Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The inner workings of The Company

When I first started at The Company just over 2 years ago, it was well regarded in the retail industry. I would tell friends I worked at The Company and they'd respond: 'Wow, isn't that place really expensive?' Or, having never heard of The Company or being unfamiliar with its products, I would explain that it's an Australian company, some products are made locally and the men's and women's shoes range from about $60-$130. Shirts and pants around $60-70. Pretty reasonable, so I thought at the time. I used to be proud to announce that I'd got a job at The Company.

Our target demographic was middle aged, maybe 30s-50s, and we had quite a loyal customer base and many customers, especially the men, would "only wear The Company shoes/shirts" according to their wives! Customer service was paramount and we were all well trained at being able to offer excellent service and product knowledge. I was impressed. There were not many other stores that I knew of that would require its staff to know about clothing fibres and materials, construction methods, sole materials, fittings and the like. We are expected to offer this kind of service and knowledge to each customer we serve.

However, though the people in upper management haven't changed too much (as far as I know, they are very secretive, more on this later) The Company is now moving in a different direction. We have two kinds of stores: smaller retail stores usually located in shopping centres or shopping strips - full price items, full service stores that offer lay-by, orders, and superior customer service and then there are our larger clearance stores usually in outer areas (think Kmart size, in rural areas) - self serve, different ranges of stock, 'what's there is what you get' and discontinued and damaged stock. Clearance stores are supposed to only carry discontinued items sent from the retail stores. That is why they are so heavily discounted, right? Not all sizes or colours are available, it's just the luck of the draw. At least, that's how it was when I first started.

Now for some incomprehensible reason and seemingly in blatant disregard of federal legislation and fair trading policies, The Company has decided to bring out the SAME stock in the clearance stores as the retail stores. So now they are in direct competition with us, though we are in fact one and the same company. We just have hugely different prices. Yes, that's right folks, same products, different prices. No, the stock at clearance is usually not faulty. For example, early on in winter this year, we had men's suede jackets in retail stores for $170. Fair enough, a cow (or 2) had to die for that jacket. In the clearance stores, which are inching closer and closer to us, geographically, they were selling for $100. Is that the price you put on a cow's life? Anyhow, the main problems with the changing nature of the clearance stores were:
  • they stock the same current season products as we do
  • they are heavily discounted (40% or more)
  • they have full size ranges, and plenty of stock
  • they are advertised in campaigns as being new in and heavily discounted
Just using one's common sense, it would seem illogical and anti-competitive to be selling items at clearance prices, marked down from retail prices, when those items have not even arrived at retail stores for sale.

Take for example any designer store or regular boutique like Wayne Cooper or Marc Jacobs or whatever. They have retail concept stores in prime positions in shopping centres or shopping strips in the city, etc. They all stock new season stock which is full price and rotated regularly, so say, once a particular dress has been in store for 5 weeks or what have you, they then move on to new styles and send whatever is left over of that style of dress to their clearance stores. The clearance stores are in outer areas and/or in warehouses to keep costs down. They stock gear that has been discontinued, right? Fair enough. Not all sizes are available.

As the stock in clearance stores is heavily reduced, obviously they will sell well and be popular, seeing as it is the same quality and has the same 'brand name' and reputation as what you are buying from the boutiques. It's just a matter of whether you can get your size/colour/etc in what's available. Yes, you are paying our wages by shopping retail and paying for the higher overheads like rent, fixtures, etc. So, seeing this, The Company has figured that they could probably increase their profit margins by turning over more stock in the clearance stores. How do they do this? Bring in more stock, regular supplies and sizes, popular, current season stock, and heavily reduce it. Advertising helps as well. I must admit, they have been quite successful in this aspect.

So the clearance stores' sales have taken off. Bright idea: let's open up more. That'll further increase profits. But what to stock them with? There can only be so much 'discontinued' or past season stock with so many retail stores. So they decide that the clearance stores must sell something, so for some asinine reason, they stock them with the same products as they do us. Obviously, that has killed our sales. With the opening of more and more clearance stores, and some in ridiculously close proximity to the retail stores (try 400m down the road), it is only understandable that there will be the inevitable customer confusion and loss of sales.

So what has The Company done to remedy the situation? Close down the retail stores, as they're not making money. In the past month, 2 retail stores in Victoria have been shut down. One of them was a flagship store in the biggest shopping complex in the Southern Hemisphere. Sure, they increased the lease (exponentially, one would imagine), but to not even relocate within the shopping centre and shut down completely will lose a lot of customers, new and old. I'm sure our competitors will have no trouble finding more loyal customers.

Countless other stores interstate have suddenly disappeared without a trace. Browsing through The Company's website will alert you to the confusion faced by customers as they go to shop at their favourite store, only to find that it has disappeared and there is no notice of where it may have been relocated to or why. The Company's response to the customers' comments were that there will be a clearance store opening nearby (but not as conveniently located) shortly. This does not bode well with us working in the retail stores, especially when we know or think that our lease may be up shortly...

At the moment, The Company has decided to not only focus on the sales and success of the clearance stores, but of course, not ignoring us completely, have decided to attempt to increase our sales and patronage to our stores by lowering prices and having regular sales. Needless to say, this has brought in a completely new breed of customers. Ones that won't pay $60 for a shirt, gasp when you respond that the jacket is indeed correctly marked at $180, ask when the next sale starts and ask for discounts on socks and undies. It was only 2 years ago that a sale was a privilege and were few and far between. We didn't need to have them all the time because we knew that our customers would come back for the same styles of clothing that they're comfortable in, even if it be the exact same pair of pants or shoes he'd bought 2 years ago. 'He only wears The Company jeans, so I just need another pair of the same style please'. Customers were polite, understanding and willing to fork out the money for their quality goods. Our catalogues advertised new stock at full price and people would still come in to buy them. You could count on us to have all the pants at $70 and all the shirts at $60 or whatever. People were happy with that. We didn't need to ply them with cheap gifts as incentives.

Right now, with most stock being marked down at our retail stores (I know, because we spent hours repricing them) and the arrival of new, sometimes skanky, poor quality clothing, our individual sales have dropped. Thus, the commission earned by retail staff has also dropped. The retail stores are now not in direct competition with The Company clearance stores, but it looks like we are now trying to compete with Best and Less, Big W and other 'value' department stores.

Thing is, once you lose your reputation as being a prestigous, quality apparel chain, it doesn't come back easily. I used to be extremely proud of working at The Company. Now I just question where it's headed and whether we'll all have jobs in the next few years.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Bad press

We the staff in stores, are the public face of The Company. Seeing as our Head Office is so keen to keep themselves hidden and private, complaints and publicity often try to get through us. As that is the only way. We have now all received strict instructions via email (no official policy memo yet) that under NO circumstances are we to speak to the media about The Company. Any staff doing so will face severe disciplinary action.

-Duh duh duh- I wonder what's going on! Obviously someone got angry enough to take matters into their own hands and try to expose The Company for the fraud that it is... can't wait to see us on the news or something...

Sunday, August 27, 2006

What's in those boxes?

Hey, what, you think that just because something is advertised, that we'll actually even have it for sale? Think again. This is The Company.

Despite the fact that we have catalogues to promote our products, bargains and company; despite the fact that federal legislation states that we must have a "merchantable quantity" of stocks for sale if they are so advertised, do you think The Company cares? No. (Just take a look at our online 'dispute forum' aka Customer Feedback on The Company website. Hilarious stuff. Unfortunately, old comments are gone.)

Sometimes, I can't wait to see someone so angry that they will notify Consumer Affairs and get some sort of law suit going on. It would make for interesting blogging, that's for sure. I'm often tempted to call up CAV (Consumer Affairs Victoria) myself. Or get someone to call A Current Affair becasue they couldn't get that pair of shoes reduced to $39.95 or that jacket for $49.95 or whatever. Oh, poor thing. There are people dying in wars.

Well, it's not like I don't care. I do. I can understand their frustration and anger at being misled. But to cry and scream like it's the end of the world is a bit overkill. There are people who don't even have food in their belly or a roof over their head. Throwing a hissy fit doesn't exactly contribute anything to society now does it. But there are better ways of resolving your issues. Like payback. Make yourself heard. Know your rights and our (as in, The Company's) responsibilities, and make them pay. Get us investigated by Consumer Affairs. It was great. After one disastrous catalogue release, a CA investigator actually went into one of our stores and questioned some staff! I was laughing and cheering! It's about time, because The Company sure doesn't listen to us or its customers!

Why is everyone kicking up such a stink you ask? Here's the deal:

So, you've seen a Kmart catalogue right? Or Big W? They state the start and end dates of the sale. Unfortunately, ours don't. So although you may get a catalogue in your newspaper or letterbox on a Thursday which says the sale ends in 2 weeks, say on the 14th of August, the sale may have already started on the Tuesday or Wednesday. Or of course, we already have the items in stock for a few weeks selling at the full retail price, and by the time the sale catalogue rolls around, we have already sold out of many of the popular sizes.

One of the major problems at The Company is stock control. We have 2 different types of stores: retail stores and clearance stores. I work at the full price retail stores, which emphasise excellent customer service and product knowledge. The Clearance stores are supposed to carry different lines of clothing and footwear, as well as discontinued and old season stock.

Where is this all headed? Oh, where to start?!

Last week, we had a retail sale. Though our catalogue now stresses the limited stock and sizes at each store and first in best dressed, we are never provided with enough stock to begin with. Our retail stores mostly stock one of each size of item, as that is all that can reasonably fit into our stores. The idea is that once we sell that blue shirt in a Small, stock office will send us another within a week, so that we are always at or close to full capacity. There are larger stores that often have larger sizes (say, men's shoes up to size 15.5 in some styles) and doubles of popular sizes (say, two mediums and larges in shirts, 2 size 8 and 9 shoes, etc). Our catalogue sales are often hit or miss. Lately, they've been 'miss'. We never received any stock replenishments of advertised items and were forced to deal with whatever stock we had at hand. So for example, one style of shoes were advertised as being originally $129.95 and now being reduced to $89.95 and being available from sizes 6-12 with full and half sizes available, but limited stock and sizes at each store. Fair enough. I get the catalogue today, believing the sale has just started, so head in to my local store early morning or afternoon to try on some of these shoes. Only to find that my size isn't available. We were never restocked with this particular style of shoe since they first hit our stores 6months ago. We now only have 2 pairs left in a size 6 and 6.5. Not very helpful is it. "Are you able to call another store for a size 12?" No, because they don't exist anywhere else in the country, as far as we know. No one has received replenishments of these shoes for as long as we can remember.

So that is just one case in point. There are many, oh so many, other cases of stock mismanagement. For example, we recently had a few popular styles of women's shoes for $59.95. They were very popular at the full price and sold very well. Unfortunately for us retail staff, Head Office doesn't take this into account (or does) and decides to further reduce them to $39.95 along with other 'buy this and get this offers' and advertise them in a catalogue. Due to the huge demand, we sold out within the first few hours. Of course, we probably only had the 3 pairs in 3 different colours to begin with. It had been a long time since we had seen a pair above a size 38 (about an AU7). Many women needed 39s, 40 and 41. Being the inquisitive trouble maker that I am at work, I attempted to seek answers. The lame excuse The Company could come up with was along these lines: they order the shoes which are manufactured overseas, and within each size run (which goes from size 36-41) they order, they order say 1 each of the smallest and largest sizes, and 2 or 3 of all sizes in between. So in an order of say 150,000 pairs of shoes, they may only have 100 or so size 40 and 41s. All these shoes are then distributed across the 70-odd retail stores across Australia. Invariably, some smaller stores will miss out. So, at a 'smaller', non-priority store like my own, we probably only ever received one full size run (all sizes) of this style, ever. So then when they are advertised and further reduced, we have no hope in hell of ever finding another pair of size 41s at our or any other store. See the problem here?


Another problem with The Company's advertised sales is that the stock arrives too late during the sales (if at all). At The Company, in order to maximise profit and space, it is decided that all our stock is to be "on the floor". So we don't have large back rooms in which to unpack our stock, nor do we have specific stock unpacking staff. All new deliveries, whether it be 2 or 3 boxes or 40-50 boxes, are delivered through our main, customer entrance and dumped onto our floor in full view (and way) of our customers. This does not make for a pretty sight. This and the fact that only one person is rostered to work in the store at all times, required to complete all store duties, makes for a very difficult and stressful workplace. How exactly is one person supposed to serve 15-20 people looking for shoes/clothing we don't have and scan in and unpack 45 boxes of clothing and footwear? You tell me. If we're lucky, during a catalogue sale, because our budgets are increased due to the projected sales we are to make, you may have 2 staff on for more than 2hours in a shift. Great.

So our stores have no advertised stock during a sale but 40 boxes of stock just arrived but not unpacked. We have no idea what is in the boxes, and must scan them all in in order to be able to sell them. This is not a simple process. (Not when you have 15 customers trying to get your attention and a million other things to worry about) So think again before you casually ask us if we can 'just have a quick look in those boxes for a Small shirt'. Be prepared to be met with an incredulous glare. Especially if by serving you, I am already ignoring the 10 people lined up at the counter ready to pay for their goods and the other 15 trying to get my attention to help them find a size.

The scanning in and unpacking of stock is a long and drawn out process. Not only must we just take it out of the box, we must take off all the junk plastic and tissue paper, security tag it, fold it if necessary, fit it in with our existing stock and remerchandise if necessary. Our stores are all meant to be presented a certain way, believe it or not. The task of unpacking stock for sale is made all the more difficult when like a box of chocolates, "you never know what you're gonna get" - there is often an assortment of men's and women's clothing in assorted styles, colours and sizes within the one box. And of course, all must be displayed differently, according to The Company's set display guidelines.

So, next time you walk into one of our stores looking for a bargain and we don't have it on the shelves, try hassling The Company and calling your local Ombudsman. Cos frankly my dear, I don't give a damn. (I'm just here for the money).

Friday, August 25, 2006

More evil

I have no patience for a**hole customers. The ones that come in demanding something that we don't have, something at a cheaper price, demanding we bend over backwards to get them a bargain.

I will NOT be pushed around by customers. Sorry, I just don't care that much. In fact, I 'm NOT sorry. I just plain and simple don't care. And your being rude and pig-headed will only make me despise you more and make me go out of my way to ensure you don't get what you want.

Take poor Jen. New girl, lovely, really nice and eager to help the customers. She's quite petite- short and cute. Same age as me, but so much nicer! She was swamped on a Friday night, all by herself on the 2nd day of the sale. The previous sale had ended 2 days ago, and a crazy woman, probably mid 30s-40s demanded to purchase a pair of pants at the reduced price.

"You WILL sell them to me at the reduced price, because I need them... blah blah blah. No, I'm not going to pay $69.95 for them, you'll sell them to me for $39.95 blah blah" Sorry, I don't care if you're dying. No way I can sell em to you for that price. If you're going to be a nob, I'll ignore you.

I can't believe Jen had to take this when there was a line of people half way down the store waiting to pay for their goods! What a nutjob! Why don't I ever get any of these crazies? I'd laugh in their face! Where do they get off demanding crazy things off us and telling us what we'll do for them?!


And Ellie, one of the nicest girls there were, soft spoken and polite, 2nd longest serving casual after me in our few stores. One lady had the gall to demand that Ellie hunt down a nonexistent promo item from another store and get it sent to our store so she could buy it. For $10. Are you kidding?!

"Yes, you'll locate it from another store for me, becuase that's what they did last time"

No joke. I don't care if they did it last time, I'm not taking this crap. How rude. I was so angry for Ellie when she told me. Ellie took her details becuase she didn't know what else to do. I think angry lady was going to leave them with us no matter what anyway.

"Nah, don't find them for her. All the other stores are sold out. Write down her details and then wait a while and let her know that we're sold out state-wide. Make sure she doesn't get it" I made a note in the book to ensure other staff knew that they were not to order them in for her or hold the item for her. Ha.

People like that make my blood boil. Where do they get off? But how come they never talk it up to me?! I miss the crazies! They always target the nice ones, like Andie, Ellie and Jen. I'm missing out!


Well, after another hectic sales period, it's now gearing up towards spring and Father's Day. Which is always busy in retail- we're still phasing out winter stock and are slowly starting to bring in spring/summer gear.

This recent catalogue sale was interesting, to put it mildly. I'm now working regularly at Innaloo. No idea why I've been moved. As I'm not working so many hours anyway, (as in, not in stores long enough to care or have any real responsibility or accountability), I don't mind it too much. It's challenging. At least that keeps me busy.

Well, yes, another sale, no more stock. Because, as usual, our company likes to release a catalogue and promote sales but never send us enough stock to begin with, nor even replenish our stock levels in the first few days of the sales to make sure we have enough to meet demand. Nothing new really. I'm dealing with it quite well now. I don't even bother apologising anymore. I'm more cynical and blunt now.
"Well, just because it's advertised doesn't mean we have them"
"No, we never received any more stock of those and only had the two pairs to begin with"
"Yes, it is" - in response to a huffy customer frustrated that we didn't have any stock: "It's another catalogue where you don't have any of the advertised products" - Honestly now, if he'd already been screwed over last few times we had sales and promotions, why does he bother coming back? He's only looking to get rejected!

So I obviously have no sympathy towards the customers now. I've stopped taking orders for items that I can't be bothered finiding and know that no other stores will have stock of. Sorry, can't do it. A neat trick I've learnt is to agree that we can take the order but always inform them that it may take a while and there may be little chance of ever getting the item in. No expectations, that's the way to go!

And also, when it's busy during a catalogue promo:

"Do you have these in a size 11? Or a 12?"
Are you kidding me?! I haven't seen anything above a 9 or 10 in MONTHS! And sometimes we only get say, 5o size 11 and 12s, distributed to our 100-odd stores around Australia. Do you seriously think we're gonna have them 6months after they've been in stores, and 3 days into the half price sale?! Come on!
"Can you call Howlong to see if they've got them"
Note: no PLEASE.
So, depending on how annoyed I am (doesn't have to be at them in particular, I hate all people - I don't discriminate!) I will react in one of 3 ways:

"Sure, I can try to call, but they may not answer as we've been trying to ring them and they've always been busy"

If it's really busy in my store: "Sorry, I don't have time to call them now, but if you like, I can give you their phone number and the style codes for you to try to ring them"

If they're being real nutheads, I'll ring, or pretend to ring, and then wait an appropriate length of time, and then return, apologetic: "Sorry, they weren't picking up the phone, they must be really busy as well." By this stage, I am peeved and rarely offer much more help beyond the phone call. I may begrudgingly oblige to non-rude requests, but not try very hard.

I was quite impressed with myself for discovering that one. I never realised that everyone'd been doing that for ages already! I used to be so nice...

I was covering a shift at Nevertire, not having worked there in months, and was up on a ladder, ignoring customers as I tried to get the store to bear some semblance of order and tidiness, when I felt a jab at my thigh. I was shocked. I looked down, boxes in hand, up on a ladder, and a man had POKED me with a shoe! I was too shocked to be rude! Are you kidding me!?

"Whoa! Uh, can I help you?" was all I could muster.

"Er, you got this in a black?"

I climb down reluctantly. I'm still reeling. "Um, yeah, what size were you after?" I ask, trying not to glare. But seething on the inside!

"Size 10? You got a size 10?"

"Yeah, I'll have a look. Just let you know, that style's not reduced" That last comment usually puts off all the tightwads. Most of our customers, these days.

"Ok then, what about this style? You got this in a black size 10?" he asks, pointing to one of our regular styles, reduced at this time.

I look around our shoes, which are in a complete mess anyway. Like Kate said, they've probably got as much chance of finding them as we do!

Let's not forget this guy poked me with a shoe to get my attention. While I was up on a ladder. Needless to say, I didn't look very hard for his shoes. "Sorry, it looks like we've sold out of those in a 10." I respond matter-of-factly. He knows he's had his chance, and doesn't push it. Maybe I was staring daggers at him and he could tell I didn't want to help him. He leaves it at that and exits our store.

Later that day, while looking for shoes for another customer - a big spender, who was patient, polite and understanding, I came across shoe-poker's shoes. There were a few of them hidden there! I tell Carrie, and I laugh evilly. "Oh well, that's what you get for poking me!" hahahahaha!

So, the day after the scheduled end of the sale... surprise surprise, they decide to extend it! So after having taking down all the promo prices and posters, we are then advised, late morning (NOT the night before) that we are to keep them all up and have the reduced price points up for the next TWO weeks. Grrrrr... it took ages to thoroughly check everything to make sure we removed promo prices and items, and then they tell us to put em all back up. Great. Thanks for nothing.

Well, you know I won't be promoting the sale items. At least they're not sending out more catalogues! Cos we still don't have any more stock. Our patience only goes so far.

You know what all these crazy, mismanaged sales have taught me? Self serve. I've become quite adept at ignoring customers. It's a very important skill one must acquire in order to stay sane in The Company. I can look very busy filing emails. Heck, I could do that all day.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Into the abyss

Sorry, no updates for a while til my Mac is fixed. Something about the logic board being replaced as it keeps shutting down randomly and then not working at all. I should get it back, fingers crossed, in the next few days.

And the PC is also broken. Great.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Background info

I work at The Company, a clothing and footwear chain. There are many stores all around Australia. As a casual, I work at just the one store at the moment, though we have been known to move around where the shifts are. So in the past, I've worked at other stores in different regions, and may refer to them in my posts.

We all refer to our stores by the suburbs they're located in. I've given our stores names of towns in Australia: Howlong, Innaloo, Beverly Hills (edit: formerly, Poshville, my own concoction), Mooball, Poowong and Nevertire. My store doesn't have a name yet, I refer to it plainly as 'my store' or 'our store'. I work in a retail store, though there are other types of stores as well, I won't go into that now, may give me away!

Next roster week, I'm working at Innaloo with Caroline, so that should be fun. Working with Caroline, that is. I've never found Innaloo too much fun.

The Company's retail stores' backbone is formed by the casual staff. Each store (is supposed to, anyway) has a manager, who works there full time, and the casuals fill in the extra hours and can work anywhere from 2hours at that store to 20-odd hours. Casuals also fill shifts at different stores within the same region, and it's not uncommon (though annoying) for casuals to work at one store for a few hours (lunch cover) and then drive to another store to do a few more hours (lunch covers, usually) when we are short staffed.

A lunch cover is another staff member coming in specifically so the manager (or other casual working a full shift) can have their law-required break. We can work a maximum of 5hrs without a break. Minimum shift is 2hours. Our breaks are 30mins, unpaid. So sometimes a staff member (manager or casual) will work all day, say 10-5 (like I do on Sundays) and then another casual will come in for 2 hours (say 1-3) for a lunch cover. Also ostentatiously to help out as it's busier around lunch time as well, but I'm sure if The Company could get away with it, they'd have no qualms about making someone work all day by themselves and only getting a cover in for half an hour and then continue working alone.

What else doesn't make sense about my posts....
Our many store tasks- like unpacking stock on the floor, which means that we have boxes of stock in our store in the view (and way) of customers.

In order to make us more efficient and for The Company to get more bang for their buck, we don't have large back/storage rooms to store our stock, and we don't have staff that are specifically stock unpackers. So all our deliveries are brought through our main entrance and dumped on our floor. Customers in the way? "Excuse me" Can't reach the stock behind the 40 boxes of stock in your 10square metre store? Oh well, better start moving them then. How do you think we all got those big muscles?

So we're expected to scan in and unpack stock whilst serving customers as well. Merchandising can be a pain as well, when you have so much stock to deal with and are simultaneously trying to fit in new styles as well as scanning in more styles. Insert Forrest Gump voice here: "The Company's like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get" Another post dedicated to the joys of stock later.

Well, that's it for now, it's past midnight, and I've got another long day ahead of me tomorrow, not to mention study as well. Thinking about it is getting me worked up. Night.

Whatever happened to?

Well, the shift at Beverly Hills on Wednesday wasn't too bad after all, I got quite a bit of work done, helping Chris to remerchandise the store in preparation for the catalogue and transferred all the new shoes we received an hour before I left. We haven't received that stock at my regular store yet, so I think it'll arrive today. I have to leave for work in just less than an hour.

So what happened to Chris' lunch cover on Tuesday? New trainee didn't turn up? What was her name again? Doesn't matter, because she QUIT. She found a full time job and didn't bother to finish out her rostered shifts nor tell anyone that she wasn't turning up to the day's shift. Yeah, thanks for nothing. Chris was a bit peed. He couldn't believe that she didn't even have the decency to at least let someone know. We were discussing her going AWOL on him. He's a nice guy and didn't want to think badly of her before that, but I think he may have actually been worried about her not turning up to her shift. She was uncontactable (but I was, which is how I got roped in) so they were left wondering if she just didn't know (though I think they know she did) of her shift, or something terrible happened to her.

I've seen it countless times before. New trainees just quit, don't bother telling anyone and leave us all in the lurch. You don't know if they're dead, had an accident, whatever. There was a girl who was being trained by Jane* with Pete (cool guy), she was also working at a hardware store at the time, and she didn't turn up to her shift at Nevertire and no one ever heard from her again, it seems. Talked about it to Pete (still with us) and it's like, 'oh yeah, I never saw her on the rosters again and was wondering what happened to her'. She seemed pretty good at the time, quick, efficient, caught on quickly. Oh well.

So it's like they say, we're not overly friendly with new trainees as, in my experience, not many of them make it past a month or so. If they make it past their training and finish their new staff training tests, there's a chance, but we just have to see if they stick it out a month or so before we can acknowledge em as one of our own and rely on them. Yes, we, and I am generally nice and welcoming, as I don't want them to quit either, but they still have to prove themselves to some extent. Like, not be completely incompetent.

In my two years, I've seen a lot of staff come and go. Our delivery guys even comment that each time they come in (every day), there's someone different. Not surprising. Andie and I were trying to compile a list of all the people she's trained in 2.5 years. We got to about 35 (there must've been more, but we can't remember them all if they quit within a week), and about half of those people had since quit. I was still there, at the top of the list as one of her first few trainees that's lasted the longest.

So after seeing many of my coworkers that I really enjoyed working with left, it's a bit disheartening to sometimes call a store, like one I used to work at regularly, and talk to a complete stranger each time. Oh well. One day, someone will ask that about me I guess.

"Whatever happened to Ranter? Didn't she work here for like, 2 years or something?" (2 years for front line staff is a long time in The Company.)

*Jane was a manager at Mooball, where I was working in the lead up to Christmas, then I got moved, and later found out by going through sent emails at Nevertire, that she'd quit. Another one bites the dust. She was a new manager given the reins of a difficult store to manage, and was eager to please. She quickly became a training manager and even did well in tests and became eligible for significant monthly bonuses.

This was during a really hectic time when stock and staff were all over the place and The Company couldn't get anything right. We had Charlene, a real b$*% of an AM (more on that later, you may recall she was the reason I moved to Sunshine, my current store, 40mins away from my house, whereas Mooball, Nevertire and others are about 15-20mins away). Basically, there is no nicer way to describe her. I haven't heard a single nice thing about her. Everyone I talk to hates her. Even people who've never met her had heard nasty things about her. Needless to say, news spreads fast in The Company. What do you think we do when we are forced to work by ourselves and deprived of normal human contact?! Anyway, she was putting heaps of pressure on Jane (who had been diligently trying to run a huge store during Christmas and train several staff at the same time, while trying to cope with the shocking mismanagement of stock by Head Office) and on many other staff as well, and it was not a pleasant time to be working at The Company.

Jane was about my age, had just finished uni, can't remember what she studied now, I think it was zoology or something, and this was her first 'real' full time job. Obviously not in her field and what she slaved at uni for for 3 years. She and her partner had just purchased a house and she needed the job to pay off the mortgage (yes, at 21) and I got the feeling things were a bit strained financially and relationship wise. The guy wasn't pulling his weight financially or something...

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Woo! I was on FIRE!

Well, not literally, though if I was on fire at work, I probably would've died, seeing as we don't have a fire extinguisher. (I'm sure that's breaking some sort of fire/OHS regulations).

Nah, we had a catalogue sale which started today, and I worked 1-9. It was great. I was early, was in a good mood and very pleasant and customer focused today. I served as many customers as I could, more than I would've bothered to on an angry day, but I was so pumped and cheery and up-selling and everything! It was amazing. It was like a high. I was so proud of myself. Hey, I know this is supposed to be my job- friendly, efficient, helpful, offering product knowledge and technical info and all that, serving multiple customers, all whilst completing store tasks as well...but hey, we're all human. And today, I was SUPERhuman! We even managed to placate the angry customers.

So only two things happened today:

A man was going to buy $200 or so of clothes and shoes, but two pairs he'd picked out weren't reduced. We sometimes only reduce selected colours of a single style, but others will be full price. These particular styles of shoes came in 3 colours, and only 2 were reduced. Upon getting to the POS and scanning them, Gina, who had been serving the couple, found that they were not reduced. One style had been tagged with the incorrect price, a $30 difference. The other style wasn't tagged wrong, just an incorrect assumption had been made. So with our system of price errors, which is somewhat complicated, we were to charge him the full price, and head office would refund the difference.

But things just are never that simple, are they. It was getting quite busy at that stage, and the customer, upon finding the shoes not to be reduced, not surprisingly, was angry. Oops, that was our fault for tagging the display shoe wrong. So we tried to attempt the procedure, like many The Company likes to institute, which is of course prolonged and painful. We've recently had a new POS system installed, and of course, no one bothered to train us on everything thoroughly, so we're still ironing out a few glitches. While we fiddled with trying to complete the process on the computer or manually (yes, paper) he was getting increasingly frustrated, as was his wife, who also wanted some stock which we'd sold out of. She asked if we could call Howlong for the item, as she could pick it up there. We were flat out busy, and I was sure most other stores, especially Howlong, was as well. But not wanting to irritate them further, we called. So this is both me and Gina serving them now, trying to sort out the kerfuffle. Well, like I thought, Howlong didn't pick up because they were busy. Too. Oops. She wasn't impressed.

So after some time, I managed to get hold of an authority and we were able to process the form, but because of how long we took, I was expecting the couple to be furious. Gina and I were both very apologetic, honest and straightforward, and I was rushedly serving other customers as well. Well, managed to complete the sale, chucked in some freebies, and hey, angry customer left well, not exactly happy, but satisfied customer! I was impressed. But no time to bask in our glory...too busy, gotta go and keep serving!

And then! Later in the evening, maybe around 8 or so, I lost track after my 3:30PM dinner break (yes, really now)... it'd quitened down a bit. I was serving the only customer in the store, gentleman mid 40s, early 50s? He was trying on some shoes, I'd just started to help him with them when 2 early 20s skinny try hard guys sauntered in, as if they owned the place. I'm lacing the shoes for the lovely man, when

"Hey, is there anyone here?" one of the punks calls out self-importantly.

I was kneeling down, out of line of sight, so of course it looks like the store is deserted. I get up, and reply nicely,

"Yep, I'll just be with you in a minute". I continue lacing the shoes for the gentleman, and he noticed how impatient and rude the other two were, and being understanding, told me to go and see to them, he'd be fine trying on the shoes. I apologised and thanked him and told him I'd be back in a sec.

"Sorry to keep you waiting, how can I help you?" I greeted Angry Try Hards sweetly. I'd felt a twinge of annoyance at them, but that quickly dissipated when I saw they were looking at women's jeans.

"Yeah, I'm a size 32, but I don't know how these sizes fit" Our women's jeans are folded, stickered with the sizes- 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, etc. Men's sizes go by inches: 30, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, etc.

"Yup, these are the women's jeans, the men's jeans are just down the back here," I can't help snickering inwardly as I lead them to the back of the store, in the MEN'S section, where the reduced men's jeans are.

"Do you have any that are like this kind of fitting, and light coloured?"

"No, sorry, I'm afraid these are the lightest ones we've got, and they're all a straight leg" I reply apologetically. I was just about to offer assistance with different styles when Punk#2 interjects

"No, that's s!%@. It's not what we're after," They mutter amongst themselves, disgusted that we didn't have what they were after, "No, let's get out of here"

"Yeah, sorry about that." I call out after them. They storm out, unimpressed.

Hey buddy, whaddya expect? Our company's target demographic (at the moment!), as one customer succinctly put it are "middle aged to almost dead" Hahah! I can't believe they said that and The Company published it... And the fact that they didn't realise they were in the women's section, with a buxom female mannequin, wearing female clothing right next to the jeans they were looking at, doesn't say much about their intelligence.

So, I stride back to the gentleman trying on the shoes, and almost say "see, it only took a sec", but he's already taking it off and packing it back up. Happy with the shoes, he has already decided to take them. Wow! and he didn't even finish lacing up the shoe that I'd half done. Didn't even bother trying them both on. I liked this guy. He made me smile. Made things easier, was polite, understanding and a real pleasure to serve.

And it just got better after that! Customers until 8:45, but that's because I pushed the sales and really built them up, promoting the sale items and great bargains. What a legend. So no late customers! I can't say, despite my happy mood, I'd have welcomed someone coming in at 8:58. I closed at 9, no major problems cashing up, store not in a major mess, considering how busy I was, alone from 4-9, and I was outta there by 9:20 (oh well, can't have it all) and home before 10. Great! No traffic, no road rage, today was one of the best days at work in a while. If every day was like this and I was as happy and enthusisastic, I'd have no problems handling becoming a manager... but I've still got my degree to finish!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Why, when I have so many other things to do- assignments, readings, meeting a tutor in the middle of the day... why did I agree to cover a shift in Beverly Hills where the peak hour traffic is crap and frustrating, parking is 2-hourly so you have to leave the store to move your car...why did I agree to put up with all this for a 3 1/2 hour shift? Can I really be bothered with all the travel and stress (notwithstanding how much of it is self induced)? Why did I agree to take on more hours when I am already working more than enough hours for the week? Cos I'm a suck and still can't say no. I'll still encourage other staff to "JUST SAY NO" but I still can't do it. Not when the nice ppl ask me.

And why do I have to cover the shift at such late notice? I was called by Gemma, our lovely AM, at 5PM for a cover for any time tomorrow: 5-6 hours or so, but I can only do a few in the morning or arvo as I've got plans at 1. What happened to their rostered staff? Who knows. I think they have a new trainee there as well, and she didn't turn up to her shift today, and so Chris had to work all day by himself and close for lunch. Not fun. Poor Chris. He worked a couple of shifts at my store as well and is now manager at Beverly Hills. I didn't want Chris to have to work another day by himself. Though I think he's more resilient than just to quit when things are obviously as frustrating as they are right now for him. I think they have a load of stock to unpack and prepare for yet another catalogue sale. Great. Can't wait til that one's released.

Why am I where I am now? Story of my life...

Monday, August 07, 2006

Just another day at the office

So yesterday, I got to work all day. Lucky me, that's a whopping $28 an hour. Sweet. I feel for the serving staff in New York that only get what, US$3.50 per hour. I wonder if they get paid per hour that their lousy customers stay after close? See, one of my major gripes about The Company, is that they don't pay us to cash up. Or come in early, but I beat that by coming early enough not to get in trouble for being late, and then sitting around (eating breakfast, going to the loo, etc) until 9 or 10AM. I then, and ONLY then, proceed to count my cash and ready the store to be opened for business. Hey, that might take me 10 mins or so depending on the state of the cash and all (like, NOT BEING ABLE TO FIND IT at two of the stores I covered at. Who puts the money there anyway!? Since when do we ever put money there overnight?!) So if I open up the store at 10 past and you've been waiting ever so impatiently outside, hey don't get snooty at me, I don't get paid to come in any earlier. That explains why my vacuum cleaner is sometimes still out at 11 on a Sunday. Yes, I am vacuuming now, cos I'm not gonna do it before or after trading hours, cos The Company sure ain't gonna pay for it.

So, yesterday I was rushing to get to work and just made it at 10. As I was walking towards my store, I noticed a couple walking around near the Cafe, not customers of the cafe, but just suspiciously enough to arouse my attention that they may be early birds. I always hate the first customers in. It's just customary. Sure enough, when I pulled open my door at 5-10 past, they were right outside and waltzed right in as I was pulling my racks out.

What was so urgent that they had to hover outside early on a Sunday morning, you ask? A few pairs of boxers and socks. Really now. $14.85 worth, to be exact. At least they didn't take a plastic bag.

So I did manage to clean up a bit from the night before, and even got to vacuum up all the killer dust bunnies. I was on a roll. Sure, it got busy, and what can you do but sit back and watch the mayhem unravel when it's so busy with no sale stock. Oh well. Shrug and busy yourself with tidying.

There were 2 issues from yesterday that I must blog about: staffing and new trainees and sales and advertising.

Let's discuss new trainees first.

I was aware that I was to work with Jen, a new casual staff member, and I was to assist her with cashing up and closing for the day. No problem. But when she arrived, she told me she hadn't even finished her training yet. WHAT THE?! Whaddya mean, haven't finished?! Well, I knew Andie, my manager turned fellow casual (she's gone back to study) didn't want to train any more staff. Heck, she trained me and look how I turned out! hahah! Nah, the fact of the matter is, as a training manager, you aren't allowed many extra hours to train your staff, in many cases, you're training more than one person, sometimes they are at different levels in their training, as you may have to train them at your store, and split the responsibility with another manager at another store. So, no extra hours to train your staff, and yet you are still expected to complete all your regular store tasks as well.

Our training is all on-the-job. This is good in that you get a real life perspective of your actual job and what responsibilities it entails. However, this can also be somewhat detrimental, given the daily stresses and pressures that we're put under. So at the moment, we have something of an end of season clearance, so needless to say, we are all very busy and our stores are swarming with customers. We still have stock to unpack (if you're so lucky. I'll get back to this point later), prices to change and customers to serve. We have a six point policy to follow with each and every customer. Yeah right. So, being the only staff in the store, how do we manage to serve customers, scan in stock, unpack it, price it and security tag it, and serve customers at the same time? We can't. If we're going to prioritise, we'll either pick the customers or the stock. Guess which one I pick. So, throw in a couple of new staff trainees, some of whom have had no retail experience, and what do you have? A very overwhelmed manager (or casual) and some seriously freaked out trainees. There's a whole lotta bureaucracy and paperwork to be taken care of at our place, and lots of procedure and theory about materials, clothing, footwear, etc that must be learnt as well. Think of it, a casual after 2 weeks of training is going to be left alone in a store to run it all by themselves. Yikes? No kidding.

Needless to say, Andie didn't have much time to train the two newbies. To add fuel to the fire, she didn't even know she was supposed to be training. Turned up to her shift, busy catalogue sale, and then two staff turned up to be trained. WHAT THE!? They were dumped on her by our AM because, quite honestly, there was no one else to train. All the other managers in our region are new, or haven't trained new staff before. The other stores don't have managers. haha. So, being so busy, what was she to do? Teach them how to transfer in stock and greet customers and set them to work doing that. Not much time to learn how to do things like laybys, manual sales, refunds, etc. New girls Jen and Shannon had previously been unceremoniously 'dumped' on Caroline (another ex-manager turned casual) at Innaloo for training. Surprise, surprise, she didn't know she was supposed to be training either. Oops, how did that happen? Same dealio with their training at Innaloo with Caroline and at our store with Andie.

So, yesterday, I was expecting Jen to be fully trained. New, but trained at least. It was pretty busy by the time she arrived and I was more than ready to go out for lunch. I was a bit worried about leaving her on her own in the store, seeing as she'd only worked (trained) there briefly once before, and hadn't even finished training at that. So she didn't know where anything was and I was afraid she wouldn't know how to do things or deal with the customers' questions/requests/demands. So I called Caroline at Innaloo, she was busy as over there as well, and she filled me in on what had been happening with the newbies. Called our AM for help, cos I didn't want to stress Jen out any more by leaving her alone in the middle of a rush, and it was then that I was made painfully aware of the state of The Company.

We're in the weeds. Many of our stores are now without managers, and the ones that do have managers, are new managers. So, as more and more staff quit (in disgust, presumably) and as our timetables and availability change, they need to hire more staff to fill in the gaps. But how do you train them with no qualified managers? You can't. So you need to rely on the ex-manager now casual (with significantly less responsibility) to pick up the slack. Otherwise we'll all just sink. With no new blood, we can't possibly survive. So even though they don't want to do it (lack of appreciation for efforts and even fines for things not done according to procedures and deadlines), they have to because there simply is no one else. The Company needs them.

So after such dire situations, do you think upper management would for a minute consider how this could all come about? How did things get this bad? As if they could give a flying f#$%.

Sidenote: It turns out that Jen actually handled it all quite well. She'd done more training than I thought, and although I was also expected to help fill the gaps (more than happy to, most of the time), at least our training cash up was paid! Yay! We actually get paid to perform tasks that are part of our job description. So cash up took half an hour (after some LATE customers- grrr) and I was paid a handy $14 for it. Great!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A new look

Yay for me. I decided that more anonymity is needed if I am to bitch and whine about work more freely. Let it aaaaall flow out! So I've separated my blogs and will update more about our working conditions and what irks us. Managers, administration, the future for us and our company. Lots of rumours and unfounded gossip.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

New links!

Today being my day off, I have well and truly 'wasted' it reading blogs. I finally finished reading the whole archive of Waiter's blog, even though I tried to limit myself to only a few pages, or to reading it after I'd done all my work. Didn't happen. Good work, Waiter.

From his site, I stumbled across Deb's blog, she is a barmaid in New York. They've all got some funny stories.

But this latest one that I'm hooked on is The Insane Waiter. Many of his stories have reflected my own experiences in The Company, like the intimidating tactics used on staff and crazy customers. I'm sure many of us in the service industry get the same old crap, just from different people.

You'd think with all this hospitality blog reading I'm doing I'd be keen to get a job as a server too. I think I'd enjoy it, so long as the people are nice. I have volunteered in a vegetarian restaurant/cafe before, but that was a lot more laid back than these people's high class establishments. Hey, maybe if my current job/education falls through, I can start applying at some local vegetarian establishments around here...

Can't help but laugh

Call me evil, but I just love to say no when The Company really needs me. Actually, when they msged me for help today, I would've done it, but I have class til 6 on Tuesdays. Next week is a study week though, and I could've done it then, but ... too bad, they need me the week after.

Here's the dealio with The Company that I work for.

Each store has a store manager who works there full time Tues-Sat, and there are usually about 3-4 casuals to fill in on weekends and do covers. The majority of the time, our stores are run by the one person. The managers usually work all day by themselves, with a casual to come in for about 2 hours (more, or less, if you're so lucky) so they can have a lunch break, as the maximum time worked without a break is 5 hours.

'Casual shifts' are Sundays, Mondays, and Thursday morning and Friday night. As a full time student and experienced staff member, I usually work Friday night, a few hours on Saturday for the lunch cover, and all day Sunday. I'm not usually available outside these times.

Our stores are sorted into regions, which are under the control of an Area Manager. They organise their staff to work in their stores, often moving between different stores, but usually within only their region.

Because of the way The Company is run, with all stores run by just the one person, all the time and all the responsibility thrust upon that new person, it can be frustrating and overwhelming. I often work 9-2 by myself until someone else comes in to 'relieve' me so I can have a half hour lunch break. But what happens if it gets busy? Do you still only have one person serving? (Keep in mind we still need to complete all our store tasks and unpack stock on the floor as well.) What if you need to go to the toilet, you ask? That's our daily dilemma. Too bad. Sure, The Company won't disallow you from going to the toilet, but really, how are you going to go when your store is swarming with customers? And personally, sometimes, when I need to go, I really need to go. It's not like I haven't been sick at work before.

Also, new staff have 2 weeks of training, what 30hrs or something, and then they can be thrown into the deep end and expected to run a store alone. Yes, that's right, The Company will stick them in and expect them to perform like a Store Manager who has been there full time for years.

So, you can probably start to see why we have such a high staff turnover. So back to the story...

Today, I got a call from one of the city stores trying to organise stocktake for a store in a different region that I don't usually work at. I used to work there, but for reasons I won't go into now, I don't work there anymore (only to do covers if they're really desperate). One of the newer staff is rostered to do stocktake that Tues night and they need someone, hopefully, me to train them. SORRY! No can do, cos I have uni and I'm not skipping any more classes or failing any more subjects for This Company. I had to laugh, cos they were so desperate, and this whole situation could've been avoided and shouldn't even be happening. Because they chose to demote their Store Manager back to a casual.

So, Jason, as a manager, had been moved from our region to this store, Dunedoo, because the previous manager had quit (for the same reasons I moved into my current region from Dunedoo's region). He was set with the mammoth task of turning the store around under tight budgets and staffing. Needless to say, it was quite stressful and challenging. I think The Company had it in for him, as Jason was having a hard time coping as well, and after many unveiled threats, warnings (formal interviews), intimidation from Upstairs and apparent poor performance, they finally got the chance to demote him. A swift slap in the face after all his hard work. And now he's there working alongside 'his' casuals, fighting for shifts! hahah! At least it'll give him more time to look for a better job. So now, the manager, who is in charge of stocktakes and training of their staff, is no longer, and they have to rely on us. I'm sure under other circumstances Jason would've been happy to help, but somehow, I just don't see him bending over backwards to offer any more assistance.

So, it's in times like these, that the ever so willing, eager to please casuals like me come in. Usually more than happy to help, even despite the hiccups from last week's rostering, I just can't this time. And I can't help but laugh. And I'm sure Jason and others are laughing with me too.