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Lessons Learned From 20 Years In Retail: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
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I remember the day vividly--it was a gray, overcast, and raining--walking up to a brand new wholesale club that was being built about three miles from where I lived at the time. I was thinking that this will be a temporary job, if I get it, until I had some great success at an as yet unknown adventure. That was nearly 20 years ago. I have gone from wholesale to the regular retail side of the business but there were many lessons learned over this time. I can assure you that the day 20 years ago I walked into the retail world--I never expected that I would still be there today--funny how the lessons we learn along the way teach us more then we expected.

I started out just learning the basics of the business, from stocking to sales, to how it is run as a whole. I was surprised at some of the things that I learned, about the basics of inventory control to theft, and most of all to how to deal with all types of people--customers and employees. I was selling electronics, computers, phones, basics, and I enjoyed it. I kept on top of the trends and watched as the technology changed so fast that people could not keep up--with some of the basics--not the complex.

This was a good thing. I learned that if you were patient and treated people with respect, did not condescend, and did your best to be respectful-most of the time they would come back to you. Even look for you specifically to answer their questions so as not to feel like they were some where lost with out answers. The fact that people wanted help and were often willing to listen to your advice was a nice feeling. That you made a small difference for someone else.

The flip side of this issue in customer service is obvious. Wow! was I shocked by the things that people did and said at times. From people who came in and put a tote bag in a shopping cart and just tried to fill it up with anything they could fit in it and then run out of the building, to those who wanted to fight over a silly toy, that would be forgotten about in a few hours. I have seen customers hide hundreds of dvd's and cd's in cart under their child in a baby car seat while their wife was pushing the cart and then proceed to try and run over the general manager once he knew he was going to be caught. I have seen people come in gorilla suits for some sort of radio pranks. You really don't know the extent that people will go to be both insulting and destructive until you work in retail.

The most offensive thing I have seen often was summed up in an incident that may seem trivial to some--but was infuriating. Working to try and help a customer with a fellow employee I saw an individual intentionally basically take products and toss them anywhere for the fun of it. There was no interest in purchasing---it was just to be destructive--then when the person I was working with went over and questioned why it was done--the response was "well you would not have a job if I did not." The concept that you work in retail and therefore are somehow sub human--that you are lower then those who do not. I find it interesting that people act that way because without those who work in retail the products and services that we take for granted everyday would not be available to you. The sad part is that we all take this for granted.

The fact is that there will always be good and bad in every job out there. I find that retail is just better at showing the obvious sides of people. Some will amaze you with their kindness and generous nature --while others will shock you with their nasty and insulting behaviors. It really is a wake up call to those who don't want to open their eyes to what is around them.

So if you ever get a chance--thank those who work in the retail profession. They are the people on the front lines of what we all take for granted everyday. They stock the shelves that you buy from, they help you with things that are difficult to lift or that you may not know about. They bring a level playing field to an otherwise difficult profession. They are the people who when you want something done are their for you--often not seen--but plugging away in the background with just as much passion and caring as those in corporate positions. Remind yourself that there is much we take for granted everyday--the trash doesn't just evaporate -someone takes it away--the electric doesn't just appear --someone works to make it happen--so is the same with everything.

So next time you go to a store ask your self one question: did my products get on this shelf by itself? Then go thank those working so you can have what you wish and what we all take for granted--good service.


Street Talk

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