Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Feeling sick?

I try to be a good person and treat people as I would like to be treated, but when you get busted lying about being sick on a shift and inconveniencing someone else to come in and cover for you, that's just not nice.

A while ago, Jen, a new girl, told me how she'd covered for Gina in the middle of a sunny Sunday afternoon. Apparently Gina was sick during her shift and was 'chucking up in the back room' and all that. You know the drill- I feel really sick and have been vomiting in the store, and there is no one to cover me, and you're my last hope. Well, see, the thing is, Sunshine doesn't have much of a back room. We don't have a sink in there, let alone a toilet, so I don't know how or where she could've been vomiting out the back. Unless she did it in a garbage back when she managed to pull herself away from the customers, she must've been 'mistaken'. When Jen came in, on her day off, after having driven over an hour from the country because she felt sorry for Gina (hey, she contacted me too, but I was sick of covering and it was my only day off too) she noticed that Gina didn't look sick at all, and just thanked her for coming in and then waltzed right out. was a nice day out that day, perhaps she was going to the beach (one of the other girls got busted calling in sick, and then turning up when there was no one else to cover her shift. She was wearing bathers underneath her skirt and top). Jen noticed that there were no bags of chuck out the back, and if Gina did indeed throw up out the back, she would've had to close the store to get rid of the evidence before Jen turned up. And then Jen worked with Robyn (new store manager at Nevertire), Gina's best friend, and she mentioned that Gina had been sick on Sunday and she had covered for her, but Gina knew nothing of it. Sounds fishy...

WARNING: if you are easily put off by descriptions of vomit, stop reading now.

I've chucked up at work before (at Sunshine and Mooball), and it's not pretty. Both stores don't have a sink, so I had to be discreet and hurl in a garbage bag. Both times, I was serving customers, and both times, they didn't even notice, I think. During Christmas of 2004, I was working so much I was probably making myself sick from stress and tiredness, and it was quite busy, there were 3 of us on, and I was serving customers at the counter, Marnie was serving on the floor, and Miranda was around the back of the store unpacking stock. I suddenly felt very sick and could feel it rising and managed to get Marnie to come to the counter to take over for me (there was a line of customers) before I managed to rush down the back of the store with my cheeks puffed full of spew and my hands over my mouth. Miranda was out the back with garbage bags for the packaging, and I managed to get most of it into there, while she looked on in horror and disgust. Don't get to see that every day! She sent me home sick and managed to get one of the staff from another region to come in.

The other time, I was at Sunshine by myself and it was probably nearing the end of a Sunday, and I had been feeling really thirsty that day. I just couldn't drink enough water and my mouth felt really dry. I'd never felt like that before. No matter how much I drank, my mouth still felt dry. I can't remember if I was feeling nauseous, but usually when I feel nauseous, it's like I'm going to get the runs. It's only rarely that I've 'dry-hurled'. Well, I was feeling pretty bad and it was almost time to go home, so I stuck it out. There weren't many customers, but there was one who came in, and he was one that required a lot of service. He enquired about the shirt fittings and styles, and I was showing him around the back of the store where the shirts were but could really feel it coming, so said I'd go check for him, rushed back to the counter (in the middle of the store) and chucked up quietly in the garbage bag. Hmmm... it was all that water I drank! And a few chunks. Interesting. But I felt much better after that and returned to continue to serve him and he asked if I'd checked on the shirts. I was thinking: 'no, sorry, I was just puking my guts out, I must've forgotten. How silly of me'. The rest of the day continued without incident.

Welcome back

Well, Gina messaged me this morning, at 9:26AM, so half an hour after she got in, saying that she was not feeling well and wanted me to work the rest of her shift. I am on to do a lunch cover from 12-3 and she is on all day to do 9-6. She was apologetic: "sorry to be a pain" and "no pressure". Well, it's a fine, sunny day out today and I am more than a little suspicious and fed up. No one could help me cover my shift yesterday, and I know it's part of the job, but I couldn't help but feel a little let down. It's "a busy time for me" too. I can understand that people are busy with uni and assignements and are sick of being called in to cover shifts and feeling resenful when they say yes and bad when they say no, but if you owe me a favour cos I've covered your shift, I think the right thing to do would be to cover mine when I desperately need a cover and know you're available.

I worked all day Saturday without a cover or key and had to pick one up from a colleague's house nearby when Gina called in saying that her grandmother was sick and had been taken to hospital and her condition was serious. That was the Friday before last. I felt bad for her, but couldn't help thinking 'she better not be lying'. I know that's terrible, as I had a sick family member last year and had to take off without much notice- the ticket was booked and I was off to Sydney. Well, so I felt bad about contacting Gina and asking her if she could cover my stocktake shift last night. I made sure to ask her last, as I wasn't sure if her grandmother was still sick or if she was back at work or not. I was floored by her response: so sorry, she acknowledged that I helped her out on Saturday, but it's her dad's birthday. So sorry. So was I. At first, I couldn't believe she was celebrating her father's birthday when her grandma was so sick in hospital. But then I thought, maybe it's her maternal grandmother... but still, her mother wouldn't be up for celebrating, and if he was any type of good son, he'd feel the same. Or so I like to think... but I'll take her word for it.

So I can't understand why Gina messaged me at 9:26, saying she felt sick but would stay til 3, if I could work on til 6. I messaged her back an hour later, as I wanted to formulate the right response first. If I was feeling sick at work, I'd want someone to come in right away so I could go home. She knows I am available all day, yet wanted to work on til 3. It just doesn't make sense to me. I can't really be bothered working til 6 and have other things to do as well, so I compromised and offered to do 1-6 without a break and said she could go home when I get in if she wants. I'd like to talk to her and see what's going on. I was thinking she feels sick because she probably had too much to eat and drink last night at her dad's birthday... but I know that's mean, because I often feel sick because of a condition that I have, but have managed to avoid certain foods and control it. She just happens to feel sick the day after her dad's birthday bash, just as I happened to feel sick working on New Year's Day. And I don't even drink. I closed early that day and went home.

10:47 - she messaged back. Doesn't sound sick. Or maybe just trying to be considerate and hold it down as there is a lot of work to do in store and doesn't want me to hate her. Great. And apparently there is a store meeting as well. Well, that's news to me. ...oh yeah, it's for potential new staff I think. Like an introduction to The Company at our store, Sunshine, the "model store", where it's always perfect cos we are! Well, that was my slogan when Andie and I still worked there and it was indeed perfect. Now apparently there are more consolidations and heaps of stock on the floor. Welcome to The Company indeed. Newbies, you can count on me to provide a realistic view of the way The Company is run and what the staff experience is really like.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

A second chance

I've been more than just a little apprehensive about having Charlene as our AM again, especially with the departure of Andie and several other staff I was fond of. Christmas is coming, and that last year's experience hadn't helped to ease my tensions either. I haven't seen her since she left our region earlier in the year...or since I changed regions to get away from her, but I've decided to be more compensating and give her another chance. A clean slate. Having worked in HO, I can understand the pressures they are under- required minimum store visits, day sheets outlining what they've done all day, trying to coordinate our bare minimum staffing levels while trying to hire more people, etc. I know it's not an easy job, being an AM, I suppose I just judged her the poorer for being different to my past AMs, Gemma and Natalie. Different people, different personalities.

Trying to coordinate my training at HO with my rostered shifts and shift covers in stores, Charlene was helpful, and tried to coordinate things with Helena and get me to finish some training. And I was worried about not being able to find a cover for stocktake next Tuesday when I have training at my new job that I'm really excited to get to. I was so frustrated and sick of it all today that I gave up and just emailed Charlene and our Administrator that I haven't been able to find a cover but I was willing to come in at 8 or when my "appointment" was over. Charlene emailed back later that day and said I didn't have to come in at 8! Woohoo! I was so relieved and excited. That was a major load off. I know it wasn't exactly my responsibility, as it was outside my availability, but I had ok'd the shift when the roster came out. I really tried to find a cover, but as usual, no one is available or willing. It's nearing exam times and many of us, me included, are extremely busy. I hope she can find someone to work with Angela to do stocktake. It'll be a long shift if she has to do it alone...

So maybe Charlene did know that I didn't exactly think very highly of her when she last had to deal with me. I haven't exactly been Employee of the Year material at The Company. We wondered what it must be like to know that so many people hated you. As an AM, to not be respected by your staff, to the point that many of us openly disliked her. Perhaps she wasn't as oblivious as she appeared to be and has been making an effort to change. I try to be understanding and like to treat others as I'd like to be treated, and that's something I'm still working on. I've always tried to help out in covering shifts and finding covers when myself or other staff can't work a shift, whether it's due to their own issues or due to mistakes in rostering. It's nice to finally get some back. So far, I haven't had any issues with Charlene, and here's hoping it continues to stay that way.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Where the toilet paper's so thick, you need to flush twice to get it down

You can always tell a lot about a place and person by the type of toilet paper they buy. I buy unbleached recycled toilet paper in paper packaging. Most shopping centres will have the huge rolls of thin, scratchy one-ply. As kids, we used to go to a family friend’s house and were specifically told not to use grandma’s toilet, as she had the really nice, soft probably quilted/embossed toilet paper. That stuff was expensive! We had to use the regular toilet with the normal, cheap toilet paper. I guess being elderly grants you thicker toilet paper. That made me aware of the subtle differences between toilet paper buyers and users. I am surprised when I go to friends’ houses and know that they struggle financially, yet buy the thick, embossed, scented, printed stuff. That to me spells luxury and extravagance. But hey, that’s just me and the way I was raised. And my own neuroses. For all I know, they could’ve bought it on sale or something.

The street-front stores (those not located in a shopping centre) have their own toilets and we order our toilet paper with our monthly stationary orders. I believe it is the regular, probably one-ply Corporate Express (EXP) brand that our company has now switched to, probably as it is more economical. Training at Head Office, I noticed that they have the thick, embossed, two-ply Kleenex toilet paper. What is that, a whole 83 cents per roll? Wow. It was so thick I had to flush twice to get it down. And that’s not good, given our water shortage and increased water restrictions.

Well, training at HO has not turned out to be all that fascinating. A whole day of training and I have a better idea of what I am doing, or supposed to be doing, and that’s probably a good thing too, seeing as I’ll be working all day by myself on Friday finishing the reports. I am required to compile weekly productivity reports (everything from store time sheets, clearance store staff productivity and even AM productivity), wage sheets and summaries and budgets vs store hours. Interesting as it gives me an insight into how the stores, staff and AMs are performing, and I also get to see how much they receive in bonuses/reductions for being under/over budgeted staff hours related to money made. The Company is very secretive and likes to know exactly what is going on in every aspect of The Company’s workplaces.

The Company, and its Owner, like to keep tabs on the AMs as well and make sure they are performing. It is harder to keep track of us staff in stores, so they make the AMs pay. It is known that some AMs have GPS tracking devices in their company cars. The cars themselves aren’t that flash. Apparently just discards of the owner so he can get a new Bentley or something off and write that off on tax. Who wants a Hyundai Accent? They also have to complete daily reports and log their hours at work to show what they have been doing all day. One of the redundant Visual Merchandisers told me that The Owner has cameras in all the offices in HO so that he can view all the staff while they work. She was in her office when he suddenly called her in from his intercom. Quite surprising if you weren’t aware that he knew you were in there. Some stores also have live camera and audio feeds into HO as well- they apparently put that in to monitor a staff member who may or may not have been using recreational drugs. Watch your back.

It is well known that The Company is extremely secretive. Many angry customers have requested HO phone numbers and addresses in order to make complaints, offer marketing/etc services, or general enquiries. Half the time they don’t believe us when we tell them (in store, as they can’t seem to find HO details anywhere else. Duh) that we don’t even have their details. We all contact them through our internal email and centel-phone system. So all we can do is give them a Customer Feedback Form which they can post off to a PO Box, or we can post it off for them; or direct them to The Company website and online feedback forum; or a pager number, from which they can leave a voicemail message for the “Customer Empathy Officer”- someone will get back to you shortly! Once I list these exhaustive and exhausting options, they either get more fired up or fed up and give up in frustration. The local HO is soon relocating, I suspect customers have found it! The front windows had been ‘tagged’ by local youths/gangs when I went in again for the first time since late 2004.

Well, after my one day stint so far in HO (I’ll be back all day Friday), I haven’t uncovered much dirt on The Company or its staff. It’s given me an insight into the AMs’ roles and jobs, and I can see why Charlene was so tight on hours last year and refuses to ‘waste’ her time working in stores. It has also confirmed our suspicions that The Company is focusing on the clearance stores as they turn over more stock. There are some great new items from the current range now in our retail stores: like classy T-shirts with slogans such as: “Beer - give your brain the night off” and “It’s not a beer belly, it’s a fuel tank”. Apparently The Owner thought they were hilarious, and having sold so well in the rural clearance stores, The Company, in their infinite wisdom, have decided to bring them out in the retail stores as well. I can’t wait, I’m so proud to be selling such quality apparel.

Monday, September 18, 2006


A few weeks ago, I was contacted by my previous AM, Gemma, for a temporary position in Head Office, as Helena, one of the staff was going on leave in January. She suggested me as she thought I had a good understanding of The Company and its functions, with time sheets, budgeted hours, staffing, etc. The position also required some understanding of computers and Excel spreadsheets. I'd say I'm competent, but not overly knowledgable of computers, spreadsheets and formulas. I was flattered, but also had to acknowledge that she probably had few choices for a temporary cover.

Things to consider:
  • we need someone to be available at our beck and call. It's only a temporary position to cover staff going on holiday, so we don't want to hire anyone specifically for the position. Hiring and training are expensive! -Perfect, I'll be on full time availability and want heaps of hours from mid-Nov til March uni holidays, so we can get Ranter to come in and then send her back to stores when we don't need her.
  • we need someone who is eager to please and might possibly want to move up in The Company (kiss more butts to get more privileges). -Hey, I'm not that much of a brown nose, but do want what I want, when I want it. And I'd welcome the opportunity to meet the Owner and other HO staff, so then I can vent to them face to face. And they can meet the infamous whinger too.
  • we need someone that's experienced with The Company and has probably been around for a while. -Not many more of us left. I'd say Andie was the obvious choice before me, having done everything for The Company: training, admin, etc but she finishes in a few days. Or some other store manager would've done it, but oops, not many of those. And even less that are more than a few months old.
  • if we train them now, what's the possibility of them sticking it out til January next year? 3 months, and the Christmas/holiday period is a long time in retail in The Company. -I've been there for 2yrs now and taken a lot of crap, so chances are, a bit more won't deter me.
So I was contacted about the 6/9 or a bit before, and had organised to do training the following Thursday at HO. I was already rostered to work at Innaloo then, but Gemma (previous AM) said I could tell Lauren (our then AM- confused yet?) to find a cover for me, seeing as I needed to get trained at HO, and if we couldn't cover the shift, Lauren could work in store for Linda's (store manager) cover, and then I'd come back and finish the rest of my shift from 4-9. Fair enough. Sounded alright. There was plenty of time. I contacted Lauren, and her reply was: "I'll get you to find the cover please". WHAT THE!? I was NOT impressed. I knew there would be no one to cover the shift. Staff have been having major problems covering their shifts lately. The new/old stock issues aren't helping either.

Of course, I couldn't find ANYone to cover me, so Linda had to close the store to go on her break, and I took an hour to get to Innaloo from HO and finished my shift from 4-9. Fun. Lauren had given up on us already.

So I managed to get 2 hours of training done at HO and still don't really have much idea about what the job entails. I'll be doing productivity reports and be working with time sheets so we can figure out staff costing and something like that. Reports on all of The Company's AMs (Australia and NZ wide) and how their stores and staff are performing, I think. Should be interesting to see how Charlene's stores are going. And get all the inside juice on the scandals and gossip of The Company and its staff. Honestly, that's all we want when store staff go to HO.

I was supposed to have a full day of training the next day, Friday 15th, which I was looking forward to, seeing as I'm to be starting the position THIS WEDNESDAY, which everyone had neglected to tell me. Great, thanks for nothing. Of course, I couldn't even fit in a few hours training as I was called in by Charlene (current AM) to cover at Sunshine (new name for my previous store) and then we got hit with a huge delivery of stock. Charlene had to negotiate with Helena my hours and training, as obviously the stores needed me straight away, even though I had training that I needed to do.

So I haven't had the time or energy to post lately as I've had to cover shifts all over the place, deal with stock issues and have been very stressed trying to find my own covers so that I can finish my training (as of course, I can only do it on the days I'm already rostered to work in stores). And there is no one to cover me. Lucky for me, this time Pete has pulled through and has agreed to cover two of my uncoverable shifts this week. So I'll next be in HO all day Wednesday to "finish off" my training, ready to do whatever it is I'm expected to be doing. I'm a bit apprehensive to say the least.

Well, suffice to say, I'll be glad to get away from the customers occasionally, but will also not "sell out" on the rest of the retail staff and work full time in HO, as some of my comrades had feared. We've lost a lot of good staff through internal poaching.

I'm taking on the position to do something different, and to guarantee hours over the holidays when everyone will be available full time. Though I have been rethinking my future and have also just been offered a job at a major supermarket chain! They're open a lot more hours (6AM-midnight) so I thought I'd apply for a night fill position there to get more hours (especially over the holidays) at a higher rate of pay. Unfortunately, they have scheduled the induction training next Tuesday, and I have been rostered outside my availability to do stocktake. Again. It's not the first time that they've rostered me to do stocktake (seeing as no one else is available or willing, or able) outside my availability. I said no before, but ok'd this time, as I'm on holidays next week. Perfect timing. But now I've double booked myself. I really hope someone can cover my shift. I've always willingly covered shifts, and will probably go in tomorrow to help Robyn with stock, so here's hoping someone will pull through for me.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Too much stock, not enough staff.

It's been completely hectic at work lately. Stock office and Head Office have stuffed up again and still can't get it right. It's change of season and we have finally received instructions to send out the last of our winter stock (a random assortment of jackets, vests and knits) to a selected clearance store for storage. The Company can never seem to coordinate old stock being sent out and new stock being sent in. So at the moment, our stores are some 20-30% capacity, and we all just (finally) received our new spring/summer stock. A good 60 boxes in one go. That's how much Innaloo received today. Other stores like Beverly Hills received 100 boxes. Nevertire was supposed to receive 80-odd, but seeing as they are still trading with renovations going on in store (yes, The Company is that stingy) and only the front half of their already small store is accessbile, they only delivered 42 (where they stacked them up, I have no idea) and the other half will be delivered probably on Monday when the poor newbie manager is there all day without a cover.

Of course, I was covering at the last minute at my old store today, as Jen was sick. Probably due to having to work all day every day by herself without a break and under very stressful circumstances. No doubt being forced to find her own cover when there was no one else available didn't help either. We only received 29 boxes. Apparently, one of the GMs or something in head office has been campaigning to not have more than 20 boxes delivered in one go. It's about time. But right now, too little too late. We had 29 boxes to transfer in and 11 pages of consolidations to send out. So we'd be simultaneously transferring stock in and out at the same time so that we'd have boxes to pack things up and also so our store didn't look completely empty.

Because of the huge debacle with new and old stock, they have gone all out and allowed extra hours without penalties to the AMs. Budgeted hours and staffing are strictly controlled at The Company, and Charlene was notorious for enforcing budgets. This time, they have even asked us to stay back and get extra staff to come in so that we can get the stores set up back to the high The Company standard. Problem is, no one is available to come in, or stay back. You'd be hard pressed to find a cover if you're sick or dying. We're at the unenviable stage where once you're rostered on for a shift but you can't do it for whatever reason (outside your stated availability, sick, having an operation, mother just passed away...) too bad, there's no one to cover you. And Charlene, who hasn't yet received her master key for all stores in her region, also seems reluctant to work in stores, so you're pretty much stuck with the shift. Hence my covering Jen's shift at the last minute (called up at 9:30 the night before) without a key to open the store. Great. I was actually be supposed to be training at Head Office that day as well. More on that later.

But wait, it gets better.

I was also forced to work all day Saturday at Innaloo without a cover (or key to open) as well. Gina, who had been moved from Innaloo to my former store, Sunshine, when Andie quit, was moved back to Innaloo as the new manager had a few days leave. So I was originally rostered to do 12-5, but was happy to come in and work all day to help with stock, but then Gina messaged me on Friday night to tell me her grandmother wasn't well. Pretty bad timing, as it was her birthday the next day too. Poor Gina. At least she didn't have to go in to work, as she probably would've been forced to do if there was no one else.

It's now Monday, as I started this post on Friday night. I received a message from Nevertire during class today that they need more staff to come in tomorrow to help transfer in and unpack the 54 new boxes of stock today (the 18th)! So it looks like they got the rest of their 80 boxes originally supposed to be delivered last Friday, and then some! Poor Robyn. And she had to work all Monday by herself, without a break. She came in on her day off on Saturday (overtime) to help unpack the stock. She paged Charlene as their scanner had completely broken and she couldn't transfer in any more (of her 40-odd boxes of) stock. And you know what Charlene's response was? "Thanks for the update, Robyn." What the?! Get me another scanner from a clearance store! Now! That's part of what her job as AM is: ferrying scanners from HO or clearance to retail when ours break down or when we have stocktake. She obviously still doesn't quite get it.

Charlene officially became our AM on the 12th. I completely missed the boat there as I wasn't working that day but found out the next, as I was going through some emails at Innaloo. I've decided to be civil and give her a chance. Who knows, she may have changed. But then, she was the one who roped me into the Friday shift without a key when I was supposed to be training...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

She's BACK!

A post about staff, and sometimes, Area Managers moving around. One of the girls called herself a The Company whore, as she'd worked at almost every store in the metropolitan region. I'll also reintroduce a returning AM.

Things at The Company can be far from consistent. Especially during Christmas and holidays, when things get busier and staff are forced to leave, as casuals are not allowed leave in December-January. Fair enough, as that's when it's busiest, and other full time staff are able to take leave (though not store managers, I believe) then as well. Last year, we lost a good batch of experienced staff, as they went on overseas trips over the holiday period and had to quit. Others also graduated from university and are working in their respective industries. Of those that went overseas, they have since found other work at such reputable fashion labels as Hugo Boss, Esprit and Country Road. We are indeed expendable. So it can become quite hectic and short staffed, to say the least. We also usually train new staff before the busy sales period, which generally starts around November. So the busy stores, combined with short staffing, new and inexperienced staff and lots of stress will start in the next few months.

All the above, and then with staff's vastly different and always changing availability, we are then required to move around and work at different stores. That's usually fine. I've now cut down my rostered hours to a maximum 15/week and that's enough for me. The way I see it, it also frees me up to cover shifts where necessary. But only working at Innaloo for a few days a week, I must say, as I'm not there to follow things up, it can lead to a lack of accountability. Some staff are split between two, sometimes even three stores within a week. Often only working a few hours at one store and then a few hours here and there at another.

Despite our best efforts, it can be hard to stifle our lack of care. Because really, even though there is a list of things to get done for the next few days or whatever, 'non-regular' staff will not be there again to follow it up, so realistically, they don't care that much. I generally do care about how all our stores are run, and will endeavour to fix things up and get things in order if there is no manager or there are new staff, etc, but there is only so much one can do in a 7 hour shift. Alone. If I were to one day become a manager, I'm sure I'd be obligated (for the sake of my own sanity at least!) to put in overtime (most likely unpaid) to fix things up and get everything in order and to my liking! Our stores are set up pretty much the same, but there are always the little things that always stump you. Like where the sticky tape or pricing gun is at any particular store. I must admit that when I am frustrated at someting at a particular store, I won't always bother to change it because really, "who cares, I don't work here anyway!" or "who cares, I'm not going to be back here for a while anyway!" So-and-so can fix it up to however they like it displayed, etc.

On another note, our current Area Manager, Lauren, will be leaving our region to preside over the city stores region. It's much smaller, with only a few stores to manage, so should be easier for her, seeing as she's new and all. We're talking what, 2 months new? At least she seems nice enough and eager and enthusiastic. Though some staff think her incompetent, I'm keen to give her a go, and with time, think she'll get it right. Eventually. But at the moment, she seems to have given up on our region, and isn't exactly going out of her way to help us out or fulfil her AM duties. When she joined, two retail stores had since closed, and the stores were shuffled around to accommodate our new AM, Lauren. We had previously been under the superior leadership of Gemma, who's been with The Company for some 7+ years or so...

I had been working exclusively at my previous store (before moving to Innaloo) for some 8 months or so as I had major issues with our AM, Charlene, so they probably figured it'd be easier to move me to a different region with Gemma.

Charlene, Charlene.

Charlene started at The Company about 4 years ago, and quickly rose to Store Manager and then Area Manager positions. Apparently, one particular gentleman in Head Office was quite fond of her. This is something I heard in store, so may or may not be true. I'd say the source is pretty credible though. For some reason, she then left The Company for some 2 years and joined the team at a young women's fashion and accessories chain store, before rejoining us recently. As an AM, she was moved around a bit, and before coming to take over from Natalie (our AM who had diligently started as a casual during uni, then moving up to AM in her 6-odd years of loyal service to The Company). Charlene was previously based in New Zealand to manage the few stores just recently opened there.

The regions had been shuffled before, but I had personally never been under the managership of anyone but Natalie. Natalie was tough, but respected. She put in a lot of work for The Company and was pretty much always available to help when on call. She hired me, and had faith in me. Natalie left mid-last year, as she had been offered a better position somewhere else, where she would have a lot more responsibility with range development and she now has ample opportunity to travel overseas. And she now drives a huge Toyota Kluger, which beats the Hyundai Elantra hands down.

The arrival of Charlene was met with some apprehension, as The Company was in a bit of turmoil having just demoted several other long-serving AMs as well as various head office staff. These staff then moved into stores, so also ended up taking up some of our shifts and hours as well. Not many staff knew much of Charlene to begin with, as she was based in NZ, but we hoped she would be as good as Natalie was, being experienced in The Company policies and how things were done. Well, we should have all just changed our availability then, so as to avoid dealing with her wherever possible.

Perhaps time has been an amnesiac, but I can't remember any positive things ever having happened as a result of her coming to manage our region. Sure, it was a hectic time over Christmas with the majorly stuffed up stock levels and sales, which were out of our control, but her being heartless, demanding and completely lacking in compassion and understanding didn't help much either. With so many boxes of stock arriving and needing to be unpacked, and many new styles to fit in when there was no more space, no generous increase in staff hours (yes, we're still expected to do all of this and serve the 20-odd customers as well), as well as then having to pack up and consolidate to clearance stores the same stock just received days ago, our stores were not looking their best. Needless to say, the staff were also extremely stressed. Many casuals, as students also had exams and assignments, store managers were expected to train several staff at a time while getting little increase in staff hours, so they had to train the newbies and serve customers and deal with all the stock issues, as well as complete all the store tasks and endless paperwork, pretty much alone and without any support.

Charlene would come in every week or so to do store reports and was openly critical of the state of our stores and the staff for not being able to get everything done 110%. I had never seen staff morale so low as it was under Charlene. She criticised staff in front of customers, gave many of us "formal interviews" (like a formal warning, three strikes and you're out) for issues that were out of our control while offering little support as to how to deal with our stock and staffing problems. Being stingy with hours leads to disgruntled staff. Further cutting back hours during busy sales periods, that is, sending staff home when the staff remaining are obviously swamped and will continue to be so for the rest of the shift, also does not make for happy staff. I felt bad leaving Jane during a busy weekend pre-Christmas rush, but I am also not staying back at work when I am not going to get paid.

Charlene had appointed Stephanie, the manager at Nevertire to call up her region's stores and check to see if we were on track to making the day's budget. If we weren't, then staff hours would be cut. It didn't matter that we had 30-40 boxes of stock on the floor, or that the stores were still extremely busy with customers, if you weren't 2/3 of the way there or whatever measure it was that they were using, someone was going home. As casuals, that was usually us. So we weren't getting regular hours either. Paging Charlene for authorisation to be paid (AMs must authorise the pay for any extra hours, that is non-rostered, worked) for extra staff to come in to help with stock or customers, was out of the question.

Inevitably, the stock situation- receiving, transferring in, unpacking and displaying stock, and then having to remove, untag and pack up and transfer stock out again within a matter of days or weeks; got so bad that many stores had to schedule "stock unpacking nights" and staff were invited to bring in their friends and family to help out. Seriously. They would be paid the requisite award wages. There has been some reluctance at The Company to pay for hours outside store open hours, as there is no direct opportunity to make money. So if staff requested to stay back for half an hour to tidy after close or to cash up, there was little chance of it getting approved and the staff getting paid. Another one of the reasons why we're not paid to cash up and which I have raised in my most recent acerbic Staff Feedback submitted. So to have to organise stock unpacking nights, where staff would stay behind to pack and unpack stock was not only unprecedented but also a blinding sign that something was obviously very wrong.

Well, the constant unreasonable demands and pressure Charlene put on staff, as well as her condescending and arrogant attitude eventually got to many staff. Stephanie, like Jane had been training several new staff and had difficulty coping with the pressure and Jane quit early January, Stephanie shortly after, and joined us at our store in her last month. James, co-manager at my store with Andie, took over the manager position at Nevertire, and soon found it too difficult to manage. He was put under a lot of pressure by Charlene to pick up the store's performance and appearance, and not coping, rather than offerings of help and advice, received several formal interviews for petty issues so that he was eventually demoted to a casual position. James was demoted even though there was no other manager available to take over. So several 'lucky' staff, who were back to full time study, were suddenly working 30-hour weeks. The constant changing and lack of managers and constant, experienced staff had led to a disorganised store and demoting James was not helpful at all but to serve their own egos.

I'd also had my fair share of run-ins with Charlene. As an experienced casual, The Company could rely on me to work at several different stores and still work hard and get things done. Sure, I'll get things done, but I want to be paid for it. And therein lay the issue of the conflict between myself and Charlene. She wouldn't pay me. I had to drive for over an hour to pick up a store key, and she wouldn't authorise my pay. I was livid. I had late customers and had to cash up, and she wouldn't pay me for the extra half hour or so. We needed extra staff hours and she never allowed it. I was working extra hours for whatever reason, and she refused to pay me. I calculated that at the end of it all, when I refused to deal with her any longer, she owed me at least $250 in unpaid wages. And that wasn't even including overtime.

I felt that Charlene didn't care about us and was arrogant and self-serving. She was a miser with hours, keeping well under the budgeted hours even though we were allowed extra unrostered hours, as she wanted to keep staffing costs down so as to maximise profits and protect her own bonuses for performance. There were countless shifts and hours when we were unknowingly scammed out of our overtime pay, and paid our regular award wages. I personally don't have any good things to say about her, which as those who work with me will know, won't stop me from saying nothing at all! Surely in the 7 or so months that she was our AM, she must've known that we all hated her. And we always wondered what it'd be like to have so many people hate you and then not even care. It's hard to find enough superlatives to describe our feelings towards her. Hate is strong, but perhaps not strong enough for some staff. She was passionately abhorred, loathed, despised and detested region-wide.

Things haven't exactly resumed normality, and The Company is changing for the cheaper, so I am quite interested in seeing how Charlene is welcomed back to our region. Admittedly, many of the remaining staff are so new that they have not met her (such is our staff turnover), but have heard about her! I know I for one will now be confident enough not to take any of her crap and will ensure that none of the other newer staff are pushed around by her either. I am currently in the process of stirring the pot some more (see the link and following post "Update" as well) and am campaigning for fair pay for our work. I should be very interested to see if they have taken any of our feedback on board and reassessed her performance and to see if she has changed at all.

She'll be rejoining us shortly, coming back from having been moved to the Northern New South Wales-Queensland region. I'll be sure to keep posting updates as they occur!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Bargain shopping fun!

Due to more corporate mismanagement, our brilliant promotion featuring the ever so popular $5 backpacks with a purchase of $50 or more has been extended for another 2 weeks. Yippee. You can just see the excitement in the faces of all the retail staff. These sorts of promotions always bring in our favourite, big spending customers.

I think they decided to extend the promotion to get more mileage out of the posters they printed for all the stores in Australia. That and the fact that we didn't even receive any of the coloured promotional backpacks until a few days after the stated end of the sale. And even then, we only received selected colours. My new store (I've been moved again), Innaloo, only received white, dark green, and a handful of light blue and light and dark pink. So we missed out on receiving black, orange, yellow, more navy and whatever other colours they advertised. So of the huge backlog of backorders that we sceptically took, some customers will be pretty angry that we don't have all the colours. And then there's the ongoing grief we'll be faced with when the bargain shopper customers, at the POS, announce that they'd like X colour backpack. Great.

This isn't the first time that stock has been so delayed for a promotion that The Company has been forced/pressured to extend it. But of course, once it's past the stated end of the promotion, many customers don't bother coming back. There have been countless catalogues since the start of the year, where the stock has not arrived at all in time for the catalogue, and The Company printed out "apology" posters for us to put up in stores. No public apology was made, nothing printed in the newspapers or aired on television though. As if! That would be some unwanted bad publicity...

I have come to the conclusion that since The Company has decided to lower the prices on the majority of our stock, and then not provide us with decent amounts of stocks to sell (say, 60-odd styles of women's shoes and 4 pairs of each left) it's not the customers' fault that they're shopping for reduced stock. It's all reduced! Well, the majority of it anyway. But that doesn't make me any more eager to serve them! Our stores are set out so that it is easy for the customers to serve themselves, and of course, all our stock is on the floor so obviously, mid month of the beginning of spring, we're not going to have any more heavily reduced winter jackets "out the back". These kinds of promotions bring in the customers that will just buy a jacket/item because it's cheap, regardless of whether it's the right size. They buy the items in whatever bigger size that's left and wear them, a size or two too big. Looks ridiculous in my opinion, but hey, what would I know about fashion? I work at The Company.

We're also in the process of sending out more discontinued and current stock to the clearance stores, so our stores will be pretty much empty (or 30% capacity) until we receive some summer stock. No, still no short sleeved shirts or polos or sandals. We will of course, receive more of the stock we send out to clearance, back again, adding to more time wasted packing and unpacking stock.

So none of our retail stores have yet received any spring/summer stock, but we all know that the clearance stores are overloaded with the stuff. Checking out the online store on The Company website, I can get a fair indication of what we will soon be bombarded with. Going from 30% capacity, The Company will surely then take the opportunity to fill our near-empty stores with 40 boxes of stock in one delivery. That was just what happened at the beginning of the year, when we had no stock after Christmas/stocktake sales, as warehouse staff were on holidays or they didn't want to send us 'unnecesary' or 'non-priority' stock during a busy sales period. We had nothing to sell!

- Update -

Well, I bit the bullet and finally sent through the angry feedback about the unfairness of not getting paid to cash up. It was a long email, and I won't reprint it here, more info later. I sent it through on Thursday night, and apparently, staff at head office were so alarmed by the content of it, and that I referred to the low morale of staff in stores, that they immediately called my store, Innaloo on Friday, and spoke to Caroline for about half an hour! Caroline's great and has been with The Company for about 7 years or more, as a manager and now casual. She's trained a great deal of now Area Managers, managers and casual staff in her time, and I'm sure she gave them an appropriate earful! Oh, I hope it gets published and I hope they do follow it up with me, as I would certainly welcome the opportunity to discuss my grievances.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

I'm not all evil

From reading my blog, many people would think I loathe my job and wish all customers an untimely end and our company to crumble into the dust. Though I can't deny that these thoughts have crossed my mind, there are many aspects of my job that are great and much better than friends' workplaces (or so I've heard). It isn't all bad.

So here is an unexhaustive list of stuff that I do enjoy about my current employment, as a CASUAL, mind you:
  • annual leave
  • sick leave
  • commission on big sales
  • bonuses (for good secret/professional shopper reports)
  • overtime pay for public holidays (around $40 per hour)
  • overtime after 9PM (though this must be followed up vigilantly, around $35 an hour)
  • $28 an hour on Sundays
  • the staff I work with in stores (no comment on Head Office staff)
So while I do indeed hate many aspects of the way The Company is run, I do care, but at the end of the day, I am there for the money, and boy is it good!

Monday, September 04, 2006

A call to arms!

Andie has quit, put in her resignation and will leave in 2 weeks. A long time friend and mentor, I have always respected her and work will not be the same without her. When the other girls left over Christmas last year, the mood was just different. The Company will be the poorer without her.

Bitter and vengeful, I have decided to stir the pot (again) and try to start a revolution. Or a rebellion. I demand change. I will start bombarding The Upstairs with my complaints and issues via the only forum we have: staff feedback. They better publish it for all the staff Australia wide to see, and I hope I stir up the pent up resentment in the other staff as well.

I know for a fact that I have been noticed by The Upstairs via my constant feedback ("Oh no, Ranter has sent through another Staff Feedback"), which can be inflammatory and vitriolic, but it is what The Company has driven me to. And really, I only say it because I care. If I didn't, I'd have quit a long time ago.

I will be sure to post any updates or developments on my plan.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Stuck up or just prioritising?

The Company sells smaller, cheaper items as 'add ons' like accessories. The latest craze is socks and men's undies. Fair enough, you see this at many boutiques. 'Expensive cashmere socks with your extravagantly overpriced wool suit, sir?' - But our socks and jocks are cheap. VERY cheap. Competitive with your chain department stores like Kmart and Target.

When customers walk into my store and head straight for the sock/undies stand, I may greet them but that's as far as it goes, in my concern. Honestly, how much help do you want me to offer picking out your undies? I am saving not only myself embarrassment, but you too. Appreciate that I have your best interests in mind when I let you look at the undies alone. I'm not a 'hoverer' or 'stalker' salesperson.

My apparent ignoring of selected customers goes against The Company's strict-when-it-suits-them customer service policy, where we are expected to assist and reapproach each and every customer after an initial greeting. But really, I have no interest trying to assist people with colours and sizes of undies. In my opinion, it's not very hard. They are sized S, M, L, XL. Really, it depends on how you want them to fit- loose, or comfortable. So provided you know what size pants you wear (a shocking number of men don't), it's not that difficult, really.

Ever seen this ad? I cracked up laughing when it aired in Australia.

My reluctance to assist in the fitting of underwear is similar and related to my reluctance to assist people only looking at the sales racks. In my experience, the customers who only ask for sales items don't spend much. And often pester you with asking annoying (to me) questions: if this (pick up current season item received 2 days ago) is reduced. Or this one. How much is this reduced to? What else have you got on sale? And why aren't they reduced? So the list goes on. I know it's my job to be there and assist the customers, hence the title "sales assistant". But hear me out, I am also interested in SALES.

Small sales mean no commission. I am not completely driven by commission, I am also interested in the daily and weekly store budgets as well. I know small sales also count towards reaching our sales targets, but really, when you break down the budgets as well, we are only allowed a certain number of hours for staffing for a set budget. So if I've got a store full of people and have a gentleman looking to buy a whole outfit and a few pairs of work shoes, and another customer puzzled by the colours, sizings and fittings of the underwear and socks, who do you think I'll spend more time with? It's not that hard to pick out a few cheap $6 tshirts in several colours and sizes and try them on yourself, is it. It is much harder to find sizes and styles of shoes for different needs.

I've had ladies stay in the store for almost an hour trying on plain tshirts. Can't decide between different colours and the sizes available. I was aching to go to the toilet and go on my lunch break, being the only person on all day, I had to shut the store for any break. So Ms Indecisive is having a major dilemma choosing between COLOURS of some STUPID tshirts!

"Which colour do you think is nicer?"
"Do you think this colour looks better against my skin, or this one?"
"What do you think of the sizes of this tshirt/singlet?"
"Oh, you have more colours! (Yes, we have about FIFTEEN) I'll go try this one on as well"
"I think this one is nice, I already have another bag that will match this top nicely. But I like the other size better. I'll go and try it on again."
"Oh, I just can't decide. What would you choose?" I'm thinking, who cares, just buy them all and come back and refund them tomorrow, I really don't give a stuff. But of course, I can't verbalise this. Which just leads to our frustration. Bottling up all that rage is not very helpful.

Ms Indecisive stayed for at LEAST 45 minutes. Total spend on cheap (price and quality-wise) tshirts? About $50. And the amount of assistance required was mind numbing. Thank you Ms Indecisive with the Gucci handbag. I don't think I ended up being able to have lunch or even go to the toilet until about 3:30 that day. That does NOT make for a happy sales assistant.

So my sister says I'm stuck up, and have become increasingly more so since I started working at The Company. But I say, I'm just prioritising, and trying to keep sane in this company, which seems to attract the most chemically unbalanced people I've ever had the misfortune to encounter.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Father's Day

This is not a post about the joys of fatherhood nor about the joys of Father's Day, rather I will rant about the crap that is The Company and the scams it is pulling this Father's Day.

Father's Day used to be one of the biggest times of the year for The Company, a predominantly male clothing and footwear outlet. Used to be. Several things have changed that, more on that later. So, The Company was favoured by lots of dads for their great quality clothing and Australian made footwear. You got what you paid for.

We have a promo running in our retail stores: spend $50 or more and get a backpack (normal RRP $100) in a colour of your choice (10 or so colours available) for $5.

Hmm... how can I go about this without outing myself completely? I can't. I think that pretty much gave it away.

Anyway, we received and were instructed to put up the posters drawing attention to this great offer about a week or so ago, maybe 1 1/2 weeks ago, I don't work that often anymore, so don't take much notice.

Background info-

The retail stores have had similar offers in the past, what, last year now? I've lost track of time, people and promos at The Company... Spend $100 or more, get the backpack for $5. It would be advertised and invariably bring in lots of customers. The Company, in its infinite wisdom, decided to keep the offer ongoing, so we often had stock of backpacks to offer with high sales. Most stores had plenty of them, as the staff often didn't bother offering them to customers who spent over the requisite amount.

Retail stores only ever stocked the backpacks in navy and they were not a 'stock' item, ie they weren't in regular supply. At my former regular store, we had sold out of most giveaways and promo items, so had them sent over from bigger stores with more stock and less inclination for turnover...

As our customers get stingier, so do our staff. So many people just don't feel that the customers 'deserve' the giveaways and special offers. I am also of that opinion, sometimes... though I do try to reward the good ones!

Here are some reasons why we have stopped offering giveaways (apart from it cheapening our reputation)
  • There are now the types of customers that ask for free gifts with any purchase (say $20 tshirts) 'as they got one last time'. These parsimonious types get a stare from me and no freebie. Or a curt reply, "No, that's only if you spend $200 or more" insert smirk depending on mood...
  • Then there are the ones that are delighted when you offer them a freebie. Of these types, some will then ask for something APART from the selection I have offered. 'Can you throw in some socks instead?' or 'How about a free belt? Come on, they're the same price' Others will take so long deciding and tossing up between colours, etc that the store fills up with customers which try to catch my eye or get my attention. Don't make me regret my offer nitwit. I have other customers to serve and tasks to complete.
  • People coming back with 'faulty' giveaways and demanding replacements/repairs, etc and just being generally difficult.
  • People coming back to exchange freebies.
  • After a big shopping spree, customers feeling sudden buyers' remorse and returning items without freebie. So it all seems like a scam, though they may indeed have been genuine in wanting the items purchased for themselves/husband, etc. That and the fact that they have wasted our time serving them.
Can you see how our customers have changed?* There are those that will politely decline our offer of a freebie, as honestly, they have no need for it, or they can see that it is so crap, they wouldn't want it even for free. I like these customers! (hmm... makes me think of the devil tempting the weak...)

*because they've lowered the minimum spending amount to qualify for a freebie, we have a lot more customers who could previously never afford to get a "quality The Company" backpack/etc and are more stingier than the ones of FD two years ago. The minimum spend amount then was $150. Now it is $50. See why?

Anyway, back to the promos... Earlier this year, our clearance stores had some good promos going on with said coloured backpacks. I don't know what the spending minimum was, but it was pretty good for them to be selling lots of backpacks as well. I even saw some on eBay... dodgy...

So, bottom line: The Company giveaway backpacks were navy for retail stores, coloured for clearance stores. Neither of the two types of stores were kept in regular supply of said backpacks after the promo.

Enter 2006 Father's Day promo-

What a scam.

We have as far as I know, still not received any backpacks. I was working at Innaloo yesterday, nothing received. Nevertire nearby also had not received any. Unless there was a huge delivery today to fill all the backorders and projected rush in the lead up to FD on Sunday, I can see a lot of angry customers. We do NOT receive stock on weekends. We had already all sold out of our meagre existing supply of navy ones and staff had to explain that again, we have not yet received any coloured ones yet, and began to take backorders.

We were reassured on Monday that backpack supplies were imminent and were indeed coming. Many more prepared customers have already bought their FD gifts and the ones that only wanted to spend $50 to get the backpack were understandably pissed. Other people, on hearing that we have not got any stock, will not care. Others still will ask for an alternative, say a free shirt. What the!? Get out of my store!

This is just like the previous sale we had, which was so popular also because it offered a particularly fine looking, expensive 'giveaway' promo. Minimum spend only $100, not hard with everything on sale, but hard because no stocks of said sale items.

What is similar about both sales is that we had a selected promo item to be sold when a customer spends over a requisite amount. Problem is, both promos were advertised and in both instances, we were never supplied with adequate, or more stocks apart from what we already had on hand from a previous promo. Which was not much. What happened with the last promo was that the clearance stores, which for some unknown reason also had the promo items, had to send them to us late in the sale period, as The Company couldn't get their act together and send us enough stock in time. All this transfer of stock between stores can't be cheap. They kick up a stink when we don't send discontinued stock in one consignment. Now they're getting clearance stores to waste time and freight sending us their stock because The Company is in damage control. There is too much sending of stock back and forth.

So the only customers who actually got the special offer promo items last catalogue were the ones that came in early (say, the first 2 days) and the ones that were lucky enough to come in at the end of the sale. The majority of customers who came in early-midway through the sale missed out. I have stopped taking orders and backorders for stock, promo stock is (usually) not to be backordered under any circumstances, as there is little-no chance of getting more stock in.

I am fortunate enough to have today (Friday, 9AM-9PM trade) and tomorrow off. I will get to work on Sunday, Father's Day though. It will certainly be interesting to see if the clearance stores have sent us whatever backpacks they had leftover, and if we will indeed receive any at all, as some staff have been taking backorders for them. I'm more cynical than that.

Though I can understand their frustration at the false advertising, I can't do anything to appease their anger except offer them a feedback form and phone number and email address in order to make sure they are heard. Hey, I know how you feel. I know exactly what the situation is, I have written through several staff feedbacks, but they don't listen to us. I tell my customers that, and encourage them to go write some feedback, because The Company certainly doesn't care about us. Heck, I've even been known to go onto The Company's website and write through customer feedback myself!* It's all published for the world to see, positive and negative, so for a short time, I was infamous!

*Using pseudonyms of course, and for the record, it was similar to my internal staff feedback and received the same circular, stupid, repetitive reply which completely ignored the issues raised.

So, happy Father's Day to all the dads out there, and if you happen to be shopping in one of our stores this FD, be sure to be understanding of the poor staff who have no control over the availability of those really cool, fashionable backpacks.