One of my friends sent a link to a pretty cool free-lance website for writers and photographers: http://www.seed.com.I perused job listings just for fun. One in particular caught my eye. It was a request for interviews and funny stories by retail employees. I didn’t submit anything for that posting – but it made me think about my retail experience. For almost 5 years I worked for a high rent store that specialized in women and children’s clothing, bedding, draperies, upholstered furniture (both custom and ready-made) as well as bridal. Some satellite stores only carried one of their specialties, but I was fortunate enough to work in one of the few all-encompassing shops, albeit small. This was my first “real” job out of high school and where I discovered that I loved the high paced and competitive environment of sales. There was never a dull moment between the antics of our employees and crazy customers.
The first employee that comes to mind was a very young, pretty blonde. Let’s just call her Barbie – although anatomically speaking she wasn’t as well endowed…well, not the first year she worked for us anyway. There apparently was some magic “vitamin” she claims to have taken while she was on “vacation” because when she came back to work things were much perkier. But I digress. It was the habit of our assistant manager to drink iced tea daily, especially since she could get free refills. Right before break, she would dump the melted ice and lemons in the employee toilet. (I’m not sure why, but everyday you could be sure to find lemons floating in the commode.) One particularly slow afternoon, myself and the assistant manager were enjoying each other’s company when Barbie came rushing out of the stock room door. Her face was the color of parchment, her blue eyes hazing over with tears fighting to bubble over. She was visibly shaken, her voice quivered as she spoke, “I just can’t believe it – I didn’t feel it or anything but I just pooped lemons and I don’t even remember eating lemons today!” We didn’t tell her the truth – at least not right away, it was just too funny. I would think that expelling lemon wedges would be a tad bit uncomfortable. On another occasion, I could hear Barbie talking very loudly from the back of the store. I became concerned because I had just greeted a family a few minutes before who appeared to be Mexican Nationals, some of our best customers. My footsteps quickened a bit when I heard her voice escalate, “DO YOU WANT THE BLUE ZAPATOS OR THE YELLOW ZAPATOS?” she shouted, red-faced. I smiled weakly at the very offended mother and grabbed Barbie’s arm, dragging her into the fitting room. “What the heck are you doing? Why are you shouting at our customer?” Barbie looked at me like I had just asked her why she breathes and replied, “What else was I supposed to do? I wanted to make sure she could hear me since she doesn’t speak a lot of English.” Apparently I was unaware that language barriers cause deafness.
Then there was the employee that stole from us. All employees had to wear clothing from our store. New clothing was not required, but definitly the same season we were selling. Each week she would show up in a new outfit that nobody remembered her purchasing. The explanations ranged from “my mom bought it for me at a different location” (which was ridiculous since that would mean her mother would have had to pay full price versus getting our employee discount) to “I’m borrowing it from a friend who shops at our store”. And then came the day I ran into her at a totally random store on my day off. She was coming around the corner when our eyes locked. A beautiful green and terracotta wool blazer from our newest collection complemented her blushing cheeks. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone exit a store as fast. Needless to say she didn’t work for us after that.
Being duped by an employee isn’t unheard of, but what really surprised me was how many repeat customers would continually to the same thing. I would never dream of buying something, wearing it and then returning it to get something new. But that is exactly what one of our customers did on multiple occasions. At first we weren’t really sure and took things back more than once after carefully inspecting them but the final straw was when we took back almost an entire collection of dresses from a previous season. When I went to hang them back on the rack, I realized that they were INCHES shorter than everything else. The customer had them cut and hemmed! We didn’t take anymore of her returns.
Ok – but of course what would life in retail be if we can’t laugh at ourselves occasionally. It was the year the movie Pretty Woman had come out and everyone wanted that beautiful polka dot dress Julia Roberts wore in the polo scene. I had it in black. The fabric was light and free-flowing. I felt like a million bucks every time I wore it to work. I even had the matching hat. Now, even if you have never worked retail, we all shop and are acutely aware that the season a store sells doesn’t usually match the season being worn. So although I was wearing this whimsical and summery outfit, it was actually Christmas season. Our shop was on an upper level in a high rent wing. Outside the door was an iron railing overlooking a series of beautiful fountains and a stage. The holiday season is always crazy and our store was very small. You couldn’t go two steps without bumping into a customer. I had just come out of the stock room – well, the bathroom to be more specific – and heard a choir of carolers drifting through the open door. The assistant manager was standing outside, motioning to me to come outside for a moment to enjoy the view. I managed to maneuver through the Christmas shoppers. We both leaned over the railing and took in all of the decorations, shoppers and robed singers. Above the music I could have sworn I heard someone calling my name faintly. But I just kept standing there. Then it got louder and louder until it was almost a panicked cry. “Get back in here immediately” yelled one of the employees. As I turned around to go back inside, the assistant manager gasped loudly. Apparently I had tucked not only my dress but my slip into my stockings and had been giving our store full of shoppers and anyone passing behind me quite the peep show.
One evening when I was trying to straighten up before closing, one last customer lingered. She was a regular and very chatty. I liked her a lot, actually. Throughout the day, the dresses needed to be smoothed and the hems pulled tight to match each other. The only efficient way to do this was kneel or squat down and drag your hand from waist to hem, smoothing as you worked, one dress at a time. It was a tedious task but the end result had a wonderful effect. I was squatting down, diligently working, when the customer decided she was ready to check out. “Sure not a problem,” I said and quickly stood up. Unfortunately I had been stepping on the hem of my skirt, and when I stood up my skirt puddled around my ankles. There was nothing else I could do but smile, pull up the crumpled fabric and ask, “Was that going to be check, cash or charge today?”