Conway Daily Sun, September 1,2010
by Michael Kline
I confess. I spend more time in retail stores than a Hollywood fashinista. Of course, I don’t push a peeka-doodle through the mall in a baby carriage, and I seldom buy anything. Most of my time in stores is research. I wander stores at home and when away, looking for ideas, studying displays, prices, lighting, styles, selling techniques, store policies, store layouts, counting employees to estimate store sales, counting ceiling tiles (to estimate square footage) and all sorts of geeky things that normal people would never think about. So when I have occasion to actually shop for myself, as I did recently at our local outlet mall, I have more fun that I probably should.
Let me issue this disclaimer before I start my diatribe about retailers – surely, people have occasionally (key word occasionally) experienced frustration at my own stores, surely I have occasionally committed retail no-nos in front of customers myself over the years, so I don’t like to throw stones from my own glass house. However, I see an epidemic out there! Last week, I decided to take advantage of the seasons colossal sales and buy myself some “back to school” clothes at ridiculous bargain prices. I must say, I see why people travel from far and wide for the bargains – at these prices, it’s cheaper to be well dressed than it is to go naked! I started at Banana Republic – the only store I will mention by name, because it was the only over-all positive experience. I escaped being greeted (I think most people agree with me, that while it’s rude to not get greeted, we’re thankful when we aren’t). I was recognized by the cashier who politely made me feel important as he took my money (what little they charged). Next store - no greeting (so far so good). Eventually someone asked me if I was finding what I was looking for – I lied, saying I was; since she couldn’t help me anyway, why even talk about it. As I’m browsing, I hear all about the work schedule. It would appear they are short staffed, and one employee has too many hours and is not happy about having so much work. According to the gossip behind the counter, the manger had better pay attention if she wants to keep this staff – people can’t work every day you know! As a customer, a store owner, and a consultant, I hate hearing employees talk about how much they hate their work, or how they have too much work. Tell it to the folks in the unemployment line that would give their left arm for your air conditioned job folding sweaters. I recommend she get one warning – next offense would be immediate termination for complaining about her work in front of a store full of customers. On the other hand, maybe the employee has never been taught how to act. Ultimately, it is always management’s fault, be it for poor staffing or the lack of training. Come to think about it, I remember my experience at this same store a few months ago when I was exchanging something. On that visit, two cashiers took turns not knowing how to handle an even exchange or to be polite in the process. There are so few men’s clothing stores I like here, or I would never go back. It’s sad to see small and independent stores struggling and working so hard to compete, when the big name store is successful not because of their work, but rather, in spite of their work.
This pattern continued – three stores in a row, all had multiple employees standing behind the counter, all complaining about too many hours on the schedule. This is where it gets amazing – three stores, all were over-staffed enough to have people with so little to do, they could stand around complaining about how they are understaffed and have too many hours! I know it is back to school shopping season, but if you can’t celebrate busy season, you probably should not work in retail. Human decency requires that if you agree to take a job, then you show some loyalty to the company that pays for your food, your children’s clothing, the roof over your head, etc. If you have a grievance, share it only with the proper channels, not other employees, and certainly not customers. If that means biting your tongue, then bite! The day you can’t show that appreciation, you should quit.
So now that I leave three stores in a row, unable to find anyone who actually wants their job, or my money, I feel like spending less. I did spend some money in each store, but I didn’t enjoy it, and I don’t want to go back to them any time soon. How can that be good for business?!
So lessons learned from this – First, never pay full retail for a sweater. Next, let’s review our own work habits and personalities. Let’s listen to ourselves and our staff with critical ears to make sure we aren’t offending anyone who contributes to our livelihood - the customer, the company, the supplier, the employees, the landlord – basically if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything. Wow, with advice like this, I could teach seminars! Seriously, isn’t everything we need to instill in our workplace that basic? The complexity comes from figuring out how to implement such basic ideas into reality. I recommend you see your local professional entreprenologist for assistance. This is basic, yet difficult and so terribly important.