The Unexpected Joys of Retail

When I'm not hosting Leveling Azeroth, I work a full-time job. While I won't say here who my employer is, I will say that it is one of the larger retailers in the U.S. I've been with this company for over fifteen years. Before that, I worked for two other retailers, giving me over 20 years of retail experience.

Is it what I thought I'd be doing at this point in my life? Not hardly. I went to college with the hopes of earning a degree in Political Science, and working as a print journalist. I wanted to be a reporter because of my love for writing. There were lots of reasons why I didn't graduate (never studied, ran into a class called "Statistics", had an advisor who really wanted me to drop out, rather than continue; most likely because my GPA was killing his bonus potential).Suffice it to say, retail was all that I saw that I could do without a degree.

Now, if you've seen the movie "Clerks", you get the impression of what a lot of experienced retail folks think of those whom we serve. While there certainly is a lot of "I just had the worst customer ever!" stories, there are by and large, a lot of consumers who appreciate what we do, and don't treat us worse than Michael Vick treated his fighting dogs.

But I don't really think that even they truly appreciate what we in retail do. Sure, I get the "Are you working (insert holiday of choice here)? Really? That's too bad," a lot, but I can't really recall a customer saying "Thanks for being here today." In some people's case, that would require an admission to themselves that they either were in full procrastination mode, and need us to be there to cover their mistakes, or that "life happens", and we kept them from not having whatever it is they came to buy.

I'm not trying to compare what a retail clerk does to Nurses, Doctors, Police, or Firefighters, but there are similarities. We work just about every holiday (although they trump me by working on Christmas), and while the public is aware that we're there, many consumers don't want to see any of us if they can help it. I can't blame them. If I do see any of those folks, with the exception of the police, it means that something bad has happened to me. The police squeak by, because the "best case" scenario is that I'm being pulled over, and being given a ticket.

My favorite shopper on a holiday is one who is diehard loyal to our competition, but their store of choice is closed. They come in already unhappy that they can't shop in their normal store, and for whatever reason, will find fault with everything we have, where it is, or the dreaded, "Well, I can get it at Store X!". Which I'm sure is true, but what we have or don't have is (in 95% of the cases) not anything we can control. They are my favorite, because it's an opportunity to win change their loyalties. I like the challenge. Sure, I'll playfully pick on a customer who asks for the other companies branded item (usually with a "I would sell that to you, but Store X won't sell it to me to resell it to you".

But what do I really love about the retail life? The same thing that I actually hate about it. I'm not doing the Monday to Friday, 9-5 grind. I'm working weekends, I'm working holidays. I'm working days, evenings, and even the odd overnight shift. I've missed family functions. When one of my nieces was a wee lass, her parents were talking about some family birthday party, and they mentioned that I was going to be there. She told them, "No, Uncle Brian has to work". And she was right, I did. I can then shop when most folks are at their jobs. The stores are less crowded, and I don't have to worry about taking too long a lunch to run simple errands. It's not  a grand trade-off, but I'll take it.