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Retail Tales with Brian Brehmer: #16 The First Day

Retail Tales with Brian Brehmer: #16 The First Day

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Everyone, no matter what field in which you work, has their first day, and retail of course is no different. I can still remember my first days in each of the three jobs that I have held in the retail field.

Let’s start with shoes.

My first day of working in shoes was a Wednesday (yes, I remember it vividly) which at the time of writing this piece was 29 years, 6 months, and 11 days ago, but who’s counting? I walked into a store, that I had been in a hundred times, but this time was different, this time I was going to be one of them, one of those tired looking people who wore a name tag and had a blank expression on their faces, and a look that seemed to echo a Dusty Springfield/Pet Shop Boys song ‘what have I done to deserve this?’

I arrived in a white shirt, black tie, and black pants, and looked like someone fresh from missionary school, instead of someone who would unknowingly spend the next 11+ years of his life living the Al Bundy lifestyle, selling shoes. I met my boss, a man who had already spent the last 23 years working for the company, and who had probably seen it all, and I’m sure¬† I looked no different to him than the hundreds of other people who had worked for him over the years.

He introduced himself to me, told me his name was Fred, and led me to the backroom, which was a hole in the wall really, located down from the fitting room, all of this would change, with the two or three remodels that Kmart would do, but for now this was the base of our operations. Inside this ‘room’ was his desk, and a lamp, and piles of blue binders, which I would eventually learn would be full of stock numbers, thousands and thousands of stock numbers which said nothing more other than the current price or the eventual marked down price, but I would learn that later as well.

Fred handed me a handbook, a name tag which I then pinned to my white shirt, and gave me a tour. This is the stock room, where the back stock is kept (all of which was in number order by sex and by type and by color of the shoe/boot/slipper/etc.) This is the work cart which you will take out to the floor every day. Now this cart had definitely seen better days. It was rectangular in shape, with two doors that had once been hinged to the cart, but were now loose. There was a box of garbage underneath the cart where various trash somehow ended up, most of which of course was not yours. Inside the cart, were all the tools that you would need to do your job, including a condensed version of the blue binder. There was a UPC label making gun, so you could make UPC stickers to attach to the tags to attach to the shoes after customers had torn them off while trying on the shoes. There were sticker guns, red, and yellow and blue, the primary colors of price markdowns, each one meant a different stage in the reduction of the price of the shoes. Of course there were also pens, a yellow legal pad (which I assume was used to write your last will and testament after spending one too many years in the department) and then there was a tool that resembled a pair of tongs, tongs which you would unsuccessfully use to get the stuffing out of tiny pairs of shoes.

Fred then took me out to the floor and introduced me to both the Brannock device (fig. 1) and my co-workers, neither of which inspired much faith or hope in how this night, and any future nights would go. I still remember Jackie and Sean, but cannot remember the names of the other two or three employees that were on staff when I was hired. I just remember that I was the 6th employee added, soon to be followed by number 7 (Kenyatta).

Fig.1. The tickly thing from when you were a kid, remember?

I was led to the back room, to the time clock, which happened to be one of the old school punch clocks. There was a card with my name on it and a number, which would be how i was now to be identified (seeing that there would no longer be any use for my christian name) I was #503.

After punching in, I was led to the sales floor, shown the kingdom of shoes that was now mine and told to straighten and fill. Most of my night was spent putting shoes back in boxes the correct way, telling people where socks were, or where the bathroom was, or where a 100 other things that had nothing to do with shoes were located. This was the evening of my first night as a seller of shoes.

Now Target was a different story. On my first shift at Target, there I was in my black pants but this time with a red shirt, as was the way of those employed by Target. The days of the punch card clock were gone, having been replaced with a new digital clock to which you punched your number (sadly, or gladly, I do not remember the number which had been assigned to me). I was led around the store with other first-dayers by an MOD, where we stopped at each and every department, meeting and greeting those who had spent various amounts of their lives living the red shirt lifestyle. After the tour was completed, we were each taken to the front register, where we were shown how to ring up a customer, and told that we would be called if needed throughout the day, even if we had an assigned department in which to work. They explained to us that each transaction was monitored and marked with either an R or a G, symbolizing both the color and the speed of your recent ring. The last ten transactions would appear on your screen and it better resembled more of a stuttering man trying to say g-g-g-g-g- good morning than that same man trying to say r-r-r-r- run. G was the letter of efficiency, of speed, while red was the color of failure.

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After this, I was handed over to a department, given a walkie talkie with which to communicate and told to work. The department I received first? Men, shoes and baby. Seems I could not escape shoes even if I tried.

My current job’s first day was interesting to say the least. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that it took place the day after my courthouse marriage. Or maybe it had something to do with the fact that the person who trained me on the register, was someone who I had worked with years ago when I was employed inside a Kmart (her name was Linda). The store manager had me go up front and take my place alongside Linda, who was to be my teacher for the day. All of this was after getting the handbook, signing one too many pieces of paperwork, getting a name badge with your name and the year in which you started with the company and a trip to the time clock to punch in.

After about 5 minutes, I had the hang of the register, so Linda spent the rest of the day letting me take care of customers, as she sat on a milk crate and read a magazine. My second day was similar to this only without Linda. By day three, once it set in, that I had retail experience, I was taken away from the register, given a proper tour of the store, and better tasks to do.

Everyone who ever works, has that first day, but there is something special about a first day in retail that either sticks with you or haunts you in your dreams.

Cover image courtesy of kanonn via Flickr

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