Friday, November 25, 2011

3 Things I Loved About Working in Retail (and 3 I hated!)

Anyone that has worked with me knows that I hate working in retail.  I worked at Wal-Mart in high school, and I hated it (except my fellow stockmen - the title of the "cart pushers" before they got those robots - Chris, Antonio, Ryan, etc. VFALAP!).  I worked at Pet Smart for a few months, and I really hated that too.  Although it was retail, working for Guitar Center wasn't really "work" as much as it was a chance to sit around and stare at guitars all day.  But if I would have worked there for longer than I did, I probably would have hated that too.  So how did someone who hates retail this much end up as the manager for a national retail chain?  I found a great company that didn't do the things I hated about other retailers, and they let me do the things I enjoyed doing as a retail employee.

So, as a tribute to the madness of Black Friday, I thought it would be fun to relive a little bit of my life "pre-stay-at-home dad" for your enjoyment.  I have compiled a list of the top three things I loved and hated about working in retail. I have tried to connect the things I love to parenting, and the things I hated, well... those things made it easy to become a stay-at-home dad!

The Top 3 Things I Loved About Working in Retail

1. Developing a plan and executing it

Most retailers don't let anyone at the store level do any thinking.  It takes a certain type of person to be able to blindly follow orders and not be able to offer any creative input.  That person was not me.  One reason I loved working at Tractor Supply Company was that they let the store manager and his team have direct influence over what strategies would work in their stores.  I loved deciding what I was going to feature on an empty end cap.  I loved being creative with my displays in center court.  I loved sharing those ideas with other stores and bragging about our team's success.  If you are an employer, or even a parent, this is something that you should be encouraging your team/child to do.  Let them develop a plan.  Let them execute it.  Let them fail.  Most importantly, teach them how to learn from failures, and make sure you wildly praise their successes and challenge them to find a way to improve their process, effort, timing, etc.  Cultivate an atmosphere of entrepreneurship in your home or business.

2. Solving problems and selling solutions

There were customers who came into my store on such a regular basis that I knew their entire life story, how their kids were doing in college, and what their dog ate last week that made them throw up.  I love those customers!  They are loyal to no end.  They love your store, and they love the people that work there.  But there are also other customers that arrive at your store as a last resort.  My favorite phrase was, "The guy at Lowe's told me to come here."  I LOVED hearing that because that meant that, if I could solve this person's problem, my store would be the first stop for any future problems - not Lowe's.  And if I could win that customer over, he or she was more likely to spend money in my store when there were no problems, and that meant more profit to my company.

People would come in with all kinds of questions - My dog has fleas, can you help me?  I need an electric fence to keep my goats in, do you have that?  I need fire-resistant clothing, do you know where I can get that?  Yes. YES! YE$!  My employees called me the "Walking Google."  If I didn't know the answers (which was very rare, you can ask them!) I was not afraid to look online or ask someone I knew for help.  But I tried not to jump in and solve the problems if my employees were talking to the customer first. I tried to empower my employees to find the answers on their own and come to me as a last resort.  When you empower your team to solve problems, you free up your time for you to do your job as a manager.  When you empower your children to solve problems, they have no trouble leaving the nest and being successful in college or a career.     

I loved selling, but I hated selling products I didn't believe in (ask me about my time working for a newspaper advertising department).  I loved selling solutions, and that is exactly what TSC wanted me to do.  I could easily up-sell someone into a better product if I could show them how it would meet their current needs and prevent future problems.  I could educate them on the benefits of one product versus another and let them choose.  I could help them save money by recommending the minimum features that they needed to complete their project on a budget.  Whatever solution was going to make them leave the store happy, I could sell that.

3.  Happy customers, and happy employees

There is nothing like a happy customer.  If you are in business, it's what gets you out of bed every morning.  Knowing that you have a responsibility to your employees to provide a great work environment where they can grow personally and professionally is a great motivator for most managers.  Keeping customers happy and getting them to return is the goal of every retailer.  I am someone who enjoys taking pride in my work.  When I worked with my father (an electrician), there was nothing like the look on his face when the job was done and the lights turned on.  For me, in that job as a retail manager, it was seeing my employees be happy to come to work.  It was seeing the Harris family for the third time in a week.  It was watching Mrs. Faye's fat little dog wiggle it's way through the aisles to greet me in the pet department, and it was also Mrs. Faye's humble "thank you" as I lifted her dog food into her car each week.  I knew I was making someone's day, and there was great satisfaction in that.

The Top 3 Things I Hated About Working in Retail  

1. The hours

Everyone knows retail hours are the worst.  I would work long shifts, evenings, weekends, and holidays.  As the manager, I was on salary, so there was not overtime for me.  Sure, I got bonuses, but they would never equal the amount of overtime that I would have made on the hours I put in.  I spent the night in my store if it was supposed to snow.  I would wake up and kiss my sleeping wife in the morning only to come home and kiss my sleeping wife after she had fallen asleep waiting for me to get back home.  It was lousy, but it was necessary for me to keep working at this job in order for my wife to stay home with our daughter for her first year.

2. Bathrooms

I started working at Tractor Supply Company as a part-time maintenance person.  My job was to clean the bathrooms, sweep and buff the floors, and stock the pet food.  I worked my way up to Team Leader in a year, Assistant Manager in two years, and Store Manager in less than two more.  I never stopped cleaning bathrooms.  In fact, as a Store Manager, I would schedule myself to close with every new employee on their first night so that they could watch me clean the bathrooms.  This way, they would know my definition of "clean," and they could never accuse me of assigning them jobs that I was unwilling to do.  As a parent, it is important to teach your kids to do the difficult jobs.  Help them have fun doing the chores that nobody wants to do.  Help them see the positive aspects of hard work and humility.

I know you all are dying to know, "Which room was worst, men's or ladies?"  Let's just say, the few "bombs" I have had in my time were all in the men's room.  I am not surprised, as our customers were probably 70/30 male/female.  It's statistically more likely that a man with a stomach virus would have to destroy my store's restroom.  However, the women's room was more consistently messy on a daily basis, and I know why - it's because they hover!  That's all I'm gonna say.

3.  Blatant racism or sexism

When I worked at Wal-Mart, our loss-prevention person used to recruit us to "keep an eye on" the large groups of Hispanic people that would enter at the same time and then split up around the store.  He was convinced that they were stealing.  But you know what, the only people I actually helped him bust were white.  Heck, even the white assistant manager was eventually busted for stealing groceries!

At TSC, sexism from the customers was more common, although racism was prevalent too.  Women are the backbone of the retail industry.  They are the grease in the wheels of progress for companies like Wal-Mart and Target.  I had a strong team of strong women at my store, and it really disappointed me when the customers were unwilling to realize their strength.  Someone would call the store and ask a question about horses.  They would talk to the female assistant manager who actually owns horses, and if they didn't like her answer, they would just say, "Can I just talk to the guy at the service desk?"  Well, as nice as that guy was, none of the guys that worked the desk had ever owned horses, and all they would do is field the question, ask the girls that owned horses and then tell the customer the answer the female employee gave five minutes ago!  As a manger, I viewed this type of behavior as a complete waste of time.  But, there is really no way to stop a customer from being sexist over the phone without pissing them off.  As I mentioned before, I wasn't really in the business of pissing off customers.  If a customer was blatantly racist or sexist in my store, that was a different story.  They were on my turf, and I let them know if I was displeased with their comments.  If you can't conduct yourself in a civil manner in my store, then I don't want you or your money.


  1. I agree with almost all of these. Having worked retail for about 5 years, most of these are very true. I can't tell you how often customers were sexist at RadioShack.

  2. 20 years in department store retail. I learned so much in that time and wouldn't trade that experience for anything unless I could somehow trade all those 20-hour work days in for 8-hour days and use that time better.

    The -isms were brutal, but being a single white female, they made me stronger. Gratification came when a customer would ask me a question, then walk to a man for a different answer. 99 times out of 100, that male employee would call me over to answer the question or give the same answer I'd already given. I had the best revenge; I'd simply smile and say, "happy I could help."

    Now there are some things I do miss, but I don't shop in stores much because just setting foot in a store stresses me out.

  3. Thanks for stopping by fellow retailers! I appreciate your comments.

  4. I agree with all of the above! There was nothing more satisfying than being able to really help someone. One of my retail jobs was at a women's clothing store, and I liked the challenges of having someone come in and need an outfit for a job interview and putting a look together for them so they felt confident and ready to go. And as much as I hated being on my feet, I miss having the regular "exercise."

    But there were some customers who just looked at us employees as lowly retail workers. They would leave wretched messes in the fitting rooms and just treat us like slaves. Unfortunately, there always seemed to be more of those than there were of the great customers.

  5. Thanks for the comment. I try to be the kind of customer that I wanted to have in my store. It is difficult, but people seem to appreciate somebody that is not a jerk.



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