Friday, December 10, 2004

Retail Woes Part I

You have to hand it to the retail people in the stores this time of year. Generally, they are under tremendous pressure anyway, to perform saleswise (it has to ALWAYS be better than Last Year or else) and for their merchandise to look good. Add the Holidays to the mix (which for retailers begins end of August through mid-January) and it's a one-way ticket to Insanity.
I love the Holidays. All the lights and trees and crisply wrapped presents. I even love shopping in the malls--that is until the week before Christmas, when everything gets chaotic and shoppers get nasty and all the selections are picked over to the point where all that remains are size Small and XXXLarge. So I stay far away, because the week before Christmas holds unpleasant memories for me.
I worked retail for twelve years in assorted positions, from selling associate to Manager to Visual, to assistant Buyer.
After a few years, I began to loathe the Holidays. I was a certifiable Ebeneezer Scrooge, because all the Holidays represented to me anymore was long lines of angry uppity customers and a mad scramble to constantly rearrange the store to make everything fit and shift when new merchandise came in.
And then there was the Day After Christmas Sale, which is too painful to talk about and frankly I've blocked most of them from my active memory as a self-preservation mechanism.
So, in my next couple of blogs I'm going to chronicle the typical day of a Retail Manager working for...hmm...let's just say a Major Department Store. But this particular day will be the Saturday before Christmas.
And by the way: this is a TRUE story.
It's the Saturday before the 25th, and I am the manager over the Accessories and Kids' departments. I get to work at 4am, because we were so busy with long lines of customers the day before, none of the new stock got put out. (I stayed at work the night before recovering the store until 1am, because we closed at Midnight.) I am not scheduled to come in until Noon, because I closed the night before, but I'm here anyway, out of sheer panic over "not getting stuff done," and as I walk in, I see all the other managers who closed with me. We're getting ready for another 18-20-hour day, just like the day before, and the day before that.)
The store will be opening at 6am (lines actually begin to form at the doors at 5:30) so we have roughly two hours to put out twelve hanging racks of merchandise and 19 large boxes of stuff like socks, and slippers and toys.
Some of my loyal associates stumble sleepily into the store shortly after me, I've brought doughnuts and coffee for them because I know the day ahead of us will be absolute hell.
By the time they arrive, I've already run the sales numbers from yesterday, printed the markdown sheets for today, ensured that I'm adequately staffed, and gotten out all the new sales signs because the ones we spent an hour putting up the day before need to be changed now: from 40% off to 50.
I give my associates a quick pep talk, we discuss sales and credit apps (all stores make their employees push credit applications on the customers--in fact the store I work for actually terminates employees if they don't get a certain number of credit apps during a specific time period!) and then I break them up into groups: one group to put stock out, one to put signs out, one group to re-ticket markdowns, and another group to tackle Mount Vesuvius outside of each fitting room--the clothes are piled several feet high on chairs, the cashwrap, thrown over racks, you name it. They all must be re-hung and folded, and THEN put back wherever they go in the vast department.
And yes, we only have an hour and 40 minutes to accomplish this.
I turn on a portable radio: I take requests and we work to the station of choice, blaring, because we must, absolutely must drown out the Elevator Christmas Music playing over the store speakers. (Not that we hate the music, but we've been subjected to it for the last two months, and even Elvis singing Blue Christmas can get old after you've heard it a couple hundred times.)
We work quickly, mostly in silence, and I busy myself with tearing open boxes and throwing merchandise out as fast as I can.
Then at ten minutes to Six we hear an announcement over the loud speakers announcing a Morning Store meeting, and would everyone proceed to the bedding department, so we can have a pow-wow before the store opens. My associates groan because they've only accomplished about 50% of what they needed to get done, and as soon as those doors open what is left will have to get shoved and hidden (yes, even in the Fire Exits and Spare Dressing rooms) until 4am the next morning.
My associates leave to go to the meeting, I tell them I'll be right there, but I have to go to the office and sit down and remove my shoes for 60 seconds, because after all, I am Eight months pregnant...

to be continued...

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