Authors Life, blizzard, Blog, life, management, retail, safety, uncomfortable, Writing

When you first realize that your company doesn’t really care about you.

This is not intended as a hit piece on a former employer, but I think it’s indicative of the corporate mindset in America. And since this happened twenty-seven years ago, the underlying condition resulting in the lack of respect has been around for a long time and likely is endemic in our culture. It came to mind today since a dear friend of mine experienced a similar thing with her employer as blizzard conditions bore down on her part of the country. Some things never change. In the world of business, it is always about the bottom line.

In the winter of 1994, a blizzard was coming. Everyone knew about it for days. We’d been preparing for it at my store, a home improvements center in Connecticut. Customers had been coming in looking for snow shovels, ice melting salt, forget about finding a snowblower, that had sold out well before the first major storm of the season. Despite having ordered more stock of storm-related items, by the day of the storm we were out of everything people might want except for batteries and flashlights and even those were running low.

Earlier that day we had a conference call with the district manager earlier. He said that as soon as the snow began falling we were to cut back our staffing and send our hourly employees home, in the interest of their safety. Anyway, we were not going to be busy, so the general manager and our six assistant managers could handle everything. That all made sense. But it was the rest that kinda irked me.

You see, the general store manager was required, at his discretion, to cut loose the assistants who lived furthest from the store, and to do it in order until there was only the general manager and one assistant – whoever lived closest to the store – remaining to stay until regular closing hours. Under no circumstances short of the police arriving at our doorstep and ordering us to close were we allowed to leave early. The company didn’t want to risk that a single customer would need something we would disappoint them, missing that potential sale.

Guess who was the assistant manager who lived closest to the store?

Here’s ‘the out’ for the company, the absolution of all guilt. They allowed the two remaining managers to split costs on a motel room for the night in lieu of driving home. Oh, and they’d also reimburse us for dinner and breakfast. The problem with all that is that the store wasn’t in the best neighborhood so the accommodations close-by were the sort of fleabag joints that local call girls took their johns. Finding anything better would still entail driving a good bit.

For me, driving home was closer. For the store manager, he lived halfway to Rhode Island. Yet, both of us drive 4X4’s, so driving home wasn’t a huge issue, other than the trip being nerve-racking and it taking a good bit longer than usual at the risk of being stranded if anything bad happened. You never know what you might face during a drive in a snowstorm. Plus, the blizzard would make for whiteout conditions which meant that driving blind was a possibility. And I told the manager that he could spend the night at my place. But he was confident that he would make it home regardless of the road conditions.

Of course, I called home to inform my wife that I’d not be home until very late. She was worried, not only about the bad roads but also driving while physically exhausted. By the luck of the schedule, I’d opened that morning, which meant that I’d been there since 4 AM. It would be one of those long days that we who were in management called working an ironman shift, being there for both opening and closing. It happened from time to time due to call-outs for sickness, covering for a required all-store management training session for which one manager, usually the administrative manager, was selected to run the for the entire day. The fact that we had a name for it should indicate that it happened often enough. Anyway, my wife was livid about how the company was treating its managers.

By 6 PM it was dark outside, except that the foot of snow that had fallen over the course of that reflected the street lights making for a fairly bright parking lot. We had four hours left before we could lock the doors and shut down the computers. We had already closed out all the resisters and put away all the money except for one till at the customer service desk where the register was configured to handle any possible transaction. And the manager and I were both fully qualified at all operations. But it had been over an hour since we’d had a customer. We’d locked all the doors except for the main entrance where the two of were were camped out.

Yes, we had a few customers that evening, averaging about one an hour. We knew the customers personally. They were regulars who lived fairly close to the store. It was weird what they came in to buy, though – nothing you would expect someone to come out in a blizzard to purchase. We sold, five 2X4X8’s to one customer, for example. I mixed some paint for another customer. Most of what we did was answer the phone to inform people that yes, we were open. The number of calls received didn’t match the number of customers who showed up at the door, though.

Shortly before closing, a guy showed up wanting to fill out an employment application. Yeah, I’m serious. That happened. The manager thought it showed how much the guy needed a job. I told him it showed how nuts the guy was. Subsequently, the manager decided to hire the guy. He didn’t last long. My gut was right about him.

Once we had closed out the last register, put away the money, and closed down the computer system for the night, the manager and I said our goodbyes and be carefuls. It took him well over 2 hours to get home, a drive that normally took him 45 minutes. It took me 45 minutes to cover 7 miles. As I was heading north the storm was actually worse around my house than it was closer to the store. When I arrived home, my wife was sitting in the family room, watching something inane on TV. Obviously, she had been worried about me. Heck, I was worried about me, too. It wasn’t an easy drive at all. At times it was difficult to know for certain where the road was. But I’d made it. But what she said to me resonated and remained in the back of my mind for my remaining years with the company, especially every ensuing time I was asked to sacrifice my personal time and safety.

“That’s how much your company thinks of you.”


Coupons, Coupon Everywhere


A lot of us have worked in retail at sometime or another and probably have had to work a checkout either ringing up merchandise or stuffing it into shopping bags. With the advent of self checkouts, both those jobs seem threatened, but have you ever noticed that the stores that utilize those kiosks have someone standing nearby to ‘assist’ while also making certain that everything is rung up and paid for. Yeah, I’m not sure how much payroll the self service checkouts really save.

Anyway, if you’ve ever been a cashier, I’m sure one of the banes of existence was the multi-coupon shopper. We’re not talking about the guy or gal with a couple of coupons for cents off an item or two. Multi coupon shoppers of real pros, the lady – as it is usually a lady for whatever reason, from my observations – with a organizer to keep her clipped coupons. She only buys what she has a coupon for and also waits for additional promotions, like in store coupons for BOGO (buy one get one) deals. That way she can receive multiple discounts off individual items. Hey, she’s good a saving money. As a consumer we all want to do that.

Manufacturers and stores obviously use coupons as a means of attracting attention and enticing a consumer to shop. The rub comes from those coupon shoppers who are attempting to get something for little or nothing through nefarious means. They usually shop close to closing time, have a zillion and a half coupons, often printed from discount coupon websites – some of which are bogus – and always see to be in as much hurry and the ten people in line waiting behind her for the cashier to dutifully deduct each individual, valid coupon – and debate the merits of suspicious ones.

Reatil Coupons

Coupon have been around seemingly forever. They help manufacturers and retailers temporarily increase the velocity of certain items in a product mix. With grocery retailers, it may be to move product before expirations codes expire. With manufacturers, it may be in an effort to empty out warehouse space in advance of a special seasonal increase in production  requiring more storage room. Whatever the reason, it is a win for everyone, except for the time it takes the cashier to scan or, worse, manually enter in the coupon discount information into the cash register. There are some ways, though, for the process to be streamlined while also enhancing security – if retailers and manufacturers were willing to make a few programming changes.

In the vast majority of cases, manufacturer’s coupons have scannable barcodes that can be programmed into retail cash registers to almost instantly deduct the promotional value off an item. In store coupons may or may not have bar codes. Often the store uses a look-up code programmed into the locations price look-up system. The time to manually type in a few digits results in a slightly longer delay in the overall transaction, but in the case of multi coupon shoppers, the time is significant adding to the air time for anyone unfortunate enough to be trapped in line behind.

Sometimes stores double a manufacturer’s coupon, and each item must be processed with a special code to allow the in store discounts. Other coupons are for dollars off an entire transaction total or a percentage off if a certain total amount is achieved. Those take more time yet. And, worst of all, there is the old faithful competitors coupon price matching of another store’s coupons.

Meanwhile, that one customer waiting in line behind the multi-coupon shopper has multiplied to now be three irritated customers. Hopefully this has prompted a front end supervisor to open another register to take the pressure off the cashier. Still, it causes a disruption. And at the end of it all, the shopper purchased x number of dollars of merchandise is paying x – coupon total dollars, sometimes saving half or more of the total original transaction price.

Obviously there is an incentive for a shopper willing to put forth the effort to clip coupons and save hard earned money. But there is also a golden opportunity for disreputable shoppers to abuse the system.


Having observed the phenomenon for many years as I worked in retail management, I have some ideas, provided manufacturers and retailers alike are sincere in wanting to provide value to their customers and not simply trying to attract attention while hoping most customers will forget to use the coupon at the checkout. (Believe it or not many customers do not use many coupons or sometimes forget to use them). It also assumes that the store wants what the customer does, to be able to have their items rung up properly and efficiently.

Here are some proposals:

1) Create a preregistration loyalty  system administered online that actually does more than a rewards system that is mainly used to track a customer’s purchases for future marketing purposes. With such a system a customer could ensure that they will always receive in store promotions automatically deducted from their totals through he scanning or a card of look up of their profile by phone number. If the customer checks a box to receive online ads, the store could provide promotional information on items based on a customers previous shopping habits. Yes, its intrusive but sometimes saving the money is worth it, especially if a shopper buys the time frequently enough to want to stock up when it is on sale or part of a coupon promotion. Manufacturer’s coupons could be included and discounts applied through cooperative advertising arrangements as well.

2) As part of the preregistration loyalty system any customer that enrolls would automatically receive discounts for the items on promotion that usually require the cashier to input a look up code. The count could be tallied through a report tied to the look up system. This would satisfy the manufacturer’s requirement for verification of coupon count to apply a rebate for the promotional period. The end result would be a speedier checkout experience.

3) Preload the look up codes for each product into a menu prompt that would appear on the register screen and signal with a beep to alert the cashier providing a one click, yes or no response to whether the coupon is present. This would also speed up the checkout process.

In most cases a physical coupon is required for the store to receive its cooperative advertising rebates from the manufacturer, as they are usually based on increased volume of sales during a promotional period. If a coupon is not present the system would default to preregistered customer discounts only. If a coupon is present, it would deduct the amount. If the customer has not registered and does not have the coupon, it would not deduct the coupon amount from the purchase price.

These measures would also allow the cashier an opportunity to inform the customer of the existence of a registration system for discounts and, perhaps, letting the shopper decide to suspend the order and collect the coupons before completing the transaction – or finding the coupon and getting a refund for the coupon amounts after the sale but taking the receipt and coupons to customer service.

Reatil Printable Coupons

Stores and manufactures need to address a growing problem of online coupon fraud. The net result is that retail stores lose money and eventually pass not he additional cost to all consumers. It may require the elimination of printable coupons altogether, or the creation of some security code that proves it is legitimate. Again, if manufacturers were to work with retailers the information could be preprogrammed into he stores price look up system  to streamline the processing. If the coupons were already int he stores system there would be no need for printable coupons.

#Retail #Coupons #PriceLookUp #PLU #CustomerService #Loyalty


Sweeping Up and The Differences Between The Sexes


Writers end up doing a lot of things on the side to fuel the creativity and pay the bills while waiting for a novel to go viral. In other words, we wind up doing a lot of the same things aspiring actors and other artists do to make ends meet whether it’s working in a car wash, waiting tables, cleaning houses or whatever. Me? I bag groceries, shag shopping carts, clean restrooms and break rooms and sweep and mop floors in the a retail store. You might think that something as basic as running an industrial-sized, 36 inch microfiber dust mop over a resilient tile floor would be the last place to arrive at an epiphany, but if you do you obviously don’t know how the mind of an only Elgon works.


While I was pushing along the mop wondering how a floor can accumulate so much crud in a mere six hours since opening, negotiating an obstacle course of attended and unattended shopping carts and randomly places humanity, I recalled something someone posted on Facebook the other day about experiencing ‘road rage’ while pushing attempting to shop in the worlds largest retailer of just about everything imaginable. I refuse to give the great melting pot of shopper diversity a plug here because I hate shopping there too and for the same reason expressed in the Facebook post. Specifically I can’t stand people who turn their shopping basket sideways as if they were the police performing a roadblock on a major highway. I understand it is difficult to decide whether to buy the institutional size Fruit Loops or Honeynut Cheerios as the week’s breakfast staple for the herd of kids when both are on the weekly BOGO (buy one get one) promotion, the kids love both but you don’t have room in the pantry at home of four humongous boxes.


Notice I said people in the last paragraph. I’m not really out to offend anyone here but, honestly, you knew I was talking about a shopping mom. You see, in our society it is generally the female of the species who buys the groceries. There are some pretty good reasons for that, I think. God knows when I was married and had little kids at home all of us would have starved to death had I been in charge of getting groceries.

As Economy Struggles, Disparity Of Wealth Becomes More Glaring

Men are not power shoppers as a rule. However, we can be made into efficient fetchers. Give us a shopping list and fifteen things on it one Sunday afternoon just twenty-five minutes before a big televised game and we’re like heat seeking missiles homing in on each and every target on the slip of paper. We’ll be back with everything before the kickoff, first pitch or tip off – or we will die in the process.

By the way, the reason women think men never ask for directions is that they are never with us when we have a shopping list in a grocery store and a self-imposed time limit for the outing. Not only will you see us asking directions, especially if we have rarely ever been in the store, but also you will notice us going out of our ways to find store clerks to ask, “Where do you guys keep the coffee creamer?” And when we are told is is by the milk, we’ll immediately say, “I guess that makes sense. Hey before you go, just where is the milk?” Then after being led to the milk, we’ll ask for one more thing. “Before you go, what about those curly, twirly cheese puffs? You are out of them in the aisle. Do you think have any in the back room?” I swear, it happens.


Yesterday, while running the dust mop over a the floor I noticed a couple of things. First of all, the guys who were in the store we in a hurry and generally not at all happy about being there – especially if they were tagging along with their significant others. Some them were strategically attempting to hurry the process but to little avail. However, the men noticed when I approached with the mop and stepped out of the way. Most of the time they alerted the female with whom they were shopping and briefly she emerged from the fog of buying decisions to move just enough to allow me to pass.

The women who were unaccompanied generally continued to block the aisle obvious to anything else but their pondering whether to risk buying the brand of cat food that was on sale for darling fluff ball even though she has always preferred the more expensive brand that never seems to be on sale whenever the pantry shelf is bare. I had to ask that lady to excuse me and even then I’m not sure she even knew why she was moving.

Then there was the lady in bread aisle with two shopping baskets, one of her oldest kids was helping push the second. Her attention was completely focused on which specific loafs were on the weekly BOGO. Even after saying excuse me twice she didn’t move, so I swept around her as if she were a store fixture.


What raced into my mind at that point was a profound revelation on the differences in our genders when it comes to shopping. Just as men are often accused to having selective perception, ignoring everything else but whatever we are focused on whether it is work, watching on TV or checking out something on the Internet, women are exactly the same way when it comes to shopping. I don’t think I said excuse me even once to any guy as I navigated the aisles with my trusty dust mop that was as wide as half the aisle. But I can guarantee it was only by accident that any women got out of my way before I was within three feet and said, “Excuse me, let me just sweep around you there.”

#groceries #shopping #men #women #GenderSpecificBehavior #retail #humor


How Not To Fail at Retail

I’ve spent most of my adult life working in retail, most of that time in management. It’s not a career I would recommend to anyone but if you like talking to the general public and having a career where no two days are alike, usually busy and at times you feel like a plate juggler with sixteen plats spinning and half of them wobbling, then it’s the right career for you.

I bring that up because over the course of working in retail I attended a lot of training seminars on selling techniques, motivation, leadership and even something called training the trainer. The last was intended, of course, to train me to return to my store and train everyone else. A recurring theme in all of the training I received was How to Succeed. Isn’t that really what we would all like to know? What’s the secret? What are the keys? Is success a strategic decision or does it happen as a random chance accident.

One of the greatest lessons I picked up from all those training seminars is that success is not a destination but a process. One of the most common mistakes people make in their quest for success is seeing it as a goal. You have only to look at successful people to determine that one of the reasons they succeed is they refuse to fail. Sounds silly, I know, but it’s true. They learn from their mistakes, make adjustments, start over again, keep working at it until they achieve the intended results. But once they arrive a some point that from the outside perspective may appear to be success, they seem completely oblivious to the fact that they might have succeeded. Why? Bbecause they are still engaged in the process of success. They have a longer range plan perhaps or their goals are constantly in flux. But they never seem to arrive at a point of satisfaction with what they have accomplished.

The adage about if at first you don’t succeed is kind of misleading, though. Trying is part of the problem in failure. “As long as you tried your best” will often result in lowered expectations. You become content with the attempt and not the outcome. “I tried” cannot be a satisfactory answer. To only ever try is to only ever fail to succeed. It’s easily proven. Drop something on the floor and try to pick it up. If you actually try you can’t possibly pick it up because that would not accomplish what you stated was your goal. If you pick the object up you have succeeded in not trying but instead doing.

With all that in mind, failure, then, is an opportunity to learn more about the process of succeeding. I had a boss when I worked for a major retailer. His motto was if you don’t fail you’re not trying hard enough. The company was extremely successful because it allowed its employees to have an entrepreneurial spirit. For managers it was really kind of like having your own company and using someone else’s bankroll. We were encouraged to think for ourselves and do what’s right for the customer without needing anyone’s approval. As front line employees, the ones who actually interact with he customers where all the revenue for the company is really generated, we were given the authority to be the hero and make the customer happy. This led to some exciting times during the a period of rapid growth and expansion for the company. It was kind of a perfect storm situation, a confluence of doing enough things right that even when we made mistakes it didn’t matter much because everything else covered for it. Sometimes we did really crazy things and because we believed we were going to succeed we made the impossible or unlikely happen. Not only did we think outside the box but also we were constantly working outside of the box.

Here’s an example of one of the craziest things I ever did . With every opportunity to fail instead I succeeded:


I ordered 12,000 – 1 gallon azaleas to be delivered the day an ad broke on the third week of February in Florida. They were in bloom. It was the right time of the year to make customer start thinking about springtime in Florida. I had one week to sell them. Did I do it? Well, no. But the only reason I didn’t sell 12,000 was that the vendor could only fit 11,500 on the truck. No one in his or her right mind would order that many live plants with the risk of them dying and suffering a sizable markdown to zero. But who said I was ever in my right mind?

I didn’t ask anyone’s permission to do it. I had a open checkbook when it came to ordering whatever I intended to sell. To everyone else who looked at it from the outside, including my district manager who showed up the day I was unloading the truck, it was a career decision. Yes, he told me if I didn’t sell all of them I was fired. Frankly, I didn’t believe him because firing someone who was crazy enough to work for that company at the time didn’t make a lot of sense. Going to work each day was a lot like jumping onto a train that was whizzing by at 90 miles per hour. It took a special breed of lunatic just to survive. Still, I took the ‘threat’ as a challenge and motivation to move a whole lot of azaleas in a short amount of time. I was not about to fail so making it happen was all I could do.

Certainly it was a gamble. But to me and the people who worked for me it became a fun adventure. Let’s see how many azaleas we can sell! Keep track of your sales, print out a duplicate receipt from the register every time you take a customer up to check out with azaleas. But the contest was not based on how many plants were sold but instead everything else on the ticket. To make it fair to everyone there was a prize for the most dollars total over the sale period and another price for the largest single sales ticket. It was a easy enough award. Each winner got a day off with pay.

Now we did a lot of other things too, like I had one of the employees out at the street with some azaleas and a sandwich board sign promoting the sale. I called local landscapers to let them know about the great deal we had going on. We were not going to mark down a single distressed plant. We were determined to sell everything we brought in.

One of the parts of the story that really confuses some people is this. We lost money on every azalea we sold, meaning our delivered cost on the item was higher than our retail. Azaleas were on sale for $1.25 each with a cost of $1.38. Investment was 11,500 X $1.38 = $15,870. We sold every single one of the plants. So the revenue on that one product was 11,500 X $1.25 = $14,375 for a net loss of $1,495.

How can a company make money doing that? Well it can’t if that is all you sell. But I considered that an investment, like advertising. It was a promotional expense in order to call attention to all the other great deals we had on things that we actually made a little money on. We were promoting everything on sale in our catalog paying particular attention to everything featured that applied to azaleas because they were in season and in demand. We made it a circus-like experience for customers. You didn’t have to ask if the plants were on sale. You didn’t even have to ask were the plans were because when you have 11,500 azaleas you merchandise them everywhere!

Making a sale into a true event, generating a lot of talk in the local community, we planned to succeed. And if you think people weren’t going home and calling their other plant-loving friends you’re wrong. We also had customer asking if they could use out store phone tell their friends. (This was before cell phones were ubiquitous).

How we made money was that while the customers were buying five or ten azaleas they were also buying the soil amendments like peat moss, fertilizer, shovels, landscaping fabric, edging and decorative mulch. A few decided to buy a new lawnmower, string trimmer or hedge trimmer. We sold a lot of grass sheers, gardening gloves and garden hoses as well.

As a result of ordering a truckload of 1 gallon azaleas between Thursday when the ad broke and the end of the sale, which was the following Wednesday, the garden department in my store was the top department in the entire chain with sales of $127,000 in February! The promotion has a residual effect as well. The following week sales comped (meaning comparative sales from one year to the next) 15%. The largest ticket sold during the contest period was $1,213. The largest total sales by employee was $23,455.

A week after the event my buyer from corporate office flew in just to take me to lunch. He decided he wanted to shake the hand of anyone who did something that crazy and made it happen. I finagled free lunches for both of the employees who won the sales contest and my department lead as well. Since it was kind of her idea to order a lot of azaleas in the first place it only seemed right, though her original order had one less significant digit to the left of the decimal point from the one I actually signed.

Me picking oranges in Mission, Texas

#failure #success #overcoming #retail #management #sales #azaleas