Retail: The Joys and the Sorrows

My professional career started in retail. Specifically, I started in food service. I was a fill in for three weeks, then discarded.

I then went to Best Buy. I quickly climbed the ladder there in the computer department from part time sales associate to department manager.

I left Best Buy for personal reasons, then found myself back at the same store one year later. I was hired back in as a sales associate. Two weeks later I was promoted to assistant supervisor. Two months later I was promoted to supervisor. I was moved from department to department where I was needed. Eight months later I was promoted to manager.

I did the manager thing until I found myself at the top of a step ladder during the Christmas shopping season directing people to the 14 or so checkout lanes we had running. My department, the cashiers and customer service, processed well over a million dollars worth of transactions that December of ‘96. From atop my perch I herded the customers like cattle, each into their own financial abattoir. I dealt with people returning new-from-the-factory computers with bricks in them, people with electronics infested with insects and vermin, people with equipment we never sold demanding us provide them with satisfaction.

By January, the return season, I had quit and moved my family to Michigan. That story is one for another day.

Sitting in the Apple store in Troy, Michigan today I was reminded why I hated working in retail. It’s loud. It’s crowded. Customers are crazy. At least Apple has incredible margins that PCs don’t have.

The retail plus was the immediacy of the numbers. You didn’t have to wait for month’s end to see how you were doing. You didn’t have to wait for the end of the week. Every morning a fresh set of numbers were ready to great you on your previous day’s performance. You knew about that day in the week’s context, the month’s, the year’s, and the previous year’s day.

As a supervisor or manager, it meant that you could immediately adjust your approach, and your team’s, to the numbers. That was also the drawback if you only relied on the numbers.

The numbers wouldn’t tell you that the University of Oklahoma was in a crucial game, keeping attendance down. The numbers wouldn’t tell you there was an ice storm last year. The numbers wouldn’t accommodate for half the staff laid up with the flu.

The numbers certainly weren’t forgiving in cases of fraud or outright theft. That was what the twice-annual inventory audits were for. Back in the day there was a department supervisor taking tens of thousands of dollars of gear out the back door. As is often the case with thieves, the supervisor got greedy and took enough to get noticed. Even though that person was prosecuted to the full extent of the law, store management was held responsible for the loss, or shrinkage.

There are things that I miss from my retail days, but they are few. I am still extremely happy not to be in that space any more.

Have you worked in retail or still do? What do you like or miss about retail?