss the matter with them but I digress). The point is that these worker bees are trained rigidly from the beginning to obey the edicts of that blessed bible of the corporate world… the employee manual. A set of draconian instructions basically telling you that as an employee of said corporate hive, you are now the property of the hive and will obey to the letter all that is written and codified within those hallowed pages. To stray from the hive means the dreaded, “Getting written up.” A largely imaginative adult version of one of those school threats to put whatever crime against humanity you committed on your permanent record. (Has anyone out there ever lost a job or not got hired or not been able to do anything, because of their marks on their permanent record? Anyone?) A major fuck up of course results in dismissal, which if you look at that from my point of view, is a good thing. You are free to run away and enjoy life the way it’s supposed to be lived, without all that corporate bullshit.
While the average retail worker bee has no authority, they have plenty of authoritarian figures ruling over them. Managers, assistant managers, office managers, store owners, and anyone who was hired before them and believes in something called seniority, thereby giving them the right to order around those who came into the hive later on. A retail worker bee must ask for and sometimes beg permission to do anything. Give a discount, take a check, leave their station to take a bathroom break. It’s all regulated. There is no bending the rules. And anytime there is something wrong, a sale is rung up at the wrong price, an inventory is out of whack, or a customer is unhappy, well, shit rolls downhill and the retail worker bee is on the flatlands. It always will be the fault of those who can least defend themselves, and that would be the retail worker bee.
The retail worker bee will always be caught in the middle if there is a dispute between the corporate overlords and the buying customer. On one hand, you would like to help the little old lady with her chairs, on the other, she paid for them, let her deal with it, there are other customers to sell too, go back and do your job. Either way, you come out as the asshole in these scenarios. And managers know this all too well.
A very common tactic, used by dictators and kings over the centuries is to get your minions to fight and compete for your affections and good graces. Let them fight over who gets to lick the toilet after you take a shit. The belief being that if the worker bees are fighting with each other, they won’t notice how badly you are fucking them over with pay schemes and other imagined perks. You will see this in particular in the auto industry. Salesman lined up waiting to pounce on the next victim who crosses onto the dealership property line. If you happen to find yourself in a car dealership, or for that matter, a harley or other motorcycle dealership, mosey around until you find the sales managers office. It should be easy to spot. Somewhere on the wall of said office will be a scoreboard with each sales weasel’s name, and the number of units they have sold so far for the month. Usually, one or two will have a lot of sales, while the rest are fighting for the scraps. That’s how it works in retail, survival of the fittest. Except it’s a rigged game. Even if you happen to out sell the rest of the hive, it will never, ever be good enough. You will be told that you could have gotten juuuuussssstttt a few more sales if you didn’t do things like take days off or go to lunch. It’s like a casino, but unlike a casino, there really is no chance of winning if you are a retail worker bee. No matter how hard you try, it will never be good enough.
Then, there are the customers. Those wonderful, lovely, caring customers.
You can take the nicest person in the world, someone who wouldn’t say shit if they had a mouthful, no matter what, would still be a nice, caring gentle soul. But take that gentle soul and put them in a retail environment where there is something they want to possess, and they turn into instant asshole. I knew people were generally bad, based on the town I grew up in. I had no idea how bad they could be until I worked retail. I have been yelled at, laughed at, threatened, ordered around like a child, and lied too. I have been approached in public, while eating dinner in a restaurant, by customers who wanted to vent about some perceived slight they suffered at the hands of my employer. I have had grown men, captains of industry, professionals like doctors and lawyers who control large amounts of wealth, stand before me screaming and throwing a tantrum like a 2 year old who had just been told they can’t have a piece of candy or a new toy. Just because they couldn’t get what they wanted. I’ve had customers flat out lie to me about the price of something and then, like a child, run off to tell on me when they don’t get their way. I’ve been accused of stealing, short changing a customer, and of course putting the dollar bills in the drawer upside down. Hint: I was only guilty of one of the three crimes. Guess which one. Once a particular little shithead, upon being asked for payment for a few dollars worth of t-shirts, made a point to take the bills from his hand and snap them between his fingers, very loudly, before handing them over to me. All the while glaring at me, like it was my fault that he had to come in and buy those shirts and I should be be properly impressed and feel absolutely grateful that he had indeed allowed me the privilege of his business. What a pompous jerk. But perhaps the most annoying, irritating, and realistic fact about all the bovine fecal matter I went through over 30 years in retail: None of it made a fucking difference. I doubt that there is one person in the dive or motorcycle industry who remembers any sale I made. It had little or no effect on the bottom line of the companies I worked for. In fact most are out of business or the owners have either sold out or died. 30 years shot in the ass. For nothing.
If I sound just a tad bit jaded about working retail it’s because I am mad more at myself for not having the smarts to get out. 30 years wasted and I will never get them back. I’ve had some hard lessons on life and people after 3 decades of standing behind a parts counter and doing the dance of the sales weasel. I’ve learned to dislike and distrust people, especially where money is involved. I hate to have to go and buy anything at a standard retail establishment because I know I am going to walk out pissed off. Even more I hate having to try and sell anything because I am tired of the dance. The negotiating, the haggling, the lies. As I said, my app business is designed to have a minimum of contact with customers. It’s a sorry way to be sometimes but that is the way things turned out.
If any of you actually read the drivel I post on this little blog, and take anything I say to heart, then take this one piece of advice. If you are looking for a new career, stay out of retail. Don’t do it. You will regret it for all time. If you are in retail now, get out. Right the hell now. Take off the blue vest or whatever monkey suit the corporate warlords are making you wear, throw it in the trash and walk out. Start living your life for real. Don’t give me any of that. “But I need the money.” routine. There are more better ways to make money. And more better ways to live without needing a bunch of money. Retail is not one of those ways. Get out. Trust me, you will feel like you just got out of prison or just dumped your nagging-queen-of-the-harpies girlfriend (or so I have been told). Find a more better way to live your life than as a retail worker bee. You will be, um, more better off. Trust me. I know.
Maybe I should have been a drunken volleyball player. It was kinda fun.