Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Retail Bluz Part 13 - The Last Crusade

In September, I started to chronicle my life in retail.  You can see by this being “Part 13,” that I've had a lot to tell.  If you’re new to this series, you should start with Part 1.  Otherwise, please join our hero as he wages one last campaign as a store manager.

After making the last post about my retail life, I took a look at an old journal entry and realized that I kind of underplayed the commotion that went on during my training at the downtown store.  The girl that took the poorly timed break had pulled several similar stunts as well.

My friend, Little Bit, who had gone from the craft store to the video stores just before I did, had problems with this girl during training, as well.  In fact, the girls at the training store made her cry.

No one makes my Little Bit cry and gets away with it, so I went in there already knowing what kind of BS might come to play, and was keen to throw my own weight around a bit.  I was a grown-ass retail ringer, not a little 4’10” ball of sweetness.

So when this particular Chickie pulled that break thing, I stood firm… professional, but firm.  Same thing when some of the other crap happened.  I sized it up as a couple of girls that were trying to run the store like the upper crust girls “run” the high school.  You know… popular girls making sure things work well for the popular girls, and not necessarily the school. 

Each time I opposed the little Chickie, it was for the betterment of the store.  It was stuff like not causing scenes with other employees in front of the customers, or turning on the A/C earlier than was traditionally proscribed, because it was 80 degrees in the store and customers were complaining.

She didn't like the upset to her little sub-kingdom, and I didn't like putting up with a bunch of bullshit from some snot-nosed little princess.  So she ran to the store manager about me on a number of occasions, which eventually resulted in a sit-down between the manager, our district manager and me.  We all came to an understanding… that I was right.

The two of them straightened out the little Chickie soon enough and the temperatures lowered across the board.  But it was funny because when I was in my first stores, I probably wouldn't have had the stomach for confronting the staff of a store in which I was training.

After a month or two, I was sufficiently trained up in store procedures that they began sending me out to other places to fill in when needed.  It was cool to get to know the other managers and their staffs, and see some other ways of doing things.  I attended a number of district-wide meetings as well and was able to meet some more of the managers.  Naturally, I saw one that was particularly cute.  I figured I’d have to do some recon with my craft store refugees, to find out what her deal was.

About mid June, my DM told me she would have a store for me soon, but couldn't tell me where.  That meant someone was about to get the boot.  But her reticence to tell me anything didn't mean I didn't know where I was going.  I started working it through in my head.

I first eliminated the stores that were far away or out of state.  I further eliminated a few managers that had been around forever and others that had received awards at the last District Meeting or had “Golden Girl” reputations.  That left two stores, the one in my neighborhood, and one in a run-down part of town.  Little Bit worked at my local store, and I also knew that it was a pretty nice facility, so I kinda hoped I’d go there.  But the manager there, I knew had just gone to fill in at another store.  Because they don’t usually send poor managers to go help out elsewhere, I was pretty sure I was going to the “rundown” store.  The downside?  That was the store where the cute manager worked.  It was kind of déjà vu for me, only without the felonious lesbian aspect.

I tried out my theory on my DM and she gave me a non-denial denial.  I asked another person who knew what was going on if I was wrong in my analysis, and she basically gave me the thumbs-up.  So now I knew were I was going.  My only concern was in scheduling, because I had my family reunion in Pittsburgh to attend.  Store management changes come with a lot of upheaval, so I didn't want to start any heaving until I was back from the Burgh.

Another thing I saw in my journal, last week, was that I had totally predicted what was going to happen.  By this time in my retail career, I was intimately familiar with what was going to happen with the staff when I take over a new store.

Someone will quit right off, upon seeing that the party was over.  An assistant manager or two will be combative and work against me, either because the manager was their buddy, or that they wanted the job for themselves.  Others would try to suck up and gain favor, in hopes that the party would continue.  All of these people would be gone within months.  But maybe, just maybe, there would be a really good employee or two just waiting for a little quality training and guidance.  That would have to be the person I’d build around.

Not until I cherry-picked the existing staff and then hired my own people, who would be loyal to ME, would I be able to turn a failing store around.  And this store was failing with a capital EFF.  They were last or second to last in all store metrics and measurables.

I started there on the last day of June and everything with the staff went exactly like I’d foreseen.  But we showed marked improvement in July and I had the store making sales goals by the end of August.  It was the finest work of my field retail career.

While I cleaned house and hired some shiny new employees, I went to work on the store.  There were two main areas where I made a major and immediate impact.  The first was in the store displays.  My favorite example was the candy rack. 

Do you know those candy bags that sell for, like 59 cents (or 2-for-a-dollar)?  Like gummy bears or burnt peanuts or twizzlers or circus peanuts?  They had them on a 4-sided spinner rack with 8 pegs on each side.  Sounds simple, right?  But they only had 2 or 3 varieties on the entire display!  The whole rack was loaded down with dinner mints (the unwrapped chalky ones; the kind you never take from the restaurant checkout), wintergreen gel chews, and starlight mints… the 3 most blah selections they made!  Obviously, they were just putting up whatever they had on hand after selling everything else.  No one under 70 would ever buy any of that shit.

First thing I did was get the candy catalog and order some of everything they had.  Once I loaded the thing with Gummy Worms, Nerds, Sour Patch Kids and stuff kids actually liked, the sales rocketed.  What I couldn't believe was not only did the previous manager not know to do this, the DM never made a point of it either!  I mean hell, 36 selections beats the shit out of 3 every time!
Once I was done with it, it looked like a smaller version of this.

It was the same problem with the Snapple they sold.  The only thing they had on display was a single Peach flavor.  I ordered a wider assortment and filled up the cooler with some alternatives and voila!  I’m a freakin’ genius!  But why did no one else think of it?  This was common sense, not string theory.

After tightening up the candy, drinks and getting the video sections properly organized and alphabetized, I had to address some store procedures.  My first order of business was to emphasize turnaround.  I made it Job One to get every returned movie checked in and back on the shelf immediately.  And if it was too busy up front to get the movie on the shelf, they were to put it up on the front counter, so that people could find them.

And people ALWAYS wanted to look at the stuff waiting to be re-shelved… it was like we were hiding Willie Wonka Golden Tickets in there.  But like I said, the video rental business thrived on re-renting the latest titles.  You can’t move a title from under the counter (where the drop box emptied).

I also worked on some things to help out the bottom line, like with the Coke deliveries.  In reading through some order forms, I saw that you could save up your empty Coke bottles and give them back to the driver, for a recycling credit.  So I instituted a bottle-recycling program, which put a few bucks back on our account.  Lord knows we drank enough of the stuff in the store.

You know how video stores used to always have popcorn going?  We had that too, free for all customers, but the neighborhood kids were eating us out of house and home.  They would stop by on the way home from school, get a bag of popcorn and then head home.  The popcorn was supposed to be for our customers, but we were handing it out like free lunch.  I put a stop to that immediately.  The popcorn was for actual customers; I felt no obligation to feed the neighborhood kids from my store’s budget.  The kids got over it, and I didn't have to devote my staff’s time and energy to keeping an eye on them in the store.  I mean; you had to have a credit card to take out a membership, so the kids didn't have any business in the store anyway.

Anyway, within a single month, I was able to completely turn the store around.  It really was my best work.  I was able to take all the skills and experiences I’d picked up over my retail career and use them to completely make over this store.  Sure, it only took me 13 years…

So yeah, my DM and her boss were probably pretty pissed when I quit that October.  I already wrote in detail about that time in my life here, but suffice to say, I wasn't happy.  While I may have been killing at my job, the job was killing me back.  The hours were long and very late, so I had no outside life, or any real contact with my friends.  After spending my birthday alone, I realized I’d also be spending Thanksgiving alone and Christmas alone.  That was no way to live.

After a nudge from my dear friend Little Bit, I found the courage to pick up and get the hell out of New York and start my life over again in Baltimore, within easy access of my brother and sister.

It worked out.  I've been working in a nice, steady office job for the last 15 years (come March).  And every day I walk into my cubicle, I thank my lucky stars that I’m not opening a register, or sweeping a floor. 

And I never, ever, have to ask anyone, “Do you want blank tapes with that?


  1. And you get Christmas, family reunions, peace of mind and body with privacy sans candy, blank tapes and blank employees.
    Bluz has paid his duze.

    1. Yes, life is exponentially better now. But it took me some time to figure out what to do with a 2nd day off (in a row!) per week. I’d been working on 6-day weeks for ages, and if I did get 2 days off a week, they were rarely together or over a weekend.