Retail Tales with Brian Brehmer: #13 The Customers

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I would be remiss if I did not mention one of the most interesting parts about working in the world of retail and that is the customer.

All of us have been customers, all of us have seen odd customers, all of us have been trapped behind them in line. Now, just imagine having to deal with them on a daily basis. That is the very nature of the retail worker.

After all, it is the customer that keeps stores open and people employed, without them there would be no stores, no registers, and no stories for people like me to write. The majority of customers come and go and are forgotten, as they should be. They choose their items, pay for them and are on their way. And then there are the others, the ones that stand out and make it impossible for you to forget them.

The other day at work, a young man came into the store with a violin and wanted to serenade those of us who were working that day. He walked down the aisles plucking at the strings before actually dragging the bow across it once or twice. He then went outside to play for those who came to shop. Definitely the first time in my life that I have ever had anyone bring a musical instrument into a place that I was working in order to serenade us.

And while we are on the subject of customers that cannot easily be forgotten, there was the one and only naked guy. Yes, the naked guy. I was working a few months ago, and a man came into the store, shirtless and without shoes and of course no mask. He walked down an aisle, took off his remaining clothes and walked around the store. Obviously people did not know what to do, other than to call the police which arrived in minutes and took him to where he could get the help that he needed.

But these memorable customer stories go back to the very beginning of my working in retail. In those days selling shoes, there was a man who would come into the store and walk around for hours and hours. If you were unlucky, he would come up to you and ask you a question. “Where is the toothpaste?” he would ask, and when you answered him, he would respond with; “that is not what I am asking you” and he would proceed to do a very poor impersonation of Bruce Lee or Chuck Norris, complete with karate kicks and arm gestures. After he had proved his point, he would walk away and bother someone else. Funny story, years later, and while working for the company that I do now, this individual came into the store, and had no recognition of ever meeting me or of his days as a Bruce Lee wannabee. Instead he walked around laughing and telling people to shine bright like a diamond.

Then there was the woman who walked into work one day wearing a cow costume complete with plastic udders. Now, if this was halloween, one could and would easily overlook it, because maybe they were going to a party or were just trying to relive a childhood memory, but this was August. So in the dog days of summer, a grown woman took it upon herself to dress up in a cow costume and walk around the store as if nothing odd was happening, as if this was completely normal for her, and who knows, maybe it was normal for her, just not for the rest of us.

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Another customer that will not soon be forgotten came into the store years ago, and wanted to turn in his disposable camera. Nothing wrong with that, it’s one aspect of what we do on a daily basis. What made this man memorable is what he did before turning in his camera. I had a young woman for a boss (her name was Jody) and this old man was infatuated with her. He would always take pictures of her with the remaining film left on his camera, and not just a couple, it would be 6 or 7 per roll. Being the nice person that she was, she would humor him, but it became a problem and got out of control. Our supervisor told him that he could no longer take pictures of Jody and we thought that this would be the end of it, but it wasn’t. He continued to bring cameras in to be developed, and when we did, there were still pictures of her, this time poorly taken, as if he had followed her around the store and randomly snapping them, which of course led to his being banned for harassing her. Our boss later called to get him some much needed help. Sadly, we found out that he lived in a hoarder house and we can only imagine what people thought of the hundred or so pictures of jody that they must have found when cleaning it out.

There is so much to the world of retail and customers are just a tiny part of it, but an interesting part of it. These are just a few of the customers I have encountered over the years. trust me, there are more.

Cover image courtesy of Iain Tait via Flickr

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