Workin’ hard

My fellow assistant manager is one of those people who is really cool as long as things go his way.  He is admittedly, more efficient than I am both at getting things done himself and utilizing the help he has to get things done.  I’m improving on both counts, though.

I don’t know if it’s because I’m too nice a guy that people don’t always bust a gut to get things done on my shift, or if it’s that I don’t give clear enough goals or instruction.  My counterpart is very aloof and doesn’t like to be bothered while he’s working on his stuff.  That’s not a good thing, but at the same time, I think he gives the associates clear assignments before he disappears.  It seems to work as far as getting things done, but it’s not my style.  I think management should be approachable and supportive.  I think I am those two things.  I just need to be more assertive, decisive and authoritative.  I truly don’t care about being liked.  It’s more of a confidence thing.

The best managers I’ve had over the years have been nice and approachable, but still commanded respect because they were clear about what they expected, and were not afraid to both delegate and to express disappointment and discipline when necessary.  I respected and liked those managers.  I strive to be like that.

It’s challenging to get on people’s cases for not getting things done sometimes because I struggle with it myself.  The job is fast paced and demanding, with CONSTANT interruptions.  But there are times when I’ve thought that I could work circles around someone and I am too gentle in telling them to pick up the pace.   Part of the reason for that is that I have a hard time relating to people who are not self-motivated like I have always been.  Many people will get work done when you give them a specific goal and check up on them.  The checking up on them is the key part for most, which I tend to lag on.  When I’m given something to do, I want to do it for my own sense of satisfaction upon completion.  I’ve had one or two associates like that in over a year as an assistant manager of a dollar store.  I’ve realized with some disillusionment, that even good workers usually need to feel that someone is watching to put the maximum into the job.  Maybe that’s fair, if they think you won’t notice either way; whether they bust their ass or slack off.  I know it’s on me as the one in charge.

People might think that being an assistant manager of a dollar store is easy, but there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.  Like many businesses these days, discount retailers rely on minimal staff/payroll to maximize profit.  A “fast paced environment” means understaffed.  “Multi-tasking” means doing three peoples’ job (for less pay than your predecessor).

It is what it is, and I strive to do it to the best of my ability.  I feel that I am continually improving, but it’s frustrating, especially because I could be doing so much more.  I lacked support or guidance when I was younger.  (See Father’s Day post)  but I’m not blaming disappointments in life on my parents.  The choices I made and actions I took, or didn’t take, are mine to own.  That’s what keeps me going.  If I blamed everything on others, I’d be bogged down in self pity and bitterness.

So, I do the best I can where I am while looking ahead and trying to plan for the future.  That’s all anyone can do.

A better day

Tonight I felt really good after work.  I was busy with customers for the first half of my shift and still got a few things done.  Then, I had a cashier for the second half of the shift, so I was able to stay away from the register and get work done.  I hate how, when you’re trying to do things, people keep coming in and picking up items and taking them to the counter.  Then they want you to bag it and give you money for it.  It’s like it’s a store or something.

(Slightly) kidding aside, I busted ass and, while I hope it is acknowledged tomorrow when the manager and other assistant manager see what I did, I’m good with my own feeling of satisfaction.  That is what motivates me most.  Though, I can’t help thinking that raise time is just a couple months away  😉   That’s after we have inventory in January.

After my last rant, er, post, I have to say that the store didn’t look too bad tonight.  It wasn’t a super busy day, but it wasn’t dead either.

In other news, I asked to transfer to another store last week.  Not out of dissatisfaction in where I’m at, but to move to a tougher store to challenge myself, start fresh, and continue to grow as a person and a manager.  I was told today that the DM (district manager) has said he doesn’t want to break up a good team at my store.  We are a good team, but based on past dealings with him, I suspect that the real reason is he doesn’t think I can handle the tougher store.

I’m not going to argue the point if I end up staying where I’m at.  The raise I’d get wouldn’t be all that significant, but the job would be a lot more challenging (hassle).  As mentioned above, I’m due for a raise soon anyway.

I arrive belatedly at the gist of this post: how you present yourself is how others will perceive you.

I’ve come a very long way over the years from painfully shy and timid to at least an average degree of outgoingness, with many moments of being downright outgoing, friendly, and even bold.  You have to be bold when you work in retail.  For example, you have to be bold enough to check out a return item in front of the person as they tell you there’s nothing wrong with it.  Then call them out if they’re up to no good.  Like the lady who tried to return laundry detergent because the scent was too strong.  The jug was used up and refilled with water.  Needless to say, I didn’t issue any refund or credit.

Having said that, I have work to do yet with displaying assertiveness, being decisive and in charge.  Those who work with me one on one, see the improvements I’ve made and the great potential I have.  (Well beyond the job.)  But the district manager doesn’t really work with me directly.  I have little interaction with him.  He only knows that I was very quiet and reserved when I was first hired and part of the team that set up the new store – from an empty building to open for business in 10 days.  The DM was around a lot then, but only at our store once a week after that.  I’ve always tended to be reserved at first until I get to know people.  Another thing I’m working on.

So, I’m not all that disappointed that I probably won’t be making a move right now.  Nor am I angry that someone is not seeing my ability.  I understand where it’s coming from, for the most part.  That’s not to say that I’m not a little mad.  I guess I’m realizing I didn’t want it that much after all.  Way to be decisive, eh?  Yeah, there’s no love lost between me ant the DM, but the best next step is finding new challenges elsewhere that compensate better for your efforts.  A fair day’s wages for a day’s work.  Something that is ever more elusive.  That’ll be the topic of another day’s post.

Dark thoughts of a retail worker

I try to keep a generally positive attitude in life and keep my blog upbeat as well.

Sometimes, though, I don’t feel real positive, especially toward the end of a work day.  That’s when we do “Recovery and facing”.  Recovery is returning things to their rightful place, and facing is pulling product forward on the shelf to make it look nice and neat and “full”.

What a mess people make.

Clothes on the floor.  Do you just drop clothes on the floor at home that you’re not going to wear?  The toy aisle is always trashed.  Do people not make their kids put their things away at home?  I guess if you don’t know how to act in public, you’re not going to teach your kids to do so.  I made the comment once to a former coworker that I think people make a mess on purpose.  He said of course, and that “we” used to do that when we were kids and now we have to clean up when other people do it.  I said, “Who’s we?  I never did that and neither did any of my friends.  Our parents would have had our hides if we did that.”

Then there’s the lady who comes in every day just to put things out of place all over the store.  I figured out who was doing it because she did it right behind me and when I turned around, saw the foreign item she had deposited.  I couldn’t believe she was that brazen about it.  I wasn’t 100% positive that the item wasn’t there before she came in the aisle and back out real quick, so next time she came in, I looked around after she left and found stray items in the usual places, so I knew it was her.  I planned to confront her, gently, the next time I saw her.  I did a sort of double take when she came in next, but was busy waiting on customers.  She must have seen the look because she got real sneaky from then on, and I haven’t even seen her.  She sneaks in and out, never buys anything, every f’ing day.  She must have OCD or something, but that’s no excuse.  I have bipolar, but I don’t go around behaving inappropriately.  She must live within sight of the store since she seems to strike when we’re real busy and don’t see her come in.  She’s like a ghost – a mess making, pain in the ass ghost.

As I do my recovery at the end of the day, I can’t help thinking that it’s people who don’t work, and white trash, and ghetto folk, and the lower segment of the population.  I get some dark thoughts, like thinking of some people as “welfare rats”.  When I find messes, I think “scumbags”.  I don’t like to be that way.

Then there’s the theft.  When the anti-theft alarm at the door goes off, a lot of people don’t even stop or make eye contact.  They know you can’t chase them.  Although, my former manager, now at another store, does just that.  They haven’t fired her yet.  ha ha

Just as annoying, or perhaps even moreso, perhaps because of the brashness of it, are the bogus “returns”.  You know when something is not right.  Either they stole it from another store, or they just took it off the shelf and “return” it.  You ask questions and try to make it difficult for them, but in the end, you end up giving them a refund.  Of course, you can only give store credit without a receipt if it’s over $5.00.  If you aren’t sure it’s bogus, you know when they want to buy cigarettes with their ill gotten booty, that it is definitely not a legit return.

I sometimes find myself saying, “I hate people”.  I don’t like to be that way.

That’s why I try to keep a rapport with some of the regulars I’ve told you about.  I dont’ want to dwell on the negtives.  It only gives them power.

So, after venting, I still believe that most people are decent.  If shrink is at 3% and setting off red flags with Loss Prevention, then that means the overwhelming majority of people deign to pay for merchandise.

P.S.: I had to edit this post a little.  I was getting really sleepy at the end when I first wrote it.


The corporate corner store

As you know if you’ve read previous entries, I work for Family Dollar, a large corporation. I’ve talked about many of our regular customers. It strikes me that, in the past, that’s the kind of interaction that used to occurr at the mom and pop corner stores. The neighborhood grocery store, the local hardware store, the rural country store. All endangered species. I’m not here to condemn or judge this change. Just making observations. Many chain stores that have locations every couple miles have their regulars: Wawa (which I love), Turkey Hill, 7-11, the dollar stores, CVS, Rite-Aid, Walgreens, grocery stores, etc.

What makes them personal is the people working there and the customers themselves. That hasn’t changed. The only difference is, we’re making money for someone else while making less ourselves. But still, it makes the day go by to see those familiar faces every day. It’s one of my favorite parts of the job, to get to know people, to learn their stories, to brighten their day, and occasionly, be enlightened by them.

Take my store manager, please. Just kidding. She’s great. She has flaws like everyone, but she’s really funny, and upbeat, generous and personable. She’s tough with her employees, but also fun to work with. People often ask about her when I’m there at a time when she usually is. She’ll put in a few cents of her own money if someone is a little short. (Usually because they forget about the tax. duh) They’ll often bring it in the next day. One customer commented how most stores now will do transactions to the penny. Like if your total is $9.01 and you don’t have the penny, they’ll give you all the change. I was thinking, well you have to because that happens all day long. You’d be at least a dollar short everyday if you didn’t do that. A small business can do that and no one is going to reprimand them for being a little short, or over.

Anyway, about the store manager, I don’t think she would want her own business. She’s happy where she is. Though struggling financially, like most people these days.

So, the corporate corner store has replaced the mom and pop store, but it’s not all bad. We make it more bearable by giving personal service and talking to people and getting to know them. We just can’t give them a break on price or anything, even though we understand.

I wonder what cultural effect the transformation has had, from country to corporate corner stores.
While the chains have saturated the market pretty exhaustively, it’s not the same as having a niche market on every block. Maybe there’s more of these in the bigger cities. I don’t know. I have noticed in my neighborhood on the Southside of Bethlehem, PA that there seems to be more local Hispanic markets. The area is heavily Hispanic. It’s an interesting trend. Is it because many of them move here from big cities where they have more of that? or from the countries they hail from where they’re used to the small business familiarity.

One small business that survives is Cantelmi’s Hardware on 4th St. on the Southside. I patronize them as much as I can. It’s closer than Lowe’s and the service is great. The help really knows their stuff. And there isn’t that big a difference in price on many things. Those big chain stores have a “loss-leader” item that gets you to go there, and then you buy other things that aren’t that good a deal or aren’t of good quality.

Coffee shops is another type of business where there are still locally owned small businesses. Another great 4th St. biz is Deja Brew, which also happens to be the headquarters for the Southside Film Festival, held every June. I haven’t been there in a while. Maybe I’ll do lunch there one day next week.
Til next time…

Working July 4th

I had the latter part of the day off, which suited me fine.
I saw the fireworks, I cooked out, I lit off some silly sparkly fountains.
I am content, but still looking
I heed that guiding presence I feel.
It is me. It is you.
It is real.

July 4th

The young punks in the neighborhood are trying to shoot down the moon. The city sanctioned fireworks are done, barely standing out among the many private shows on all sides from my lofty deck. My own cheesy grocery store fireworks display is done, appreciated by my famly and the little tykes next door. The smell of smoke lingers long in the air. And as my family heads home, my brother and visiting cousin go to bed, I sit and reflect.

Being born on the 6th of July, I was pretty patriotic. Even though it wasn’t right on the 4th, I still had patriotic themed birthdays and fireworks right near my birthday. Flags flying and all that. I do love my country, but I lament the many problems with both the upper crust and the lower tiers of society. It’s interesting that I was born of the 6th of July, not the fourth. My patriotism may never have faded had I been born on the fourth. But I wasn’t. I was born on the 6th. I bought into the indoctrination of history class and homeroom recital of the Pledge of Allegiance. I liked the flag birthday cake my mom made one year. I even liked the all american birthday watermelon with red, white and blue candles they made me at the family reunion one year, even though I’m not a big fan of watermelon. But as I’ve gained more life experience and job experience, my patriotism has faded. We do many things so well in this country. We have cutting edge studies, new innovations in science and medicine, unique and world changing inventions, determination and a will to affect change in any situation.
But the more things change, the more they stay the same.

It’s interesting that a nation that has never known royalty, or a caste system, or an (official) religious state, has such trouble with the idea of class fairness and social justice. If you don’t agree that we have problems in those areas, then this isn’t the blog for you. How many innocent poor people are in jail? (Most of them are guilty. I’m not a “bleeding heart liberal”) But most of the white collar criminals are guilty, but are never convicted, and don’t do time even if convicted.

I guess the point I had in mind when I started this entry, is that we all have to contribute to society and government to make it work. It’s also the only way to break the gridlock of partisanship. When lawmakers are confronted with the uncomfortable fact that their constituents agree even when they don’t, that they might just have to work together. Sorry!

The regulars, cont’d

Next there’s Joe and Helen.  I adopted a kitten from them last September.  He’s gray with white toes and white triangles on his nose and chest.  His name is Smokey and he has the softest fur I’ve ever felt on a cat.  Fortunately, he loves to be held because he’s irresistible.  Our ten year old cat, Wiley has taken him under his wing.  More on that later.

I like Joe and Helen.  They’re good people.  They have some strange family dynamics going on, though.  Joe sometimes comes in by himself to get cigarettes and always has alcohol on his breath.  In fact, he does when he’s with Helen too.  They have two kids, or that’s how many I’ve met.  Their daughter is 18.  I looked very closely at her license the first time she bought cigarettes.   Didn’t want to sell to a minor.  She once came in to buy a pregnancy test, then returned it because it didn’t give results early enough.  She said she’d kind of know by then anyway.   Of course it was only $4.00.  She said that was her bus money.  Did Joe and Helen know she was out?

I saw Helen at the 6 pack shop down the street one night after I closed up.  She was with a guy and seemed a little awkward.  She introduced him and told him I had adopted one of the kittens.  We talked very briefly and I continued on to find a microbrew I hadn’t tried.

They also have a son who looks to be about 11.  He’s independent as I guess he has to be, and talks with a slight speech impediment.  He seems the most well adjusted of them all.

The Joe and Helen family are moving this month.  When they told me a couple of months ago, I asked if they’d still be in the area.  Helen said no, and added almost wistfully, “somewhere far away…. hopefully.”  Perhaps they’re looking for a fresh start.  I wish them the very best.  I don’t judge people.  I just observe.  I had a stint of drinking heavily a couple of years ago myself, so I know it’s a difficult thing to deal with.