I walk with giants

A blog 28 years in the making….RETAIL…LOVE IT or just keep doing the job…either way you’re probably okay.

This month marks the twenty-eighth year that I’ve worked for the same company.  Mind you they’re not continuous years.  My first stint lasted fifteen years, eleven months when I left the company.  My second stint has lasted since May of 2005.  All in all….its been a good ride.  Some days are better than others…that’s probably true of any job.  The majority of my time has been in the position of middle-management, just important enough to be held accountable for many things but not everything.  It’s safe to say that no two days are the same.

Over the years there have been many changes in retail.  When I started back in June of 1985 whoever thought that customers would want our store to offer free wifi?  Or bottled water sold by the case?  Bud Light was only three years old.  We still took rolls of film and sent them off to a regional photo lab where they took two days to get processed.  Movie video rentals were something new to the business.  We had special weekend hours.   Who’d want to visit a store after 9 PM?  What’s a Super Target or WalMart Super Center?

The following is a list of what’s changed and what hasn’t.

Changed:

  • Customers.  They’re in a rush these days.  Plain and simple.  It doesn’t matter if it’s just a pack of smokes or cart full of groceries…they want to get in and out as fast as they can and they’re not concerned with letting you know if they’re not happy.  It’s a grittier age.
  • Employees.  It used to be that when I hired new employees you could count on one or two being exceptional, two or three being good and the rest being average.  Currently the attrition rate of new employees is alarming.  When I hire now I know that many will leave within a few months.  We’re not alone in this predicament.  It’s so very difficult to hire and keep employees.  I don’t know if it’s the economy, the low unemployment rate or the culture….but it’s hitting all facets of the job market.
  • Products.  There are so many different variety’s now.  Thousands!  Remember old plain Triscuit crackers?  There are dozens of different flavors now all vying for a place in your shopping cart and they’re not alone.  Multiple flavored Cheetos’, toothpastes, spaghetti sauces, paper towels in “select-a-size” and candies to name a few.  Remember when beer only came in quarts, six packs and twelve packs?  Now your favorite brew is available in practically any size package you could dream of.  Remember pink, blue and light green Charmin toilet paper in four roll packs?  Toilet paper used to be SCENTED.  (I miss the days of lightly scented pale green Charmin)  Gluten-free products, soy milks and range-free eggs?  Who would have thought that they’d be so popular?  Upside down bottles of ketchup for those who need ketchup two seconds faster than the rest of us…we have you covered.
  • Muzak.  We used to pipe in mindless elevator music to our stores.  Nowadays we have practically every genre available and we program it accordingly.  FYI…Hits of the 80’s is my fav.
  • Technology.  What industry hasn’t had seismic changes with the use of technology?  It’s used from everything from hiring, ordering, pricing, scheduling, e-mail, labor control etc. etc.  It’s mind-boggling to think how far we’ve come with its assistance.  I communicate with our employees more with texting and Facebook  than I do in speaking with them personally some days.  The old days of calling their home phone, via land line, and leaving a message then hoping that they’ll get back to me is ancient history.
  • Alcohol and lottery.  It wasn’t that big of a deal back in 1985 when we started selling it.  It is now.  Very, very big.    One of these days it wouldn’t surprise me if we sold medicinal marijuana.
  • Store hours.  Customers want to be able to purchase their products when its convenient for them.  We’ve changed as best as we can.  We used to have special Saturday hours 8-6, Sunday’s 9-5 and limited holiday hours. Holidays are for people who don’t typically work retail and food service.  I don’t mind it anymore.  Its just another day to work and serve our customers.
  • Competition.  I touched upon it earlier though the addition of WalMart and Super Target into the retail landscape has altered things forever.  Add technology into the mix where customers can use their smart phones to look up WalMart’s price then ask if we’ll honor it and it really gets interesting, or ordering it from Amazon and having it delivered.  Who would have thought this was possible.  It makes me wonder where we’ll be in ten years.

What hasn’t changed:

  • Customers.  I love ’em.  They could’ve chosen any store to shop at and they chose us. Many have become unofficial friends of mine.  I’ve hired them or their kids when they’ve needed jobs.  I’ve hugged them when their husbands pass, or draw a funny picture of myself and sent it along with them to give to their wife at the nursing home.  I’ve given rides to some who’s cars won’t start in our parking lot.  I’ve listened as they’ve poured out their concerns about cancers,  sicknesses or a loved one in the hospital…and I’m not alone. I work with folks who, like me, have stayed with the same company and same store for decades.  If a customer has a problem they know that they can visit with one of us and we’ll do our best to make it right.  Customers still appreciate good service and good value.
  • Employees.  I walk with giants.  At 28 years of service I’m one of the rookies when it comes to time spent with our company at our store.  There are three with over 40 years of service and many more with over 30.  Do we all get along?  No.  Most brothers and sisters don’t…but when the chips are down bet your ass we’ve got each others backs.  I love ’em. Another thing that hasn’t changed with the years, hiring teenagers for their first job.  Some are serious, others goofy.  Many have pushed my buttons through the years, but I’ll tell you one thing…this old dog has his eventual day in the sun.  That wise-cracking teenager from 1996 is now thirty-seven, married with three little ones.  I see him occasionally and we chuckle about how he used to act.  “I was your worst employee” he states.  “No…but you had your moments” I reply.  The passage of time helps us to see more clearly what kind of person they really are.  I don’t regret hiring any of them.  Its part of the journey.  I’m very proud of them and how far they’ve come and what they’ve accomplished.  I hope they all know that.
  • Promotions.  I’ve been promoted.  I’ve had various title changes.  I’ve had ten bosses.  The more things change the more it stays the same.  Hustle.  Take care of the customers. Take care of the employees.  Honesty.  Integrity.  Value.  Safety.  I can’t please everyone, but I try hard too.  Have fun.  Laugh.  Two words.  Rowdy Rich.
  • Weather.  Customers hear the word “snow” and we get very busy. Other companies close for snow days.  We stay open.  Nuff said.
  • Products changing.  They come.  They go.  Never a dull moment.  Viagra.  Body wash.  Flavored Ritz crackers.  Seasonally flavored coffee creamers.  K-cups. Sports drinks like Gatorade/PowerAde. Sodas in every shape and flavor. AXE body spray. The demise of English Leather cologne (probably not a bad thing….) and many others.

I’ve been blessed to have worked with thousands of people through the years.  Thousands.  I’ve also been blessed to have been able to work for a forward-thinking, cutting-edge, socially-minded company that has given me good pay, health insurance and a great store that attracts the people of our community.  Several years ago I had a customer who had just moved into our town.  I learned what her name was and I used it when I saw her.  She asked me why I did that.  I replied “I make it a point to learn who’s putting food on my family’s table.”  She liked that analogy because its true in its basic sense.  As we get bigger, leaner and busier I pray that I never forget that.

In the beginning of my career I had a head-full of beautiful brown wavy hair. Nowadays…not so much.

Twenty-eight years in the rearview mirror.  Its been a great ride.  I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen next!

Take care and God bless.

R

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One thought on “I walk with giants

  1. I understand so much of this piece of life. My family was in retail. Women’s ready-to-wear they used to call it. Clothes, shoes, hats, lingerie, jewelry, shoe polish (remember that)? His store like my granddad’s was in a small town/downtown. Those areas were hit hard by Walmart, yes, but the malls and big anchor stores like Belk, Penneys, Macy’s, and many more led customers away from downtown and once the big stores left the downtown areas tended to wither and even die. My parents wouldn’t let me plan to take over the stores because they wanted me to have time off, holidays off, and a job with lots of potential directions. My parents were married to the stores. Mom took over my Grandfather’s so both Mom and Dad worked 6 days a week. Sundays were non-negotiable. Always closed. Reading your very concise list of good and not so good took me back. If I could have seen the future, I’d have known one of my daughters would be perfect to take over the stores. She’s in college for interior design but has a passion for fashion. I enjoyed this post.

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